My Beer Ancestry

By Glenn DeLuca

For BeerNexus.com

Ancestry is and probably will continue to be a “hot” topic. Turn on the TV and you
can see shows where they’ve chosen celebrities and revealed their background or
go online where it’s difficult not to see an ad for an ancestry website where you can
search for your long lost relatives and build a family tree. I found out my cousin has
a family tree for my Father’s side of the family so I bought Family Tree Maker
allowing me to download, view and make it my own. My sister reminded me she has
a family tree for my Mother’s side of the family, albeit paper, which when she locates
I can build into my family tree.  These should save me a ton of time putting together
MY family tree. And I decided to take it a step further; Ancestry had a sale on their
DNA analysis recently, so I figured what the heck, I sent them some spit…er saliva. It
will be interesting to see if what I believe is my three European country heritage
takes me other places in the centuries before that.

It got me to thinking that since I’ve been around and drinking beer for decades,
maybe I could/should research/document my beer ancestry. That does present a
few issues as there are no websites that will tell me what I was drinking when. There
also was no Facebook or Internet site where anyone could have snapped a pic of
me when I was holding a beer and posted it. Guess I could look through old pictures
but I wasn’t taking selfies with my camera, my pics would be of others. And I’m not
going to ask any friends to go through their old pics to see if they have any of me
holding a bottle or can with a distinguishable label. So the only alternative is to do
the old, hopefully, reliable brain search and see what comes up. I’m thinking I’d
better define what I’m trying to do. Since my friend and I have done significant taste
testing and I’m now going to tap takeovers and festivals, there is no way I could ever
list or remember every beer I’ve ever tasted, nor would you really be interested
spending the time reviewing it. But I did have favorite/”go to” beers at different times
of my life, so that sounds like it could be the basis of seeing what my likes were and
how they changed…not to mention a hell of a lot easier to recall.

I grew up on Long Island and there were a fair amount of NY beers; Rheingold,
Knickerbocker, Piels, Ballantine (ok technically Newark, but they sponsored the
Yankees!) and the one that was my first love, Schaefer; “the one beer to have when
you’re having more than one”. Schaefer will always hold a special place in my taste
buds as it was my first “go to”; I bought and drank Schaefer whenever I could. When
hitting the bars with friends in the days of 3 or 4 taps of lagers, many times we’d get
whatever was cheapest (within reason of course as even back then I really wasn’t
interested in touching, much less drinking, a Rheingold…).

That lasted a good 5-7 years and then I was off to Connecticut for grad school,
where I met a guy who was to become a good friend and drinking buddy. He loved
Schlitz, so he got me drinking Schlitz also.  It made sense as I couldn’t stand Crud er
Bud, never could, and back then Miller promoted itself as the “Champagne of
Bottled Beers”.  Well I really wasn’t all that interested in champagne and certainly
didn’t consider myself an upper cruster, so of the Big Three, Schlitz made the most
sense and by the way tasted the best; so that was my second “go to” beer.

I probably also need to make distinction between primary and secondary “go to”
beers as there were times when there was more than one favorite, or maybe it was
more like a close second. Being in grad school and not overly rich when I would
head home I would most times pick up a case of Utica Club, a decent upstate NY
pilsner at the great price of $0.99/six pack. So for $3.96 I had a case of beer in the
trunk for us to drink, when we weren’t studying of course. So then UC is #2b.

I graduate and move up to MA. I have a job and more money than when I was a grad
student and my #3 “go to” becomes…drum roll…hold your breath…you won’t
believe it…Michelob. Yes I hate Bud, but Mich is what they called, at that time, a
super-premium; it was pretty good and yes had that distinctive bottle that set it apart
from the rest, not that I drank it because of the bottle, but that didn’t hurt. During
that time we started to get a lot of imports that were attracting attention; Moosehead
from Canada, Molson Golden, also from Canada (and one of the worst beers I’ve
ever had), Miller bought the US rights for Lowenbrau, Schlitz introduced Erlanger
and A-B, not to be outdone imports Wurzburger Hofbrau (I guess they figure if they’
re going to lose Mich drinkers to imports it might as well be their own…). And those
are just the big names I remember, there were a lot more; so tasted a lot of different
brews but Mich remained my “go to” for many years.

I do need to mention #3b; Steinlager from New Zealand. I can’t say I drank a ton of it
as it wasn’t inexpensive, but got it when I could as I liked the taste (the label does
say it’s the World’s Best Lager…). Interestingly enough I found it a few years back in
a large beverage store in Portsmouth NH and yes I got a case and enjoyed it over
time.  When I was back a year later they no longer carried it as their distributor had
discontinued it. I haven’t searched for it since then, but I may just after I finish this
article.

