Life is too Short to Drink Cheap Beer

“Seize the moment!”, “Live for today!”, “There’s no
tomorrow!”, “You only live once!”………all great
expressions of optimism urging one to enjoy life while
he can. True lovers of beer invariably subscribe to
these exhortations but also live by a credo unique to
themselves: “Life is too short to drink cheap beer!”

Truer words were never spoken. Just imagine the
frustration of a Meisterbrau lite drinker who had just
been run over by a truck after emerging from his
favorite tavern. He’d be hovering around during his
“out of body experience”, looking sorrowfully down on
the scene of the accident and torturing himself with
questions like “What good is the couple of dollars I
saved going to do me now? Why didn’t I heed the
advice of craft beer lovers? If only I had known this
was going to happen I’d be going to meet my maker
full of Stone IPA or Victory Hop Devil instead of the
cheap crap.”

Some of today’s American beer fans (in Europe they
never stopped making great beer) don’t remember the
time between the end of prohibition and the early 1980’
s when inexpensive lagers were really all that was
available. But those of us born in the early baby boom  
years have a clear recollection of hundreds of brands
and “economy” brands which all had a common
characteristic: they all tasted exactly the same.

There were a few breweries that dared to market
“outside the nine dots” beers, but even those cost
very little more than the brewery’s more economical
offerings. Occasionally there were exceptions. In 1971,
the first time I saw Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale
displayed in a liquor store for $12.00/six pack, I was
astounded. Being 23 years old, I didn’t worry much
about life being too short, and since I was making  
$260/month and buying Ballantine’s on the Quantico
Marine Base for $2.40/ case, I didn’t even take a
second look. Buying cheap beer was the order of the

But all of us beer-loving “boomers” with deeper
pockets and more of life’s experiences under our belts
eventually graduated to craft beer. In my case this
didn’t happen overnight. I’d always been interested in
America ’s brewing history and always appreciated the
local color offered by different neon tavern window
signs in newly visited towns and cities. I experimented
with different tastes and even made rudimentary food
pairings: Yuengling Premium with Italian food,
Yuengling Lord Chesterfield Ale with a juicy steak, and
Yuengling Celebrated Pottsville Porter for special
occasions. I was making Yuengling Black and Tans
years before the brewery started selling them, and I
may have ponied up for a Guiness or two on St.
Patrick’s Day, but it was mostly Yuengling, Yuengling
and more Yuengling, occasionally broken up by similar,
but locally unobtainable, inexpensive beers.

My metamorphosis into beer snob started at the age
of 37 when my lovely second bride hauled me off to
England and Scotland for a belated honeymoon. I will
never forget the taste of the cask conditioned Ruddle’s
Best Bitter I had for my first brew in Merrie Olde
England . The next ten days were like beer heaven,
sightseeing in London and traveling through Yorkshire
and Scotland, always lunching and dining in pubs which
offered the full gamut of bitters, best bitters, extra
special bitters, pale ales, IPAs, stouts, porters, milds,
80 shillings, 90 shillings, keg beers and cask
conditioned real ales.

Sitting by the fire, drinking Flowers’ Best Bitter from a
gravity fed cask in a tiny pub in Colchester, and
downing many pints of Worthington ’s after closing
time with Geoffrey and Angela Hart, the very
personable owners of the Hayne’s Arms in
Northallerton, Yorkshire , are two of my fondest
memories of that trip. It was from Mrs. Hart that I
learned two of my favorite beer expressions. When we
stopped in on our return from Edinburgh to London ,
we noticed that Geoffrey was not behind the bar.
When we inquired as to his whereabouts Angela
informed us that since it was Thursday evening, his
usual “pinting” night, he was out “pinting” with his
pals, but would probably return “legless” in a short
time, if we cared to wait. Soon he came in only slightly
legless, and finding room for a few more pints, we sat
in the pub and talked long after closing time.

A little judicious packing( and throwing away of
unimportant little things like clothes and shoes)
enabled me to fill up a four suiter American Tourister
with over fifty cans of British ale to bring back. The
baggage handlers must have thought I was an anvil
salesman. Careful conservation  and intelligent
interspersion of Yuengling’s ( Yuengling on odd
numbered days, British ale on even) made the fifty odd
cans last almost a week. Only kidding!

Searching liquor stores for British ale became a sort of
hobby and my sales job at the time afforded me the
range and time to look. Slowly but surely Young’s
Ramrod, Watney’s  Red Barrel, King and Barnes and
even Bass ale (when it was good) began to replace the
Yuengling in my fridge and my craft beer conversion
was in full swing. Many a case of $8.99 Yuengling
Premium pints still made their way into the house, but
gradually the even numbered days began to
outnumber the odd and the more expensive English
beers began to move to the front of the refrigerator

At just about that time in the quest for English beers,
I began to notice six packs of never before heard of
American beers: Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada , and
Pete’s Wicked, to name a few. Costing significantly
more than Yuengling’s and Fox Head 400 which was
selling in the corner store for $1.49/six pack, but
priced about the same as the British imports, I
mistakenly figured they couldn’t be as good. But for
our first Christmas together my bride surprised me
with some Liberty Ale under the tree. After that, less
and less British beer came home.

A couple of months later found us in New York City
where we stopped in at the now defunct Manhattan
Brewpub. As I recall, those pints were selling for about
$2 when my local tavern was selling Budweiser for half
that much, but certainly Manhattan offered more than
the extra dollar’s worth of taste, aroma, and
appearance. The newly discovered American
microbrews restored my patriotism and the full circle
back to American brews was complete.

Since that time I’ve sampled well over two thousand
different beers from all over the globe without
worrying too much about the cost. But somewhere
down deep the thriftiness of my half Pennsylvania
Dutch ancestry prohibits me from buying some of the
stuff available today. Life may be too short to drink
cheap beer, but it’s not short enough to spend a
thousand dollars or whatever they were asking for the
Sam Adams Millennium. I wouldn’t waste money in that
fashion if I were assured the world was coming to an
end, or even if Hillary Clinton were elected President,
two very similar scenarios!


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