As a young man growing up in the wide-open seventies, it was everywhere. But I just wasn’t that into it.
Other guys talked about it all the time. How much they got. What it was like. And how good they were at getting it. But it wasn’t that big a deal to me. I mean, I had my share. It wasn’t like I lived in a monastery or anything. But I just didn’t see what all the fuss was about.
Thanks to the passage of time, I now understand why I was so ambivalent about beer. And what did you think I was talking about, anyway?
American beer had long since lapsed into mass-market mediocrity by the nineteen-seventies, using the same marketing strategy that made McDonald’s the nation’s most-popular restaurant.
Brewers had for decades dumbed-down their beer to appeal to the broadest-possible market. They removed the distinguishing characteristics—its personality—until it was inoffensive to everyone.
But at the same time, no one was especially passionate about it. Which is why by the end of the seventies, imports like Beck’s and Heineken had carved out a tidy little niche for themselves.
Adding to import's cache (at least on planet La Piazza Gancio) was a picture in Circus magazine of a bleary-eyed Jimmy Page clutching a bottle of Heineken, surrounded by voluptuous groupies.
That was all I needed to know. It was the beer Jimmy Page drank. The faint affection I had for Old Style, Schlitz and Budweiser disappeared immediately.
Celebrity associations aside, imported beers just tasted better. They were hearty, with hops selected for flavor and texture and not what advertising campaigns euphemistically referred to as ‘smoothness’.
They also had a higher alcohol content, which was a definite plus to a college-age male.
I was fast becoming a beer snob.
At least that’s what friends called me when I expressed my disdain for Pabst Blue Ribbon. But imported beers were expensive, and college kids and cash find themselves together as often as I do with Megan Fox and Scarlett Johansson.
This often meant drinking domestics while dreaming of imports. Would this be a good time to ask if anyone recalls an O'Jays song called Your Body's Here With Me (But Your Mind Is on the Other Side of Town)'?
But with graduation came disposable income, and with disposable income came the kind of beer my taste buds craved. Beck’s. Beck’s Dark. Guinness. Pacifico. And with the 1971 revival of Anchor Steam Beer came the long, slow ascent of micro (or craft) breweries. Small-volume brewers dedicated to producing quality, not quantity.
By the nineteen-nineties, liquor store shelves were packed with their offerings. And I was grateful. The American beer drinker has never had it so good. Alcohol-infused nectar like New Belgium’s Blue Paddle pilsner, Sam Adam's Summer Ale and New Mexico’s Monk’s Ale even make right-wing conservatives tolerable.
Granted, there is an element of fashion in all of this.
Just as I had rejected my father’s Hamm’s and Blatz, kids today reject their father’s New Glarus and Goose Island. Pabst Blue Ribbon in particular enjoys a revival that is unfathomable to me. But time marches on, and every generation must distinguish itself from the one that came before.
But I won’t drink it. And neither, I’ll wager, would Jimmy Page.