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tales from the dusty corner of the cellar.

Before Craft Brew...
Posted Friday, April 2nd, 2010 by bakes

The domestic beer world was a dark, dark place.  Or more precisely, a golden yellow place.  Venture back with me into an upstate NY beer distributor's store, circa 1980...

There in the beer cooler, are six packs of a couple of recognized brands, Bud and Miller High Life.  There's no Bud Light, Budweiser Select, Budweiser Select 55, Bud Ice, Bud Ice Light, Budweiser Brew Masters' Private Reserve, Bud Dry, Bud Silver, Bud Extra, Bud Light Chelada, Budweiser American Ale, Budweiser NA, Bud Light Lime, or Bud Light Golden Wheat to clog the shelves.  Just Bud.  Plain old brewed with rice, acetaldehyde hangover inducing Bud.  Whee.  The Miller selection is similarly simple. There aren't any Coors products anywhere in sight, as they are still Golden, Colorado contraband.

There are, however, numerous other beers on the "mainstream lager" shelves for your enjoyment, many of which (along with their advertising catch phrases) are now either dead, dying, or hipster fuel;  the better known ones being PBR, Schlitz (Go for the Gusto!), Piels (A good drinking beer!), Schaefer (The one beer to have when you're having more than one!), Genesee (Make mine a Genny!), Utica Club (and their talking beer steins Schultz and Dooley), Stroh's (Fire brewed!), Ballantine (Frazier's dad couldn't be wrong... could he?) and Rheingold Extra Dry.

Thirsty yet?

No?  

Well, let's check out the next cooler over.   This cooler is full of the regional brews, some considered better (Schmidt's, Matt's Premium, Genesee Cream Ale (aka Genny Screamers for their aftereffects, or Green Grenades), Narragansett, Kohler, Yuengling) and some worse (Topper, Knickerbocker Natural, Reading, Bartel's (your dad warned you about this foul concoction), Stegmaier, Gibbons (your 8th grade health teacher regaled you with the tale of finding a slimy blob of yeast in a can of this)) ... the list goes on.  In western NY, the Naragansett and Reading would be replaced by Koch's and Simon Pure and Iroquis and Goebel's (pronounced joe-BELLS).  The vast majority of these are long gone, the breweries closed. 

Next to that cooler is the "we don't know what the hell to do with these dark brews so we'll stick them here and see if anyone notices" shelf.  Here, beers like Yuengling Porter, Stegmaier Porter, Koch's Jubilee Porter, Prior Double Dark, Genesee 12 Horse Ale, and Ballantine India Pale Ale (yes, those last two are considered to be dark beer) reside, just above the "rocket fuel" malt liquor shelf full of Colt 45, Maximus Super, and the everlovin' Schlitz Malt Liquor Bull for the truly desperate soul with a buck twenty nine to get lit on.

Some of these were more than passable; Yuengling Porter was (and remains) a solid American porter.  Genny 12 Horse was not only tasty (it would be akin to an amber ale today) but also packed a "for the time" wallop of 6.2% ABV.  Ballantine IPA was like nothing you'd ever experienced at that time.  There was this oaky bitterness that no other beer had.  Then? It was transcendent.

That's what we had, at least as far as US brews were concerned.  There was a rumbling about new beers being brewed at tiny breweries out west, and but we didn't see squat.  It was this, or imports.  So a phenomenon occurred.  No, not microbrews; Brador Runs!  But that is another story...