Short Primer: Getting Up To Speed on Lousy Beer, Worldwide
Where to start? Hmmm...Okay, if you're reading this in some area of the world other than Unistat, and you're over, say, 35, you grew up knowing (and it was all-too-true) that Unistat beer was "yellow fizzy water." Beer aficionados in Unistat now often use the shorthand "BMC", meaning "Budweiser/Miller/Coors." Before the "progressive" idea of Prohibition, there were 1500 breweries in Unistat; the 18th Amendment (Jan.17, 1920, a day that will live in infamy) killed all of them overnight.
[Everything Hitler did was legal: you just pass a law.]
The 21st Amendment - getting rid of the 18th - was ratified Dec. 5th, 1933, a day that we celebrate...every day, come to think of it! But it was Depression times (gosh, I wonder what that was like?), and then after what's commonly called the "Second World War," only a few but large corporations had enough capital to brew for the thirsty masses. And they brewed really terrible stuff (I'm biased, I know, I know).
Perhaps the major brewer in Unistat was Anheuser-Busch, and I heartily recommend reading William Knoedelseder's recent Bitter Brew: Anheuser-Busch and the Rise and Fall of America's Kings of Beer. If you'd rather practice Bayard's art here, see Tom Dibblee's terrific review of the book, "Even Anheuser-Busch Hates Bud Light." Don't miss the very George W. Bush 43-ish personality of August Busch IV; the downfall of competitor Schlitz, which tried to speed up fermentation to produce more beer, but this caused a yucky mucous-like substance to accumulate once the beer got old enough; how the good ol' boys running Anheuser-Busch were dismayed - ironically so like me and my beer snob friends - when Bud Light outsold their beloved Budweiser, which to me is a horrible beer: they thought Bud Light had no soul, and I think everything Anheuser-Busch has brewed has no soul and aye: 'tis "yellow fizzy water." They began to lose market share (much of it via mismanagement) and tried all sorts of ridiculous gimmicks, one of which the reviewer Dibblee unashamedly loves: Bud Light With Lime. (And I admire his defense of it, by the way. See Dibblee's paragraph near the end that starts, "I wrote earlier about...")
A right-goodlie portion of Knoedelseder's book was a revelation to me; I have been a ruthless opponent of Unistatian Bad Beer for many years now (25?); and I love the new craft beers and micro- and nano-brewing experiments, and I'm a confessed huge Hop Head, but I'll get to that in a bit.
The most poignant part of the book, which informs what I call The Big Divide, is how Anheuser-Busch was taken over, hostile-fashion, by Belgium-based InBev. Like all giant sociopathic corporations, it laid off thousands of workers and cut benefits. It also cheapened their production processes to make even shittier beer (hard to imagine!), and the upper brass and CEOs gave themselves humongous bonuses. But the worst: they feel a threat from actual BEER: craft beers, innovators, the little guys who actually care about beer. So they buy up as many of the other larger worldwide breweries and distributors, spend enormously on marketing, and take up the precious "eye-level" space in markets. And they have enforced laws that basically only allow their own beer to be shipped across state lines. It's complex, chock-full of mendacity, galling stuff.
In late January of 2013, driven by the New America Foundation, the "Justice" Department in Unistat actually began antitrust (!) proceedings against Anheuser-Busch/InBev (ABI), because ABI had announced they wanted to buy Grupo Modelo, the largest beer distributor based in Mexico. ABI saw Corona beer as a threat.
Oh, wow: I realize I've gone on far too long on the lousy beer stuff, and I could write off the top of my head another 5000 words on this shit, but suffice: ABI, together with another monster crap-beer conglomerate, SABMiller (So. African Brewers who bought Miller in 2002, then later Coors and Foster's, blah blah blah) control at least 80% of the market in Unistat. ABI's buying of Grupo Modelo would make this even worse; hence, the antitrust stuff going on now. They say they have their eyes on the world beer market and mean no artistes any harm, but make no mistake: they want to crush the craft beer industry - the only beer worth drinking, something that makes my life immeasurably more worth living - in Unistat.
There's a lot of Good News on this front, and maybe if anyone asks me in the comments I'll go into it, but right now I need to go into hops.
Finally:Get a load of this world beer map of brews made by just "Two Giant Brewers, 210 Brands." (If you personally like any one of these, good for you! I want people to enjoy what they enjoy. But know who's controlling what you're drinking. It may give you pause...)
