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In Defense of Cheap Beer in Cans

March 12, 2010

Soon it may be time for some category consolidation.  Fussy about Cocktails and Fussy about Wine should be renamed Fussy about Drinking.  One day I will figure out exactly how to do that.  But as the categories stand right now, there is no obvious place to talk about beer.

Sure, beer fanatics will say it should fall under Fussy about Food.  After all, the ingredients in beer are almost identical to the ingredients in bread.

But the larger issue is that it is March, I’ve been writing this blog for over ten months, and I have yet to write a dedicated post about beer.  I suppose in truth, I have written about beer quite a bit over the course of the past year.  But it has always been in the background.

Today I’m going to clear all of that up.

I really enjoy good beer.  One of the true treasures of Albany is Mahar’s, a beer hall where they pour world-class beers that can only be found in a small handful of places. They have hand-pumped cask-conditioned ales, rare Belgian beers on tap, and a laundry list of unpronounceable German beers.  And I love them all.  That such an establishment can exist in our fair city is nothing short of amazing, and it gives me hope that Albany can support other similar businesses.

At home, if we are making a special meal we might get some special beers.  For example, when Mrs. Fussy put together a Thai feast we picked up some Singha.

But we also keep a rotating stock of cheap beer in cans.  Part of the rotation has been the result of trying the range of brands at this end of the market.  In the past couple of years we have had Budweiser, Miller High Life, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Busch, and Genesee Cream Ale.

These cheap mass-produced brews are not in the same league as their more worldly cousins.  But that doesn’t make them bad.  They have a place.  And it’s more than just, “The one beer to have when you’re having more than one.”

More than anything else, these beers are refreshing, especially when they are served very cold.

Granted, if you drink them from the can, they taste a bit tinny.  But that tinny taste is actually not a taste at all, but rather the smell of the can. It’s a fun experiment.  Take two cans of the same beer, pour one into a pint glass and leave the other in the can.  Then taste the difference between the two.  It’s striking.

Sure, you may lose your manly credibility by requesting a glass for your can of beer.  But manliness isn’t why you drink it.

Cheap beer is also a great pairing with spicy and greasy food.  Chicken wings are a prime example.  Full-flavored beers can be overwhelmed by the heat of a potent pepper sauce.  Cheap beer provides the mouth-cleansing scrubbing bubbles and just a bit of a pleasantly bitter counterpoint, without competing with the flavors of the dish.

Regrettably, I feel there has been a Pabst Blue Ribbon backlash.  Too many places have offered it ironically on their menus for far too long.  But among the cheap beers in cans it is actually one of the best.  The criterion at this end of the market is pretty simple: the less it tastes like water, the better.

And in my mind, there is no finer beer for drinking on a hot summer day after a nice long mow.  If you feel like something a little more refined, I’d say skip the beer and look up my old friend Tom Collins.

Cheers.  Have a great weekend.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 12, 2010 10:45 am

    I’m an Urquell guy, but a nice cold can of PBR down real good. BTW, you can get growlers of delicious super-fresh beer at Saratoga Brewery, well worth going up the Northway for!

  2. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    March 12, 2010 10:45 am

    “GOES” down real good, I meant to say.

  3. Phairhead permalink
    March 12, 2010 1:09 pm

    According to Sexybeast, the resident PBR expert, PBR tastes “cleaner” in a bottle

  4. matt permalink
    March 12, 2010 6:28 pm

    have you gone through the utica club? I am pleased the PBR meets some fussy criteria.

  5. March 12, 2010 7:06 pm

    In general, I agree. People must think I’m a hypocrite when I want better beer when I’m out, and then turn around other times and drink the swill. If anybody ever calls me on it, I’m gonna have to point them to this post from here on out.

    Personally, my canned beer of choice is Utica Club. Also enjoyable on tap at certain Albany taverns.

  6. SheckyEichman permalink
    March 14, 2010 1:08 am

    Recently living in Chicago I grew to love Old Style as a cheap can beer. Here in the northeast I’ve generally honored tried and true can of Bud. Mr. Fussy’s right-a can of ice cold beer is a warm weather, stoop or porch sitting must have. In the next cost tier I’m a huge proponent of Modelo Especial or Tecate in the can, particularly over their bottled counterparts. Lime is optional although I prefer it without.

  7. March 14, 2010 3:33 am

    Hooray for PBR! I agree with your points on it not tasting too tinny, nor like water, yet at the same time being refreshing. It’s a fairly clean taste, and a beer that I know is a sure-fire winner. Sometimes heavier beers are just too, well, heavy. I also think Labatt’s is nice in a light-lemony kind of way.

    I used to really like Genny Cream Ale in a bottle, but lately it’s tasted less creamy to me.

    Phairhead has mentioned PBRs in bottles out in Boston (I think?). Lore like this just necessitates a road trip.

  8. March 14, 2010 9:02 am

    I am seriously partial to Genny Creme. It is especially refreshing on a hot summer day in the Adirondacks. A lot of folks (particularly my mountain relatives) consider this a downscale beer they would never be seen with, which is a bonus because I know my supply will not be drawn down without my participation. But this also means most supermarkets won’t carry it… Hannaford in Wilton is the only known source up my way.

    On the other hand, I once spotted a display of Genny Creme among the regional imports at Central Market, the uber upscale Texas chain. There’s irony for you, Profussor.

  9. mirdreams permalink
    March 15, 2010 11:00 am

    If you order a beer like that at Mahar’s Bill will kick you out. I think even when all you want is a really cold beer there are better options.

  10. Beer Snob permalink
    March 15, 2010 12:04 pm

    As a beer snob and a homebrewer, I agree that there are some decent cheap, mass-produced beers out there. Not a fan of PBR so much myself (though some of that might be the Annoying Hipster Backlash), but there are times when what I want is a really cold Old Milwaukee.

    The “tastes like water” effect comes from the lack of malt in most cheap beers. They supplement rice for barely because it imparts little or no taste to the brew, while giving it a bit of alcohol. Old Milwaukee and PBR at least taste like the brewer knows what barley looks like.

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