Nobody sets out to be what Kingsley Amis refers to as a “beer bore.” When you’re a teenager you don’t drone on about Belgian Lambics, how you only drink Kölsch in Cologne and mercifully you never utter the word “handcrafted.” No, when you’re eighteen you drink what’s available, familiar, cheap and geographically appropriate. And that’s as it should be.
For us, summers in Wisconsin meant Leinenkugel’s, which came, like Annie Hall, from nearby Chippewa Falls. The bottle declared that it’s “brewed by 73 people who care” which is reassuring. It’s been around since 1867 and has been run by many generations of Jacob Leinenkugel’s descendants, which is good. Then it was bought by an international conglomerate in 1988, which is not as good, but perhaps not surprising.
Even for those of use who are devoted wine drinkers, it remains a very fine beer. Well, perhaps not very fine, but certainly good enough. That’s one of the funny things about the beer you grow up with: Your associations are so strong that they can overwhelm your judgment about the taste. This comes into sharp relief when you try your friend’s favorite beer from Washington or Maine and hint that it’s subpar (perhaps over the years you have acquired a few habits of the beer bore). Your friend looks at you icily, as if you’ve insulted his mother’s cooking.
Yes, it’s all highly subjective. Leinenkugel’s has gone through some changes. They’ve introduced seasonal flavors for some reason. But it’s best to stick to the original, which is a beer you drink on the shore of a lake. There’s also been some back and forth about the woman on the bottle. For a while she had the look of a fierce Native American woman, which I always found inspiring as a kid, though in terms of corporate identity that’s probably frowned upon these days. Perhaps not coincidentally her ethnicity has changed, and now she’s of no specific culture, just a tanned girl with a feather in her hair, possibly an environmental studies major from a good family. Who can explain these things?
On the wall of the Sapporo brewery in Hokkaido, you’ll find the saying: “As long as man has been civilized, he has been brewing beer.” Now that’s downright inspiring. The equation for beer endures because it can’t be improved upon. Most men want consistency in their beer, their scotch and, for that matter, even their clothes. Over the long run they don’t want novelty flavors or strange new bottles developed for no reason. It’s like baseball: it’s a great game, so just play it without endless music and absurd contests on the video screen. In fact, the only thing you need at a baseball game beside the baseball is beer. That’s nature, my friends, and it’s as elemental as it gets. —DAVID COGGINS