I take another job in NJ for less money than I was making in MA (thinking of course I’
d save money on expensive MA car insurance…was I in for a surprise) , but needed
the career change. So for a while it was back to more reasonably priced beers. The
first few years I can’t remember a “go to” beer but at some point I settled on Miller
Genuine Draft or MGD, so that would be my #4.  Miller had introduced Lite beer a
decade prior and it did so well it drove the light beer craze as we see both Bud Light
and Coors Light are two of the bestselling beers (actually a pretty sad statement).
They had mainstreamed Miller and moved into second place with the help of Schlitz
shooting themselves in the foot. MGD was originally Miller High Life Genuine Draft
as it was the same recipe as High Life, but with a different “cold filtered” treatment,
the intent was to give High Life drinkers the fresh draft taste they got from a non-
pasteurized keg. You think they might have been trying to steal alittle thunder from
Coors which wasn’t national yet??? I had never been a big High Life fan, but I liked
MGD and it probably didn’t hurt that I could get 30 packs of cans at a reasonable
price and was my “go to” for years

Not to be outdone, Coors introduced Extra Gold the same year as MGD and they
also had and Extra Gold Draft version. I remember the Coors mystique years ago
when I couldn’t get it. A friend of mine on vacation actually iced a case and drove it
back east for me; that was a treat. And I remember the few times I had it when
traveling out west were also enjoyable moments. Extra Gold was a solid lager and I’d
place it #4b.

But the craft beer revolution had started and I always looked to taste different beers
when traveling.  At some point I needed a change from MGD and decided to step it
up to Sam Adams. Sam was a quality lager and there were many times when I was
out at a bar or dinner or traveling and the tap handles were Bud and Miller and
Coors but there was also a Sam wedged in there and I knew I’d have a good draft
beer. Sam Adams became my #5 “go to” for many years. And of I’ve said in the past
we all owe Sam Adams and Boston Beer a thank you for helping to mainstream craft
beer and helping create the monster it is today. And yes even today I always enjoy a
Sam when I take that opportunity.

I was paying more for Sam but it was worth it, then prices started going up. Around
the same time a stroke of luck. I had visited The Mendocino Brewing Company in
Ukiah CA, a pioneer in the craft brew industry, in 1989 and tried their signature Red
Tail Ale, which was delicious. If you found it east it was expensive and you had no
clue how old it was. Well they borrowed money to expand brewing and wound up not
being able to make payments so they were bought the owner of an Indian airline.
Around the same time the Olde Saratoga Brewing Company in Saratoga Springs did
the same thing; borrowed to expand brewing and couldn’t make the payments and
who buys them…the same Indian airline owner. This is a stroke of luck because they
start brewing the Red Tail Ale and Eye of the Hawk and White Hawk IPA and the rest
of the Mendocino brews in Saratoga Springs and ship to NJ!!! And it gets better as
Bottle King basically has the Mendocino brews on their club pricing all the time. So
Mendocino becomes my #6” go to”.

Initially I probably drank more of the White Hawk IPA (which unfortunately for them,
not me, has been blown out of the water with the explosion of IPAs in the last few
years) with some Red Tail mixed in but eventually gravitated to their Blue Heron
Pale Ale. That was great for a while until their distributor went bankrupt and out of
business.  So for quite a while I couldn’t get it and their new distributor won’t bring in
full cases, only the mixed 12 packs, which isn’t what I want. But every once in a while
another friend traveling up to VT will stop in Saratoga Springs and pick me up a
case.

That brings me to a few years ago, when I have more time and can spend it at tap
takeovers, festivals and in general enjoying the explosion of new breweries and
different beers. Today a flight is one of the most beautiful things as I don’t have to
drink a pint of each and in many cases am not interested in 12 or 16 ounces of a
sour or high alcohol or just okay, not great beer. So I no longer have a “go to”.  I
usually buy something I’ve had and really like but it’s not necessarily the same. I
kind of liked having a “go to” as it made beer shopping pretty easy, but taste wise it’
s a much more interesting time.

That was actually a fun trip down my memory lane on “my beer ancestry”, seeing
where I’ve been and how I got there. What would be really interesting is if I could line
all those beers up and have them one after the other. I’m sure I wouldn’t be all that
impressed with the earlier ones, but times and tastes change and that’s what makes
beer drinking great.

Maybe I’ve spurred you to do your own beer ancestry…if so, have fun.




Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing thebigG@beernexus.com.

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
Outtakes from a life of beer.
beernexus.com presents
Big G's Beer Beat
by Glenn DeLuca
BeerNexus is proud to
welcome beer writer
Glenn "
Big G" DeLuca
as a contributor to the
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beer hunter, Glenn is a
leading advocate for the
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