Why I Went Back to Drinking Cheap, Classic Beer
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Why I Went Back to Drinking Cheap, Classic Beer

A cold can of Old Style or Hamm’s makes me happier than any craft beer

Cooler of beer cans
Brianna Griepentrog/Taste of Home

Not long ago, my drinking life came full circle. I bought a can of Stroh’s for $1.50 at a bar on the Southwest Side of Chicago.

“That’s the first beer I ever had,” I told the bartender. “Not that particular can, but that brand.”

I started drinking Stroh’s from my dad’s stash back in the 1980s, when I was 17. When I went to college, I discovered PBR, Old Milwaukee, Old Style, Michelob and Lite, the working-class beers. I will never forget my first Hamm’s. The smoothness. The silkiness. Getting to the bottom of the can in three minutes. 

These classic beers occupy a special place in the memories of Gen X men. They’re the ones we saw advertised on the Saturday afternoon Game of the Week when we were growing up. The jingles became embedded in our subconscious: “Mabel, Black Label”; “What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon”; “Weekends were made for Michelob”; “From the land of sky blue wah-ah-ters.” And, of course, the Miller Lite commercials, with Bubba Smith tearing the lid off an “easy opening can.” 

But then, in the mid to late 1980s, just as the first Xers became old enough to drink, the craft brewery boom began. I filled my refrigerator with microbrews — Sierra Nevada, Sam Adams, Fat Tire, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. They were bitter and complex and seemed like grown up, sophisticated beers.

But something changed when I reached my 50s. I’m back to drinking cheap beer. 

It started last summer, when I worked for the U.S. Census Bureau. Every day, I walked the streets for seven or eight hours in 85-degree heat. Toward the end of a shift, the only thing that kept me staggering to the next address was the thought of a cold Old Style tall boy in my refrigerator. 

Even as the temperatures dropped, my taste for craft beers continued to dissipate. Some of it was the cost, sure. Thanks to inflation and supply chain issues, beer prices are skyrocketing. But a six pack of PBR is still under seven bucks.

But it’s more than that. I’m at an age when sipping or savoring beer like it’s wine or scotch just feels … stupid. I want a beer that can satisfy a mean thirst. I don’t want to swirl my beer and talk about its aroma and whether it has balanced malt or hop flavors. I just want a beer to enjoy while watching the game. You know, like a man does.

My 80-year-old dad isn’t interested in going back to the beers of his middle age: He drinks Samuel Adams and Bell’s now. “We only drank Stroh’s back then because there was nothing better around,” he told me.

But for me, my relationship with beer has become like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino. I want a cold PBR out of a cooler while I sit on my porch. I used to laugh at guys like that. Now I want to pull up a chair next to him and crack open a brew.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I invited another couple over for a holiday dinner party. The husband brought an IPA. I offered him a Schlitz tall boy. We drank Schlitz all night. I think there was some peer pressure involved. He knew Schlitz was a manlier brew than his IPA.

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