News From the Front

It’s quite a sight, really—400 breweries serving up 25,000 gallons of 1,884 different beers to 46,000 attendees. And only an ounce at a time, if you can imagine such a thing.

So, who won the gold? Beats me. It’s Beer Digest or Microbrew Weekly’s job to report and ponder those statistics. The way I see it, it’s this publication’s task to take a measure of the event’s quality of drunkardry. Besides, there were 75 different categories, for Heaven’s sake, and if I trumpeted the American-Style Sour Ale champion wouldn’t I be slighting the ne plus ultra of the Dortmunder/European Style Export set?

Furthermore, a drunkard hates a line (especially if all you get at the end of it is an ounce of beer), so I didn’t actually sample many the popular, gold-medal beers.

What I can do is reveal the quality of the beers that had perhaps hustled up a bronze, or not a goddamn thing at all: damned fine. And daring. No one pushes an envelope like a drinker, and some of the brewers (who I assume are drinkers, if not drunks) are definitely not shy about exploring the outer fringes of taste and decency. Some of their concoctions gave a broad nod to grape jelly, others boldly leaned toward roofing tar. And I’m saying that’s agood thing; the boundaries must be tested.

Especially when you consider that just 30 years ago beer drinkers languished beneath the heel of a handful of breweries cranking out the same thin swill. We were an international joke. Oh sure, there were a few ultra-exotic curiosities like Michelob Dark and Löwenbräu, but other than those flamboyant mutants, it was strictly dullsville. As far as beer brewing goes, we are living in a golden age.

As to the drunkardry of the event, it was largely hit-and-miss. The average attendee hailed from that vast middle ground between Bluto Blutarsky and a Star Trek enthusiast. There were roving packs of pure-blooded boozeheads, to be sure, but there was also the unspeakably disturbing spectacle of the “silent disco.”

The pour buckets were used with alarming regularity. I know it’s all part of being a beer snob to have a sip and dump the remainder, but the sight of it will raise the hackles of the average drunkard. Dumping (and sometimes spitting) out good beer is right up there with slapping your bedridden mother. The Nuremberg-worthy cheers that filled the hall when someone dropped their cup (I’m sure it was much more satisfying before they switched from glass to plastic) is good stuff—an impressive amplification of that fine bar tradition of cheering a miscue.

The Big News of the Festival, as far as I’m concerned, was the announcement from the Schlitz table that they are returning to their 1963 recipe. The one they used before they joined the ranks of the aforementioned corporate swills. I had a taste of the resurrected version and was astounded. It tasted like real beer again. Thicker, richer, more delicious.

And there it is—we should not only take heart that many brave young beers are rising up and making names for themselves, but also that at least one of the old stalwarts that had lost its way has returned to the fold.