Some neighbors recently threw a by-the-way-we-eloped-five-months-ago party. I brought a carrot cake. A good time was had, as they say, by all.
Most of the beer came from a super-cool one-sixth size keg from Urban Chestnut made out of collapsible plastic (if you poked it, it would yield to your finger). But next to that was a metal tub filled with Busch.
The relatively newly married host in question is serious about his beer. He brews his own (then again, he also keeps a sourdough starter solely to make pizza dough). So I will admit I was a little surprised at his choice of Busch.
“It’s my guilty pleasure,” he said. “And if you’re going to drink cheap beer, it may as well be local.”
I could not disagree. In fact, I agreed very much. I am personally a fan, I told him, of Stag.
There. I’ve said it. I like Stag beer, and I am not ashamed.
I like a lot of other beers, too —beers with the words “oatmeal” and “stout” in their names, moderately bitter beers, beers brewed only at midnight by eunuchs under a full moon. But I also enjoy Stag. Kräftig too, if it comes to that.
I was first introduced to Stag by a caller, shortly after I moved to St. Louis. I forget how it came up in conversation, but I remember he said it used to be big but now it is only bought by alcoholics and old Germans, like him.
Alcoholics and old Germans? That’s the beer for me.
So I tried it, and I liked it. It is a fine and perhaps unusually flavorful example of an American lager, the style that still dominates sales in this country. A lot of beer snobs look down on American lager, but it certainly has its place.
No other style goes quite as well with a baseball game. It’s a good foil for spicy food. And although it has become a cliché, American lager is the perfect beer to quaff after mowing the lawn.
And, I have discovered, it also goes well with a movie. I am still new enough to town that the idea of drinking beer in a movie theater is still exotic to me. Whenever I go to one theater in particular, I feel compelled (perhaps by its retro feel) to order a Stag.
“I’d like an unironic can of Stag, please,” is what I say. The popcorn-and-beer people behind the counter always make some sort of sympathetic comments, and then I say, “It tastes like beer.”
The last time I went to that theater, I asked for an unironic can of Stag. The popcorn-and-beer guy said, “It tastes like beer.” I was a little startled. I don’t know if he thinks exactly like I do or if he’s just served me in the past. But at any rate, that makes at least two of us.
The unironic part of the equation is important. Sometimes, things become genuinely popular solely for the sake of irony, such as bowling shirts or handlebar mustaches or almost any hip haircut for men.
The last beer to suffer from ironic overexposure was Pabst Blue Ribbon. Several years ago, what had been a reasonably respected blue-collar beer that had seen its base dwindling was discovered by hipsters.
All of a sudden, its sales went through the roof. It was treated as a celebrity beer, it was made part of countless cleverly named specials, it was even served with fine dining.
And then, just as suddenly as it soared, it burned out and crashed to Earth, like Icarus. People who could not get enough now talk about it with derision.
Those of us who enjoy a cold Stag now and again worry about the irony thing, about Stag going down the Pabst Blue Ribbon path. Beers can quickly develop a national mania that more or less ruins them.
From its founding until the 1970s and beyond, Coors beer was available only in the west. As a result, a bizarre fixation on the brand developed in the east; its lack of availability turned it almost into a cult. In the 1977 movie “Smokey and the Bandit,” what Burt Reynolds and Jerry Reed are smuggling into Atlanta is a truckload of Coors.
It became so famous that when people in the east finally got the opportunity to try it, they were almost inevitably disappointed. The brand went from must-have to has-been in a matter of weeks.
I am not a snob. I will drink Coors if there is no water handy. And it certainly still has its fans. But when was the last time you heard anyone actually get excited about it?