Written by Roger Baylor
Ever since Anheuser-Busch was folded into the international monolith currently known as AB-Inbev, there has been no single polemical activity quite as entertaining as reminding flag-waving, chest-thumping, God-fearing patriots that their carbonated urine of choice no longer emanates from an American-owned brewery.
Rather, it has become the possession of a dastardly multinational conglomerate. That’s right: Controlled by the same overseas shareholders who likely speak vernacular European (where the phrase for unfathomable dishwater is pronounced “Stella Artois”), routinely torture poor geese for use of their fattened livers, and not only know what a bidet is, but also how to use it.
Incontestable facts have a curious effect on those unaccustomed to examining their guiding premises. Bud Light drinkers look up at the sky, then down at their feet. They fidget and avert their eyes. Raging cognitive dissonance causes them to become completely unmoored, and they suffer from vertigo-induced internal visions of hurtling through space without the umbilical tether of brand-loyal regularity.
Soon they’re pouring gallons of insipid liquid down their throats, evidently intending the act of repetitive swallowing as a mantra, or an antidote to reality, as though sheer speed in consumption might somehow conjure the ghost of Auggie Busch atop a Clydesdale – or at the very least, a computer-generated hologram of the beloved elderly propagandist and robber baron – to coddle them with reassurance that it’s all okay: Eisenhower remains ensconced in the Oval Office, plywood and Formica reign supreme, and intrinsic American goodness, from burgers to cinematic car chases, as yet conquers an eager planet.
In truth, I feel somewhat badly for them. They work hard at low wage jobs, and don’t even have cash to install mufflers on their Harleys. The thought of all that money flying to tax havens around the globe, even as local government can’t fill potholes, must be unsettling. Far better to ignore what you can’t grasp, suck some more Bud Light Lime through the nearest available teat, and sleep the sleep of the swill-laden.
Among my better developed abilities as a polemicist is an uncanny skill in pinpointing cognitive dissonance, and exploiting it in the same fashion as a boxer spotting a cut above his opponent’s eye, and pummeling it accordingly … and so it was that I helped to man the NABC taps at a recent music festival near Louisville, where we were vending craft beer alongside Budweiser and Bud Light, which I noticed were being billed as “domestic” beers.
As for what played out over the festival’s three-night run, I suppose some might say that I got a bit carried away. That’s possible, but no obscenities were uttered, and no threats issued. I confined my remarks to the truth:
“We’re here to educate about beer, and what you might want to learn is that Bud and Bud Light are not brewed by American-owned breweries.”
“Conversely, for those of you seeking a “domestic” beer, look no further than NABC, Upland, Sun King, Great Crescent and Mobreki, each one of them American-brewed and American-owned.”
Or, colloquial variants thereof.
During the afternoon of the second day, my truth-telling had the usual effect on certain of the event’s organizers, proving yet again that there’s no better way to guarantee attempted censorship than simply reciting facts to a resentful audience.
Eventually I was told in no uncertain terms: “But we must have domestic beer available at this festival.” It started me to thinking. Formerly the phrase implied a certain type of American beer, i.e., the bad ones unaccompanied by browbeatings on the part of snooty craft beer aficionados like me.
Now, the fact that the largest American-owned brewer is Yuengling, with Samuel Adams coming just behind, tells us that the word “domestic” has become another victim of Orwellian meaningless, courtesy of multinational consolidations and PR gobbledygook.
However, perhaps for the first time, I detected a different nuance at the tip of the fingers being wagged in my direction.
With the festival already (an admirably) having opted for craft beer vendors, accounting for 75% or more of the beer sales business over three days, the insistence of organizers that they still must have “domestic” beers at the ready implies a belief that the craft brewing component cannot provide beers fitting this profile.
Granted, for many years, few of us tried to fit it. But at the fest gig in question, there were two Wits, a Cream Ale and a Saison. Upland intended to bring Pilsner, but was unable to do so; it’s crisp, tasty and accessible. NABC has been experimenting with Bavarian lager yeast, and we just brewed a BJCP 6B American-style Blonde Ale to have on tap at Dubois County Bombers baseball games this summer.
In a collective sense, craft beer can offer milder, golden-colored, session-strength alternatives to the mainstream. Craft beer can do so in larger-scale vending situations like the one I’m describing here. Craft beer can be – it is – domestic in the only meaningful sense of the word. Best of all, craft beer can educate as it refreshes.
But we cannot do it if we’re not trusted to do it, and for them to insist that they must have “domestic” beer is tantamount to viewing craft beer as inferior, even though they don’t know who we are, what we do, or what we’re capable of doing … many of them won’t even try a craft beer … and still their judgments are passed down in a reproving tone, as though I’ll shrug, offer a meek smile in return, and shuffle to the back of the commercial beer bus to take my nickel seats while acknowledging the naked condescension.
Maybe once I would have, but no longer.
On the festival’s opening night, I witnessed a touching display of concern for the common man. A woman observed that plain ol’ ordinary small town folks like her have certain expectations, and accordingly, really NEED to have “domestic” beer. Upon hearing this comment, my wife (a master’s degree holder from rural Maine) reflected that she’d grown up in a small town, too, and by the other woman’s pandering logic, she should still be living there, unable to transcend her hardscrabble upbringings, unable to learn, advance and grow … unable to fathom other ways of life and living.
Likewise, I’m not enamored of being dismissively “tolerated” as though craft beer represents something ephemeral and is just a fad, as though soon enough we can all go back to the “simple” superiority of “domestic” virtues.
Pfui. They’re neither superior nor domestic; they’re probably not even virtuous, and I will not apologize for saying it aloud. But you probably already knew that.