Me and Beer 

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I cannot write about Donald Trump again this week. I just can't. It's beyond madness, beyond commentary, at this point. We are careening toward a come-to-Jesus moment in this country like none in our history, and it won't be pretty.

So I'll write about beer.

That's right, beer. Our cover story is about beer, and I have a long history with beer, and I think that recounting it will prove instructive for all these craft-beery young 'uns who take for granted their fancy Kölsches and porters and Icelandic ales and such.

It wasn't always like this, kids. (And get off my lawn!) There didn't used to be craft breweries on every corner, giving you beer options that rival Baskin-Robbins. Bars didn't used to have 47 beers on tap. Waiters didn't offer you a beer menu.

When I was a young man in Missouri, we drank Budweiser, the damn King of Beers, made from the finest rice ever grown. It was all we knew, really. Oh sure, we also drank Miller, "The Champagne of Bottled Beers," but beer options were few, and they all tasted alike, anyway. Except for Stag. Stag really sucked.

While in college, we would sometimes drive to Kansas City and come back with cases of an exotic brew from the West called Coors, which was unavailable east of the Missouri border. We thought Coors was sophisticated and sexy, until we realized it had an alcohol content of 3.2, which meant you got bloated before you could get drunk — a real problem for college students.

Then in the 1980s, I took a job in Pittsburgh, and my beer world opened up. They made beer in Pennsylvania, lots of it: Straub, Rolling Rock, Stoney's, Yuengling, and Iron City, which makes terrible beer. In fact, IC Light may be the single worst beer ever made. (Except for Stag. Stag really sucked.) Iron City's claim to fame was their excellent commemorative cans with images of the Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins, which probably kept them in business.

While in Pittsburgh, I also discovered many excellent Canadian beers — Molson, Labatt, Moosehead — which are best consumed while camping with manly friends in the wilderness and saying "Good beer, eh?" to each other after each sip.

Then, in 1994, I moved to Memphis, which was then the worst beer city in America. Actually, Tennessee was the worst beer state in America; Memphis was no different from Nashville or Knoxville. The American beer lobby (Big Beer) had gotten the legislature to gerrymander state regulations to outlaw the selling or serving of beer that came in containers measured in liters rather than gallons, thereby eliminating foreign beers. The only beers you could buy in Memphis at that time were made by the American corporate big boys. I was back in the land of Bud and Miller. Sad! Very unfair!

Shortly after I moved here, I was invited to a party where we were asked to bring "interesting beers." To do so, I discovered, you had to go to the Walgreen's in West Memphis, where the proprietors — seeing an obvious market — had in stock an immense and diverse selection of brews from around the world. It was not an ideal situation. And it wasn't legal to bring beer back over the bridge, but we risked it. Those were hard times, kids.

A few years later, thanks to the tireless efforts of then-state Senator Steve Cohen, Tennessee's odious "keg law" was finally overturned, and Guinness and Beck's and Kirin Ichiban and many other brews from around the world began flowing from the beer taps of Memphis. It was like the Berlin Wall had fallen. Now, it all seems like a bad dream, a lifetime ago. Memphis breweries are crafting creative and dynamic brews of all kinds — lagers, ales, ciders, pilsners, porters, you name it. We're now living in brewtopia, bro. Still, I think it's only fitting that acknowledgement be given to those who came before — the pioneers of beer. So the next time you're enjoying that frosty RockBone on the deck of your favorite pub, I simply ask that you lift a glass in their honor.

Or just buy me a cold one.


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