Beer: Domestic vs. Import


"Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." Thirteen of the most elegant words in the English language. And no, it isn't the wisdom of Homer Simpson. Try the esteemed Benjamin Franklin.

The knowledge that our founding fathers took comfort by throwing a cold one down somehow validates the role barley and hops have played in American scholarly pursuits from sea to shining sea. And you can bet if Poor Richard and his cronies were dumping tea into Boston Harbor, they weren't anywhere near an English ale.

Which brings us to an enterprise — Anheuser Busch — that, despite its German roots, has become every bit as American as the three colors that adorn a Budweiser can. "Crisp. Clean. Refreshing." Read those words again and remind your mouth not to water. Budweiser is the elixir of smiles, handshakes, and fourth-quarter touchdown drives. More laughs have been shared over a six-pack of Bud than a festival of Abbott (another great Bud) and Costello.

And if your taste buds haven't developed a loving relationship with Budweiser, you need not call Professor Beer Nerd for a wordy, scent-filled, "clean-finishing" prescription for import sophistication. (To me, drinking beer and sophistication are about as harmonious as NASCAR and Mozart. Enjoy them both, but don't try to mix, folks.) Samuel Adams (Boston), Anchor Steam (San Francisco), Coors (Denver), Miller (Milwaukee), Shiner (Texas). Need to get a little fancy with your American taste? Find yourself a Magic Hat out of South Burlington, Vermont, or go Rogue (Newport, Oregon). Aside from touring this country's baseball stadiums, there can't be a better way to soak up the profound variety of American taste than to sample — free! — one domestic beer after another on the grounds where it was brewed.

Whether sipped or slugged, American beer has found its rightful place in a society as comfortable with a keg as it is with a backyard grill. At your next high-school reunion, impress your friends (snicker) by ordering some hearty stout from overseas. But if it's a take-me-back smile you want to deliver, just bring along a six-pack of Bud. Cans are best.

— Frank Murtaugh


The Roman historian Tacitus wrote in 98 A.D., "The germanii serve an extract of barley. . . as a beverage that is somehow adulterated to resemble wine." There's something to be said for origination with a craft like brewing. Germans have done it for thousands of years.

Over those millennia, a class of brewers evolved in Germany — monks and nuns in past centuries — evident in the number of monastic breweries still functioning throughout the country. This continuity and singularity of purpose fostered the adaptation that can result in perfection. The function of these small German breweries was never to prosper financially, so the focus remained on the quality of the brew.

Germany originated lager, pilsner, and ale, all mainstays of the American beer market, which, it should be noted, exists only because of enterprising German immigrants like Messrs. Busch, Schlitz, Pabst, and Miller.

Germans have neither persecuted brewers, as Americans did all things German during WWI, nor criminalized beer and equated it with moral crisis as Americans did during Prohibition — a chapter of our history so dark and regrettable it appears in capital letters like the Depression or Reconstruction.

The American brewing industry may someday evolve to approximate the height of German brewing artistry embodied in weissbier, dunkels, and bockbier. As yet, American assembly-line brews stick to the pale-hued basics.

The phrase "craft beer" used to designate well made domestic brews is a silly redundancy in Germany where it's all carefully produced. Say the word reinheitsgebot around an American brewer, and he's likely to answer "bless you." It's no joke in Germany, though, where the so-called "purity law" — which predates the Constitution by three centuries — permits only four ingredients in beer: water, hops, malt, and yeast. Most American beers could never pass that muster, what with the malt syrups, sugars, and preservatives (how about that Bud Light hangover?) included.

Ultimately, German beer is to American beer as American rock-and-roll is to German rock-and-roll. The imitator can't touch the originator. At least it won't in this millennium.

— Preston Lauterbach

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