Bottoms Up

Beer and wine in the Bay Area and beyond

Why do most Americans drink bland lager?

By William Brand
Monday, March 31st, 2008 at 2:33 pm in Uncategorized.

Do you ever get off the craft beer train and talk about average swill — like beers for baseball, or Asian beers?

This question from someone I work with has bugged me for the last three days. Best word I can find to describe my condition is “flummoxed”. My first thought was, “Sure, and let’s get our wine columnist to write about the “best of Gallo and other ‘great’ jug wines.”

Why is it that tWilliam Brand and Brother David’s Tripelhe idea of a wine columnist writing about jug wines seems utterly absurd, while a beer columnist writing about crappy beer seem normal and appropriate.

Damn you Budweiser, Coors and Miller and all the rest of you corporate lager-sellers and your funny, sexy commercials. You’ve stolen the soul of beer.

After an initial burst of sarcasm and consternation, I got serious. If the beer we like is so good, then why are American beer drinkers still imbibing cheap lager?

This isn’t a rhetorical question. I’m asking all of you reading this to tell me what you think. Post a comment here or shoot me an email at

For research, I turned to one of my kids, who is grown, teaches film at an Oregon university and has traveled the world and is very sophisticated.

Basic answer: Alcohol delivery vehicle in an unobjectionable format. He admitted to drinking 10 beers this past Saturday night out with his friends: 2 Japanese 22-ouncers (equals nearly 4 beers) plus, 6 or so Coronas. I guess when you’re fairly young, are 6-1 and weigh 240, 10 beers is nothing.

But, I persisted, why not drink something decent?

He thought about it for a minute. “I don’t like dark beer,” he said. “I really like Corona, because -” he thought for a minute – “it doesn’t leave a bad taste. It’s not bitter.”

Whew. What can you expect from someone raised on Slurpies.

I gave that some thought.

I believe we can expect a lot, but until very recently, we’ve left the discovery of good beer to chance. That’s why craft beer and other good beer has somewhere between 4 and 10 perrcent of the total beer market and swill lager has the rest.

I grew up much like him, drinking sodas. I hated beer. CoorsWurzburger, the modern version tasted like water and Budweiser tasted bitter; it burned my tongue. I went into the Navy right out of high school and did my share of under-age beer drinking, but like our kid, it was just being social. The beer — all bland lagers — was tasteless.

My epiphany came at a German restaurant in Washington, D.C. when I was 19. I got served a glass of Wurzburger, a Bavarian lager. Still remember it: rich, golden, silky malt that flowed across my tongue and just a bit of spicy tingle from what I now know were Hallertau hops. I became a convert. I realized there was beer and there was real beer.

It was pure chance.
The waiter might not have served me, I could have decided not to go into downtown Washington that Saturday. We need to stand up and shout about good beer, I think. The way it’s going is way too slow.

What do you think? Opinions anyone…

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  • Tony

    I was talking to my son about this question, and we did not have an answer. My son aid “American’s don’t like anything bitter.” I wonder if it had to do with 19th century logistics. Think about it. In the revolutionary war period, pretty much everything was locally produced ale, with much more locally derived flavors and and yeasts. However, post Civil War, the ability to ship via rail meant that a particular beer producer could get big and efficient, producing a more uniform taste profile across wider geography. If, added to that, the lagers were more consistent even when shipped, then that is what drives the tastes of the consumers. Thoughts?