After enduring the first three of six delays due to Delta Airlines’ general incompetence, I returned to the High West annex at Salt Lake City airport’s E Terminal, ordered another Polygamy Porter on nitro (and a whiskey back, their Rendezvous Rye), and settled into the liquid solace of travel limbo. I’d had this beer from Park City-based Wasatch Brewery before, and suspect I admire it as much for the label as the brew itself (you gotta love the way it winks at Mormon culture by showing a scantily-clad guy surrounded by an army of fair maidens on a beer bottle). But the Polygamy Porter on nitro was a revelation. Silky and rich, with hints of chocolate and malt, finishing smooth.
Another guy bellied up the bar and ordered a Bud Light, soon followed by another layover victim, who did the same. And at first I felt compelled to tell them that they were missing out. That those beers were decidedly inferior to what I had in front of me.
But then I realized that I’d become handicapped by my love of craft beer. Whatever I said, however I said it, would reek of the elitist attitude that has inevitably become associated with the microbrew scene.
Because, really, it’s perfectly fine to drink macrobrews.
My first beer was one—a can of Budweiser that I swiped from my father’s fridge and downed in a few feverish gulps after mowing the lawn. And in college, of course, the beer of the night was more dictated by the lowest-possible price per case than anything to do with flavor. Yeah, I lived that cliché—as did most undergraduates with an appetite for day-after regret.
In the years that followed, my love of beer has expanded, from Milwaukee’s Best to “fancy” imports like Bass and Stella; to the hoppy, the barrel-aged, and the limited seasonal releases; to ingredients like Yuzo or curry spices; to old-school German and Belgian styles; to the artful application of bacteria and funky, wild yeast strains.
But a can of Bud, or a Corona with a thin slice of lime swirling in the bottle, perfectly complements a hot summer day at the beach, maybe even better than the latest boutique hefeweizen made with hand-sourced dandelion dust crafted by a bearded artisanal community in southwest Idaho.
And PBR—that signature hipster drink—is a damn good afternoon go-to when you’re trying to not get too bent before the night starts. Just ask my local pub Red Derby, who sells PBR—along with cans of Stroh’s and Schlitz—paired with various liquor backs with an alacrity that has probably kept those old school breweries in business. I even occasionally drink a can of Old Milwaukee, simply because Will Ferrell starred in a handful of guerilla-style ads that aired in small-market cities throughout the Midwest.
Comically, some macrobrews are trying to reverse their identity with such oddball concoctions like Stella Black. Other macrobreweries have stepped into the small-scale scene by acquiring microbreweries (witness Goose Island, or Kansas City’s Boulevard). Blasphemy to some craft beer enthusiasts, but I say embrace the expanded distribution that’ll result (and let the beer-makers finally make some decent coin). As long as they know not to mess with a good thing, no real harm done.
Of course, some macrobrews make us want to revile them by relying on theoretical innovation to make their beer seem new and noteworthy. From bottle necks constructed to quickly swirl the beer into your mouth to Miller Light’s new Punch Top Can—which is really a factory-made shotgunning accessory. Most of these so-called advancements seem designed to get you to drink faster, and not to taste it. It calls back the ghost of college, and not in a good way. But this seems driven mostly to appeal to the “what’s-new” necessity of the market, rather than genuine innovation. Because, really, the beer in the can or bottle tastes the same.
Which brings me back to those two tired fellow travelers in the SLC airport. They ordered what they ordered not because they wanted to drink it fast, or because it was cheap (because, really, nothing is inexpensive at an airport bar). They got it because it fit their craving. And they seemed to enjoy their beers just as much I enjoyed the Polygamy Porter.
Did Bud Light deliver the revelation I was having, tasting the Polygamy Porter on nitro for the first time?
It doesn’t matter.
Point is, they were enjoying their beer just as much as I was, all of us finding a moment of sanity in liquid comfort before getting on our next flight—or hearing about the next delay.
And that’s really all that counts.
Oh, and as for the guy who ordered a Jack and Coke half an hour later, and rejected the bartender’s offer to try some of High West’s award-winning bourbon instead of Jack Daniels? The soda would’ve masked the boutique distillery’s complex favors anyway.
Editor’s Note: Check out one writer’s counter argument to this essay here.