In the Spring of 1990 I inadvertently became an Aheuser-Busch customer. My underage friends and I were drinking Natural Light (in a can) which we purchased for the bargain price of twenty-five bucks a 12-pack from the enterprising older brother of one of our classmates. His name, (and I am not making this up) was Tony Randoney and although he too was under the legal drinking age, he was a linebacker sized white boy with several stunning gold teeth, an appearance that superseded the necessity of presenting a valid ID. His hulking pretense also facilitated a very lucrative price-gouging part-time gig for old Tony and not a single beer-seeking teenager at Westside High School (including me) questioned his prices nor his beer selection. So we paid Tony’s obscene prices, drank our Natural Light and pretended it tasted good.
By college we all realized that Natural Light cost far less than twenty-five bucks a 12-pack and was the official beer of the homeless. Far from the clutches of our parents and outside of Tony Randoney’s canned beer racket, at college we existed in a free market and of the myriad of choices made available to college freshmen, none are more prolific (and present) than choices of alcoholic beverages. The average freshman learns very quickly that at Frat parties alcohol, from the Everclear spiked punch ladeled from a garbage can to the Keystone Light beer can tower, is simply a means to an end. It is a vehicle to get people drunk so that they can either (a) have sloppy meaningless sex or (b) experience an extreme episodic loss of consciousness known as “Black-out Drunk.”
By sophomore year most college kids figure out whether they want to be social drinkers or black out drinkers. The former generally discover that beer is not merely a cheap way to get hammered, but is available in a multitude of bottled and draft forms varying in taste, color and appeal, and if consumed in moderation, can be enjoyed along with a little thing called “memorable experiences.”
I love beer. I love the taste, the hops, the barley. I love the bubbles, the cold, thirst quenching river of delicious fermented delight. I love lagers and ales, Belgium Wheats and Irish Stouts. I love frosted mugs and beautiful glass bottles and even lambics that call for stemmed glassware. In college I could barely afford to pay my electric bill but I kept a decent stock of imported beers to enjoy. Red Stripe, Newcastle, Dos Equis Lager and Guinness were generally on hand. When Samuel Adams Boston Lager first became available in our state, my nerdy beer friends and I rejoiced that a domestic beer was finally up to snuff.
Then I moved to Key West which in the bar business might as well be known as Bud-Land and once again, I accidentally became an Anheuser-Busch customer. I started drinking lighter and lighter beer, eventually settling on Michelob Ultra since its inception about ten years ago. Looking back, I think I was simply the credulous victim of marketing, as Michelob Ultra was touted as the “runner’s beer.” I thought, “Hey, I’m a runner. This must be my beer.”
Ten years is a long time to be partial to one brand but recently I’ve made a conscious effort to make a change. I am trying not to purchase or consume any Anheuser-Busch products.
A perfect storm of events led me to make this odd little decision. The first thing that happened was actually Chris Shultz’s fault. He opened up this awesome little bar earlier this year called The Porch which specializes in delicious craft beers. Reading his beer menu and tasting The Porch’s offerings was a taste bud re-awakening. It was like I’d been eating at McDonald’s for ten years and all of a sudden a Chez Panisse opened up on the corner of Caroline and Duval!
Shortly after becoming a faithful follower of The Porch’s Sea Dog Blueberry Wheat on tap, I happened to watch a documentary called “The Beer Wars” which actually was made nearly two years ago. The film explores the seedy underbelly of the distribution side of the beer industry, highlighting how the giant three (Anheuser-Busch, Miller & Coors) have such a strong hold on the distributing tier of our nation’s three tier alcoholic beverage system, that this imbalance of power has created a monopoly which quells and often prevents fair competition between beer brewers. My views on the Three Tier System is an entirely different blog (which I’ll write up soon, I promise,) but suffice to say, “Beer Wars” incites the viewer to scan the beer isle, to look past the rows and rows of Coors, Miller and Bud products, try the little guys of the beer industry and taste for yourself.
So, I’ve been tasting for myself and I realized that for the past ten years I’ve been drinking (and selling) beer flavored water. In my quest for better beer I’ve discovered some tasty craft brews off on the side shelves at the local supermarkets and I hit up Conch Republic Liquors regularly for Dog Fish Head Punkin Ale and Left Hand Milk Stout. (“Punkin” is not a typo. The bottle says “Punk” and the beer is delicious!)
This past year I also found myself in the position of selecting and purchasing all the alcohol for a small, local licensed establishment. We are only open in season and sell mostly wine and cocktails. I made the mistake last season of only carrying Bud and Bud Light and holy cow, did I hear some major beer bitching. “Bud? All you have is Bud?! That’s not even real beer.”
This season I have yet to purchase any Budweiser stuff to sell but circumnavigating the Big Bud people is not as easy as one might think. Since the 2008 merger of Europe’s InBev corporation with Anheuser-Busch, AB-InBev is now the world’s largest beer brewer with 25% of the global beer market. They own 1 out of every 4 beers! Besides the well known Bud, Michelob and Busch families, they own Stella, Bass, Beck’s, Kirin, Hoegaarden, Shock Top Wheat and even Rolling Rock! I was careful to select outside the AB-InBev family and last week we opened for the first time this season, offering a great domestic craft Pale Ale and a tasty imported lager. To my surprise, I heard quite a few “What? No Bud Light?” As if denying anyone access to watery flavored beer was an abomination.
So my great better beer experiment continues and just as I once successfully severed my ties with big boned, gold-toothed Tony Randoney and his crap beer scam, I am severing my ties with Anheuser Busch. It’s not what I want to drink and I’m not willing to settle.
Life’s too short to drink crappy beer.