Thursday, November 23, 2006

A reader question, and a generational "barley pop" perspective.


Reader Shea Van Hoy asked the following good question in a comment about Thanksgiving beer.

Merry Thanksgiving. Just having a thought and wondering what your take was. I thought I'd post here first, just to dip my foot in the blogosphere ... I'm enjoying a hoppy U.S. brew, Sierra Nevada, my standby favorite. But, I also enjoy a Coors Light sometimes. I know beer is part of your livelihood, but why the aversion to a refreshing, mass-produced barley pop from time to time. (I hate Budweiser by the way). I'm not saying you should drink it ... or serve it, but don't you understand that people who like good beer, such as your fruits, also enjoy visiting The Rockies from time to time? This isn't a dig, more so a reason for me to introduce myself to your blog(s), as I've wanted to for some time.

Shea, it’s not at all taken as a dig. Rather, it’s a welcome invitation for a bit of rumination.

For background, first travel all the way back to 1998, detouring to February, 2005, and a reprint of the world’s lengthiest business card (mine) entitled, “You Can’t Go Home Again.” It’s a long read, but vital to the conversation. I closed the article with this:

Of course, one tinkers with these fragile relationships at his own peril; once released, the genie might be reluctant to crawl meekly back into the bottle, and so it has been with me. It takes a certain hardness of heart to realize that your beliefs are beyond compromise, even if the result is a schism with the past. I’ve come a long way toward achieving my goal of being a better beer drinker than all the rest of them – not in terms of volume, but in terms of
understanding. If celebrating this accomplishment means sharing with them the detestable liquid that started us all down this path, and partaking of the liquid they still venerate, as though nothing has changed in twenty years of incessant, clamorous change, then I’ll have to regrettably
pass, and urge them to come to me on my terms … or not at all.

You see, the aversion to which you refer comes to me honestly, and on a personal level, it’s something that has become so deeply ingrained and packed with symbolic intent that I’m not sure it ever will change. Note also that I’ve no aversion to lighter styles of beer, like English Mild and tasty Kolsch from Cologne.

Put simply, I detest what big brewing companies have done to the essence of beer and brewing, and consequently, I have little interest in supporting the light, lighter and lightest beers they’ve devised as their chosen means of mass market destruction of diversity.

But, it may interest you and others to learn that I’m becoming increasingly convinced that attitudes toward “barley pop” are anchored in generational perspectives, and in citing these, I hasten to add that I’m being descriptive, not proscriptive.

The impetus for examining these generational perspectives stems from a piece I read not long ago about changing attitudes toward the use of popular music in advertising. When corporations first began to see the merits of grafting baby boomer rock and pop onto products, there was an outcry of indignation, most of it coming from people my age (46) or older. Remember the use of a Beatles song to sell basketball shoes in the 1980’s, and the cries of protest?

Nowadays, using as a prime recent example U2’s pervasive marketing campaign for “Vertigo,” a large cross-section of the demographic accepts and fully expects this tagged and targeted approach. For them, it’s just another day in the land of milk, honey and unlimited personal choice, whereas for the previously outraged baby boomers, using the music of their earlier lives to sell trinkets was akin to borrowing the contents of one’s soul without permission.

Coming of age as the boomers did in a staid and non-diversified post-war America, pop and rock music became a manifestation of cultural identity, and consequently a matter of fierce principle, and these sounds were held close to the hearts of many people for reasons that transcend the tunes themselves.

In like fashion, coming of drinking age in the early 1980’s meant experiencing an impossibly narrow range of choices in the realm of beer – something that today’s 21- to 35-year-old has never witnessed, and he or she is to be forgiven for regarding the current bountiful selection offered in most geographical areas of any size as something to be taken for granted.

Accordingly, there’s an entirely different and generally younger demographic buying and consuming beers, and making these purchasing choices, ones based on a completely different socialization process, and spending a little or a lot as deemed necessary with no need to exalt the beers that symbolize freedom of choice to someone like me, or to demonize the symbols of oppression … like the “barley pop” of which you speak. Pabst tonight at the dive bar, Chimay tomorrow with a four-star meal, and without any discernable militant element of being what one drinks.

There always have been those who said, and justly, that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a “barley pop,” and that people like me are snobs (and even worse – can you believe what people say?).

Obviously I decided long ago that however much truth there is to this position given the unimpeachable fact that a vast majority of Americans prefer “barley pop” over my proposed alternative, that I’d nonetheless not concede a single inch, and would always be prepared to discuss and debate the topic with the ultimate aim always being to encourage critical thinking about beer … and by extension, critical thinking about life itself.

Just as I’ve attempted to do here, today, in response to your excellent question.

As noted here previously, there are times when milder and lighter beers appeal to me. Lately I find myself oddly nostalgic about lazy, aimless Sunday afternoons watching NFL games and draining cases of Coors Extra Gold or Schaefer with my pals. Indeed, there were many good times in the past that revolved around beers I wouldn’t drink with my worse enemy’s lips today.

However, I can’t go back to it, neither in the sense of the beer, nor to that state of consciousness. They’ve passed, and something else that has passed of late is the intensity of my annoyance that mass-produced banality rules the world. Perhaps it always did. It’s far more important for me to make the best out of my little corner of the cosmos than to care who drinks what, but spend a little time with me, and you’ll be a convert for life.

Thanks for reading.

1 comment:

smoosh said...

I'm just glad she caught you in a good mood!