Bye Bye Beer Thugs

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under the legal drinking age, he was a linebacker sized white boy with several stunning gold teeth, an appearance that superseded the necessity of presenting a valid ID.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.

 

 

 

Drink Slinger of the Week: Tracy

September 19th:  Tracy from The Grand Cafe

Wine Me, Dine Me, Nickel & Dime Me

Want to know the worst place in Florida to wait tables or sling drinks?

Naples.

Known for its pristine Gulf Coast beaches, champion golf courses and world class shopping, Naples, Florida is home to a whole bunch of wealthy retirees who became wealthy retirees by acting like cheap, petty bastards in the restaurants and bars.  At first glance the town presents itself as a luxurious off-season bargain but soon after, it becomes obvious that its year round residents and retired regular visitors are simply the nickel and dime-ing types with discriminating tastes.

Our recent brief stay there began with surprise discount after surprise discount.  Upon arriving at our hotel, we were immediately offered a discount which I attributed to the desk clerk being gay and my boyfriend being cute.  When I told the clerk, “Thank you,” and that we were Florida residents, he interrupted me by further discounting our room.  What the hell, I thought.  It’s September and they must be desperate and friendly.

After checking into our half price fancy hotel, we went for a stroll down Fifth Avenue, where fine art galleries and designer clothing stores flank fine dining restaurants who all seemed to be offering three course bargain meals with free wine.  Perusing the menus which offered lobster, chicken marsala, and sauteed snapper, not a single eatery was charging more than twenty bucks for three courses with a drink and some even advertised half price bottles wine.

My delusional bubble that we’d simply stumbled upon an off-season bargain was soon burst when we sat down for a beer at McCabe’s Irish Pub.  An elderly gentleman was arguing with the bartender over the price of beers on his bill which were not discounted for happy hour.  When the bartender pointed out that it was not yet happy hour, the guy cited that it was already happy hour at another neighborhood bar and his bill should reflect happy hour pricing.   Although I was certain that the bargain hunting gentleman and his jewel-encrusted female companion could afford full price beers, I resisted the urge to interject, even though the young bartender was far too apologetic and kind.

At each subsequent restaurant and bar we went to, the same flea market mentality was in force.  Apparently in Naples, it is customary to demand discounts and argue about the price of your bill and the server will apologize, smile and accommodate any and all of your thrifty bull shit.  I’ve never seen anything like it and am now convinced that the service industry workers are suffering what I’ve labeled “Battered Bartender Syndrome.”  They weren’t just being nice.  They were whipped puppies.  Abused, worn down and broken into submission.  Trained to slash the price of your bill and apologize for underhandedly attempting to charge you full price.

At Verginia’s on Fifth Avenue we enjoyed a beautiful meal while seated at the bar.  When I asked the bartender for a wine list she rattled off all the happy hour half price specials.  When we asked for a dinner menu she steered us toward the three course twenty dollar meal.  When we told her we weren’t necessarily looking for a bargain she made a joke about being accustomed to doing the “Medicare Shuffle.”  As she poured our wine she reminded us that it was half off and we could enjoy happy hour prices all evening.   When we paid our check she informed us that we’d received a free glass of wine as advertised, half price appetizers, and that she hadn’t applied the five dollar split fee for sharing an entree.  We left her an obscene tip which I hope she used towards a ticket for the next bus out of there.

During our final breakfast on our way out of town, we were unfortunately seated near a nasal-voiced local woman who was hell bent on loudly telling the servers all about her pending divorce.   She only shut up for a few minutes to scrutinize her bill.  She called the waiter over to complain that the menu advertised salmon for $6 and on her bill it said $6.25 and when computing the bill with tax, she had not received her true ten percent discount.

I’d like to see that woman pull that kind of crap in my town.

Drink Slinger of the Week: Rachel

September 12th:  Rachel from Santiago’s

“I’ll take a Beck’s with a Side of Career Counseling”

Many folks go to bars to get away from work.  In Germany, some people go to a bar to find work.

At the Kindl Klause pub in Berlin nearly one quarter of Michael Hasucha’s customers were unemployed and living off of the German jobless benefit known as “Hartz IV.”  So Mister Hasucha decided to give his patrons a little something more than a beer buzz.  He began offering free job advice.

No joke.  There is now a desk at the Kindl Klause Pub operating between 2 to 5 PM on weekdays manned by two social workers offering advice on how to get back into the workforce.

I’m guessing the councilors don’t look like this:

Drink Slinger of the Week – Landon

September 4th:  Landon  –  The Porch

Landon works every Tuesday night at The Porch on Caroline at Duval.  Tip him well……his wife is about to have their first baby next month!

A Beer Festival on the Beach? It doesn’t get any better than this!

The Key West Brewfest is coming up this weekend folks!!
What better way to spend a weekend than combining sun, fun, beer and a great cause? Mark your calendar, make your reservations, and plan to join us.

Where: Southernmost Hotel Collection, Key West, Florida
When: September 3-5, 2010 (Labor Day Weekend)
For: All proceeds will benefit the charitable efforts of the Key West Sunrise Rotary of the Conch Republic

Schedule of Events

Friday, Sept. 3rd:
5:00pm – 7:00pm – VIP Welcome Party
Location: The Shores Bar
Free to vendors, VIPs, Sponsors and Organizing Committee.
Suggested Donation $5.00

Saturday, Sept. 4th:
Our Signature Event
4:00pm – 8:00pm – Key West BrewFest

Location: South Beach at Southernmost Beach Café where the Atlantic meets Duval!
Beer Tastings, Food by Southernmost Beach Café and Entertainment by Toko Irie
$20 Admission

Entertainment by Toko Irie

Toko Irie’s blend of upbeat Island Reggae and Calypso generates an easy tropical feel. Renowned for his unique 3-stick method of playing the steel drums, his boundless charisma transports audiences to Caribbean balmy breezes and — Ya Mon — everyone has a fun time.
Sunday, Sept. 5th:
6:30pm – 8:30pm – Samuel Adams Beer Dinner
Location: Southernmost Beach Café

$50 Admission++
++ dinner is $50 plus tax + gratuity

For ticket information please call 1.800.354.4455 info@keywestbrewfest.com

Drink Slingers of the Week-Cindy & Kassi

August 29th:  Cindy & Kassi   –   Southernmost Beach Cafe

Next weekend (Labor Day Weekend) is the Key West Brew Fest at Southernmost Beach Cafe.   For details, cut and paste the following link:

http://beeradvocate.com/events/info/36162

The Bartender Hates You #9

Drink Slinger of the Week: Andrew

August 21st:  Andrew  –  The Orchid Bar

(The Orchid Bar is tucked away inside the Orchid Key Inn on Duval at Truman.  In addition to fine wines, the Orchid Bar features fresh squeezed juices!)