Oh, there's so much of surpassing fascination to say, talk, write and talk again about: malts, malting processes, and the miracle of yeast. To say the least. But I'd like to talk hops, which are very closely related to Cannabis. (Full disclosure: as I write this blogspewage, I'm languidly lavishing in a bomber of Coronado Brewing's Idiot IPA: an India Pale Ale, "Imperial"- style, which means it's hopped-up big-time, basically a double IPA: very bitter and delicious.)
The story goes that extra hops were used in beer shipped to British troops maintaining the Empire in India: hops act as a preservative in addition to adding a fine bitter taste to ale. When Unistat made homebrewing legal in 1979, those garage-scientist-brewing-tinkerers were influenced by the good beer they'd had on their trips to Europe, and especially England and Scotland, but also: Germany, Ireland, Czechoslovakia...(Now many brewers in those countries are being inspired by Unistatian craft-brews. Do you see what I mean by the The Big Divide?)
What else do hops do? Well, they're linked to controlling respiratory infections in children. Maybe isolates of humulone will one day fight pneumonia and bronchitis in kids? (This reminds me of Pliny the Elder, the Roman naturalist, 23-79CE, who died after inhaling smoke and ash after the Mt. Vesuvius eruption: a craft brew from near-to-me Santa Rosa, a hop bomb called Pliny the Elder, has won multiple awards and is much celebrated and sought-after among hop-heads in Unistat. It's maybe my favorite beer right now...)
So hops are anti-viral and related intimately to Cannabis and their oily terpenoids contribute overwhelmingly to the character of a particular beer, "So fucking what?," as the Anti-Nowhere League once said. (Check out Metallica's cover - NSFW! probably? - of that very Libertarian song HERE. There are many sources for the lyrics, one of which HERE. But clearly: when Hetfield of Metallica sings it, instead of "I've sucked sweets/I've sucked rock," he's singing "I've fucked the Queen/I fucked Bach..." This needed to be cleared up.)
I like very bitter, hoppy beer. That's what. "Ain't Nobody's Business If You Do," as Ruth Brown and B.B. King once sang, in a very Libertarian song. (You know this one, but in case not, it's HERE. Great Mother of All Hops!: I love BB's vibrato! It's like a trill, it's so even and quick. Inimitable! And I've tried to imitate it. And I dig how he just decided, long ago, to not play chords, and just...sing with his "Lucille" and Lucille's interlopers. The only vibrato that made a deeper impression on me is Eric Clapton's, 1967-74, but clearly, that's for some other time.)
Am I addicted? I don't think so. Although "addiction" has become far better understood and hence much more complicated over the past six years. Russian River Brewing's Vinnie Cilurzo and another brewer named Matt Brynildson coined the phrase, in 2005, "lupulin threshold shift," which means "when a double IPA just isn't enough." Vinnie brews Pliny the Elder, and I once wrote him a fan letter because of it. Yea, I got it bad. I consider Vinnie an Artist.
Briefly, I have gained some insight into why I push the envelope for hoppiness (some people can't stand the bitterness of some "hoppy" beer that to me, is only a jump, step and hop from Budweiser), and it's from the literature of addiction. Briefly: there's adaptation to a stimulus, when the perception, in this case taste/smell, dissipates over the course of an exposure. I try a hop-bomb beer and go wow! You try it and think whatever, you like it or not or something in between, you've got your own complex neurochemistry-set that's unique based on your DNA, experience, aesthetics, etc.
Within an hour, your sensorium is back to "normal." Me? Habituation has taken place. What's going on is that, for a long time after the initial exposure to some overweeningly bitter hopped-up beer, my sensitivity remains diminished. In other words, the impression of the hops on my nervous system was pleasurable, and I sorta...want more. Hence, we hop-heads push the hop-envelope and now there are Triple IPAs. At this point the way we measure this - so far, in IBUs, or International Bitterness Units - is off the charts. There's no "official line" for what makes an IPA a single, double, or even triple. (I recently had a quadruple IPA called Moylan's Hop Craic - pronounced "crack" and Gaelic for "conversation" but the brewer knows what the pun's about, I assure you.)
A Novel Hypothesis?
