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Everyday Beer

28 Dec

If you open most refrigerators in the USA, on any given day, you’ll discover someone’s everyday beer. It’s not necessarily their favorite one, but it’s their reliable, go-to beer. Growing up in my family the everyday beer was always the one on sale. There was no serious brand preference given that a good deal from any decent brewer could change a purchase plan. To a point.

Even my coupon-cutting, penny- and pound-wise mother never drank jokey cans of Generic Beer; nor did she succumb to the limpid national lagers from St. Louis or Milwaukee. Instead, we grew up with the equally limpid local lagers from San Francisco’s Hamm’s and Burgermeister breweries in our family ‘frig. It’s little wonder, then, that I did not take a strong fancy to beer until I after I got out in the world and enjoyed good beer and ales not chosen primarily by price alone.

In the mid-1970s while living in Kentucky Pabst Blue Ribbon was popular among the people I met in the Bluegrass state. But I preferred my brewed tipple to come from regional beer makers such as Louisville’s Falls City or Little King’s Cream Ale out of Cincinnati. They had a bit more flavor and had the cachet to me of being local.

Later in the decade while in Germany I had the exact opposite experience. I enjoyed making the weekly run to the store to choose crates of beer to heft home despite literally living across the street from the Schlossquelle brewery in Heidelberg. We rarely bought the local stuff, choosing instead our pils and exports from the likes of Gilde, Dinkle Acker, Eichbaum, and others. Only when Schlossquelle was at rock bottom prices would we get it. But when you had the array of fabulous beer choices as we did then, it’s not surprising I learned to be a beer snob while there.

However, as luck would have it, we next moved to Nevada in the early 1980s, which might be dubbed my beer exile in the desert. There Budweiser became my everyday beer. It wasn’t as cheap or as bad as, say, Billy Beer nor as watery and tasteless as Coors. Even today if stuck in a bar that’s stuck in the 1970s for its selection of beer, I’ll choose Bud out of nostalgia not preference.

Now I still stock my own refrigerator with brews that are on sale for my everyday beer. To a point. My everyday beer is Full Sail Pale Ale, which is made in nearby Hood River, Oregon, and can usually be found at discount in my local markets. But I will easily substitute an India Pale Ale from Bridgeport or a Torpedo IPA from Sierra Nevada if the price is right or even a Mirror Pond Pale Ale from Deschutes Brewery.

All my everyday beers are more expensive than the regional and national brands. And while I am particularly keen on saving money in these hard times, I am only willing to sacrifice quality up to a point. That point being when the bottle opener touches the bottle cap.


Field-Burning Ban Boon to Bicyclists

11 Jul

The Willamette Valley is perfect for bicyclists. I’ve never ridden in a region that I’ve enjoyed more than here. But this will be the first time in ten years that I will recommend to outside bicyclists that they should come to the area in summer and ride.

This is the first summer that farmers are not allowed to burn their fields. Field burning is a primitive farming tradition usually associated with slash and burn cultures not modern agriculture. Except in Oregon, where some primitive ideas persist. Some days the valley would be choked with so much smoke that you could not see a few miles in the distance even from ridgetops. Seldom could you see the majestic Cascade Range to the east in the summer months when farmers torched their fields. They insisted that it works for them, so they should be permitted to burn, baby, burn.

Almost everyone else objected to the field burning. It was bad for Oregonians’ health. It lowered the value of nearby properties where burning occurred. Burning was deadly, being the cause of a multi-car pileup on Interstate 5 in 1988 that killed five people in cars blinded by the smoke. It wasted the time of first-responders each burn season when frantic folks new to the area breathlessly called in reports of fires because officials let farmers right on the edge of towns burn, baby, burn.

That attitude is no longer setting the rules. Certainly the grass farmers still complain that they have to plant different crops or maybe work harder after the harvest of their precious grass seed, which is sinking in value with the slower growth of suburbs with their tidy lawns and resorts and golf courses aren’t exactly in expansion mode at the moment. One might say this burn ban gives crusty old seed farmers the excuse they need to shift to more environmentally and economically astute products.

Whatever the farmers do, I can now whole-heartily recommend that bicyclists everywhere come and enjoy the wonderful Willamette Valley backroads that skirt numerous rivers, cross wooden bridges or float on ferries, scale Cascade highlands, climb coastal foothills, skim past rolling farms, and wind through forests. You can ride bucolic country roads from park to park or winery to microbrewry. The varied landscapes are wonderful to behold in summer, especially on a bike. And you can breath air without choking on the soot and smoke.

As I said, the Willamette Valley is a perfect place to ride in summer. Now that burning issue of the region has been resolved.

Tepid Tasting Traditional German Beers

15 Jun

When I first visited Germany in 1977 I took away a few lessons. First and foremost, the breads and the beer there were much, much better than anything I ever had in the USA. I loved going to the local baker every morning and buying a fresh loaf of Roggenbrot or a bagful of Brochen. Truth be told, I preferred going to a local Kneipe to sample some of the best beers in the world.

Living in Heidelberg with my friend Paul, after imbibing in a few, we would jokingly rate a given German brew as being the 14th, 22nd, or 81st “best beer in Germany, but it would be number one in America.” We were never wrong.

How things change.

My last few visits to Germany have all been fun, but the beer has been disappointing. Oh, it’s good. But it’s no longer distinctively better than what you can get here from an average microbrewery. And, yes, it’s still better than Budweiser or Miller by far, but those brands are no longer the benchmarks for American beer.

Germans are very traditional. They invented the so-called Beer Purity Law or the Reinheitsgebot back in 1516, which limits the ingredients to water, hops, and barley (yeast was permitted later once it was discovered as part of the brewer’s art). So, they don’t like to stray from their well-established Pils, Doppelbock, Dunkle, Weissbier, and other variants that have been around for centuries.

However, when you compare their great beers against the best from the USA and other nations, that strong tradition results in tepid brews. There have been many blind taste contests and sadly German beer never crack a top 10 list. In this one, only a single German contestant reached the top 100, coming in 77th. The microbrews from the USA are too numerous for me to count on this list.

I guess if Paul and I were sipping suds over here today and extolling the virtues of American beer, we might be slurring our ratings thusly: “The 33rd best beer in America, but it would be number one in Germany.” And we would be right.

At least he can still brag about the bread.