Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Call a Spade a Spade

In a typical eating or drinking establishment in the U.S., the beer list is frequently divided into sections. These sections were once "domestic" and "import". "Domestic" denoted the standard, mass-produced American beers: Budweiser, Miller, Coors, and maybe a handful of other offerings of similar quality.

Which is to say, crappy.

"Imports" denoted anything from somewhere else, which was bound to be better and more expensive.

Nowadays, we make good beer here in America, and people do drink it. The microbrewery revolution has been going on long enough that drinking something other than a Budweiser isn't really revolutionary anymore. The culture, and the market, have shifted. In fact, quite a few "microbreweries" really aren't that micro anymore, with nationwide distribution, brand recognition, and even TV spots.

Of course, the vast majority of beer sold in the U.S. is still made by Bud, Miller, and Coors. And as a result, "domestic" still means basically the same thing.

So now beer menues might say "domestic" and "premium", the latter designation including both American microbrews and imports. Some places split "premium" and "import" up, but this seems less common. Occasionally, you will see good American beer erroneously listed as "import", which really pisses me off.

But you will never, ever, see American microbrews called "domestic". Especially in the context of drink specials--"$1.50 domestics" does not mean Sierra Nevada or Stone IPA.

The distinction between domestics and microbrews is artificial, but let's face it: it isn't arbitrary. There is a clear dividing line, and that it is the quality of the product. I suspect the reason that the domestic label persists in its dated and inaccurate manner is that if we begin to include well-crafted beer in the category, we must acknowledge that there is good American beer and bad American beer, rather than American beer and "microbrews".

During the Superbowl, I saw a commercial for Budweiser's new "premium" brew...advertising as its main feature an absence of aftertaste. The thing is, aftertaste is only bad if your beer doesn't taste very good to begin with.

I'd like to think that this is a sign of things to come. That the market will continue to move towards higher-quality products. This isn't about some David and Goliath, family business vs. big bad corporations nonsense. As I've mentioned, some of the newer breweries are getting to be downright huge themselves. People, this is a good thing. Scale of production is no longer an excuse. And as a result...neither is price.

As in all things, it's all about the beer.


  • At 1:27 PM, Blogger Lisa said…

    Courtesy of the Willamette Week, out today:

    "Controversy is brewing over Widmer Brothers' spring seasonal beer, a limited-edition India pale ale that bears the label W '05. A handful of pissed-off liberals think the bottle's bold logo bears uncanny resemblance to Prezident Dubya's least-verbose campaign sticker, and talk of a boycott is...foaming. Company president and brewmaster Kurt Widmer, however, tells Murmurs the W is only "as political as the name Widmer," for which it stands. Hmmm: GOP-leaning Anheuser-Busch is a minority owner of Widmer; on the other hand, Kurt was a registered Democrat until last December, when he turned nonpartisan. Some connoisseurs say the beer's "pronounced bitterness" is in itself a commentary on the election."

    Politics + Beer = Brian's wet dream

  • At 3:02 PM, Blogger Brian said…

    Oh, hardly.

    Portland is a beautiful place, but there sure are an awful lot of whiny leftist douchebags up there.

    I've never considered myself a Republican (hell, I voted for Kerry this time around), but people like that make me want to rent a truck with a massive PA and drive down the street blarring Rush Limbaugh and brandishing a handgun.


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