Olympia

Oly

Like-minded people everywhere are free to take their cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon, raise them to their mouth and actually swallow as many ounces as they see fit. Please. Do so all you’d like. The joke’s on you. The stuff is rubbish.

Just a quick anecdote. I encounter literally dozens upon dozens of homeless people and SRO basket cases every day no matter what direction I’m walking in, and I never see any of these folks (all of whom like to drink) with a PBR in their shaking, begrimed paws. Steel Reserve 211, yes. Tecate, yes. Even Lagunitas IPA at times! But never Pabst.) Think about that for a moment. People who have systematically destroyed whatever varying amount of brains they were born with through alcohol and drug abuse and falling over and hitting their heads on the unforgiving hard plastic seat corners of municipal buses still have more sense than to take up their daily position against the wall of the San Francisco Public Library with a sixer of Pabst Blue Ribbon at their side. But some bearded, upper tax-bracket mollycoddle in $200 Scotch & Soda skim jeans and a Filson buffalo check lumberjack coat will elbow up to the bar and heartily guzzle it down and even pretend to enjoy it. Why? There must be a reason for it, but the modern American hipster is one head space I’d rather not poke around in. I value my sanity. So, as I said, “they” can have it.

Why this bellyaching about Pabst Blue Ribbon in an entry about Olympia Beer? Well, it’s because, in the 80s, they bought Olympia and wasted no time in irrevocably ruining it. They changed the recipe to one of their stock penny-pinching formulas, and cut the price of an already inexpensive beer to Meister Brau-like levels. That was it, the jig was up, my beloved Oly went from being a delight to undrinkable.

Before all this, it had magic, it really did. Yes, I know it was a middling grocery store lager and not Rochefort Blue Cap–no one’s trying to claim it was some world-beater brewed by an expat band of Trappist monks who immigrated to Thurston County, WA during the chaos of World War II. But damn, for $2.99 plus sales tax for six of ’em, you received a smooth, crisp drink that just plain tasted good. Refreshing, even. It’s hard to explain, but trust me, it was delicious. And when it changed, the difference was shocking.

It still exists today, brewed in California–a good thousand miles from the mythical Artesian wells. And hey, it’s even got a lot of the same sort of retro, working class fake cool that PBR makes a living on. But it hasn’t been the same for a long, long time.

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Coors

coors can

A long, long time ago, for persons living east of the Mississippi, the myth of the unobtainable beer called Coors flitted around the heads of drinkers at graduation parties, football tailgating sessions and family reunion picnics like a chimerical butterfly. It was something whispered about in reverent, almost unbelieving tones. Those lucky enough to vacation “out west” would sometimes bring back cases of it, smugly doling it out to a chosen few friends and relatives like each can was a gilded sippy cup brimming with 100 year-old Macallan. It could really bring out the worst in people. I know one kid who had to mow his next door neighbor’s lawn every weekend from April to October due to an arrangement his father had made after said neighbor had returned from a trip to Yellowstone National Park with a trunkful of Coors weighing down the rear end of his Oldsmobile Cutlass. This heartless bastard traded the sweat of his own offspring, his own flesh and blood, in exchange for a lousy six-pack. Of the 8 ounce cans! And the boy, why, he never got so much of a swallow of it, his dad drank all six cans in about 15 minutes and then started bitching about how he “didn’t even feel buzzed.”

Still, the mystique remained and one spring in the early 80s, word started to ricochet around school that this fabled entity the Coors Brewing Company of Golden, Colorado was planning to expand their distribution as far east as Ohio. That the timing for this historic event would roughly coincide with the end of the school year was a sign that God himself most certainly had a soft spot in His infinite heart for teenagers with drinking problems. Yes, this was going to be THE summer of Coors!

No “official” date for the beer’s arrival was ever really announced, so we spent a lot of time sticking our noses into various outlets trying to track down the stuff on a daily basis. And then one day in mid-June, at one of the larger beer and wine outlets, it was there. Since it was about 11 a.m. or so, the man working there had no problem convincing us that the case we were purchasing was the first one he had sold. Ever. So now, not only did we have the contents of these lovely flaxen-hued aluminum vessels to consume, we were also in the history books. The very first ever in Ohio to buy Coors! That is the kind of record that by its very nature can never be broken or taken away and I still mention it to this day to HR personnel and prospective in-laws at the earliest opportunity I can manage.

The taste–well, to our virgin tongues it was delicious, fresh, pure, airy, refreshing, dizzying, crisp–the plaudits fell from our mouths like the silver waterfall on the front of the can, and bear in mind, Coors hadn’t even begun advertising the stuff yet, so it wasn’t like we had already been hypnotized by their high-powered marketing men. It was all in our own minds. Again, the power of myth.

So, it wasn’t exactly Trappistes Rochefort 10 Blue Cap, but it was a damn sight better than Busch.

Lowenbrau

lowenbrau one
The foreign beer that wasn’t really foreign. At some point, Miller Brewing Company thought it would be cute or whatever to brew a replica German beer in America and sell it for two or three bucks more than the going rate for its domestics. Even though it was a domestic. They wrapped it in a handsome sky blue label and even put silver foil around the neck like you would a bottle of fine champagne. And yet it never really caught on. It just didn’t have the “it” factor of a real foreign beer, because let’s face it, Milwaukee is hardly Amsterdam or Munich.

Lowenbrau was a pretender stepping into the ring with giants like Heineken and Molson Golden, and it got pummeled. Even smaller players had its number. Canada’s Moosehead had cool “Moose is Loose” T-Shirts and Germany’s St. Pauli Girl had buxom Bavarian (no matter the beer was actually brewed in the Hanseatic city of Bremen) barmaids that looked great on huge posters. Lowenbrau had a lame version of Wham’s “Last Christmas” video. I remember leaving a six pack in the refrigerator at a high school party once, (which would pretty much guarantee you getting a couple of bottles nicked) and no one stole even one of them. So if it couldn’t even tempt a bunch of punk kids walking around with swill like Little Kings Cream Ale and Mickey’s Big Mouths in their hands, which chance did it have when the Michael Milkens and Ivan Boeskys of the world sat down for a cold brew?