Now, I don't know if the following observation has been made, but here goes:
Experimental psychologist Linda Bartoshuk has done studies and noted that about 25% of the population are "non-tasters." About 50% are "tasters" and 25% are "supertasters." This has to do with administering a chemical, which interacts with the either very low, medium, or high number of fungiform papillae on your tongue. This chemical, yoked to your overall sensoria, will have you reacting (or not or to some degree) that it's very bitter and unpleasant, or maybe you barely notice it at all. Supertasters taste this chemical and it's horribly bitter to them; they find cruciferous vegetables very strong and unpleasant, so they may get more cancers because they can't handle, say, broccoli. It's far more complex than I will make it out, so look into this stuff for yourself. [See links HERE, HERE, and HERE, for example.] Ya gots yer fungiform papillae, ya gots yer reactions to foods or drinks, ya gots yer olfactory bulb and genes and all that stuff. Supertasters may be thinner: less to eat, everything's really intense for them. The wine expert Robert Parker is probably one of these people. The late Aaron Swartz described himself as a supertaster.
"Non-tasters" like their coffee black. (Supertasters often can't drink coffee at all, or if they do, they cut it with all kinds of gawdawful stuff like cream or milk or sugar.) Non-tasters dig really hot peppers. They generally eat anything. Many of them are overweight, because they can eat anything, and they like everything, and especially extreme tastes. Because of what I'll call my genetic profile, I am not overweight, but I am a non-taster. Give me the hottest salsa you can find. Make my coffee black, no cream or sugar, and so thick you can stand a fork in it. I'll eat anything and I generally like it, even if I think it's not exactly the best version of taco/cheese/tomato/yogurt/pickles/chocolate/steak/turnips, whatever. Throw just about anything at me and I'll like it. Hey gals? I'm EASY!
Okay, so this is my best explanation so far for my extreme hop-love: the more bitter and extreme the hops, the more stimulating the experience, then the habituation, followed by escalation. The evolutionary psychology explanation: the supertasters could tell the rest of the wandering-through-the-forest tribe which plants might be dangerous, extreme bitterness and strong tastes in general being suspected poisons. My people were the ones who maybe died because they ate something anyway, never getting the verbal memo. But I'm here, my lineage remains. They got the memo, and maybe even said "the hell with it: I want something interesting..." I have survived. (I'll spare the Donna Summer link.)
And you know what? The bulk of non-tasters are caucasian, white, and male.
Where are the most gargantuanly hoppy beers being quaffed? In California, Oregon, Washington, in areas that are crammed with slightly overweight, educated, caucasian males. Interesting. They're often the hop-bomb brewers, too.
Now: the old statistical saw: Correlation Does Not Imply Causation. I'm merely suggesting it.
So, an article by a self-described beer writer and admitted hop-head (and female), Adrienne So (sounds non-caucasian), was published by Slate recently. She says enough with the over-the-top hops, craft beer freaks! I like 'em too, but we're alienating the people who are willing to jump from the Dark Side of The Great Divide's ABI/SABMiller beers to the Good Stuff, and you're clobbering them with extremes! I see her point. The commenters seem sorta unfair to her. But I think Adrienne So is not paying attention to 1.) the market will say who wants extremely hoppy beer; 2.) there is no end of really delicious non-extreme hoppy craft beer out there, and 3.) her friend from Tennessee is a weasel.
So let me reiterate my (?) hypothesis: the genes that migrated to the Left Coast contained a lot of non-tasters, folks who like extreme tastes and will try anything, as long as it's interesting. While there are tremendously hopped-up hyper-bitter beers brewed in areas not on the Left Coast, this is where it's really hot. (I love Avery Maharaja Double IPA out of Boulder, Colorado and the day I tasted Three Floyd's Dreadnaught Imperial IPA out of Munster, Indiana was a very good day indeed!) Adrienne So has not taken into account non-tasters and their genetic drift to the Left Coast of Unistat.
I'll be paying attention to see how my Hypothesis falls apart upon further evidence. Until then: Cheers!
Some Beers I Regret I Didn't Get To Mention That Have Taken Me To Hop Heaven:
- Green Flash Imperial IPA
- Pliny The Younger
- Moylan's Hopsickle
- Marin Brewing White Knuckle
- Stone Ruination 10th Anniversary
- Lagunitas Hop Stoopid
- your massively hopped beer here