Friday, August 13, 2010

Living in the Past: Rediscovering "Retro Beers"

“Happy and I’m smiling, / walk a mile to drink your water. / You know I’d love no other, / and above you there’s no other.” These are the opening lyrics to “Living in the Past,” by Ian Anderson, which first appeared on Jethro Tull’s 1969 album “Stand Up" (it was also the title track for the 1972 double compilation album with the same title). This has been one of my favorite Tull tunes since I first became a fan of this seminal British blues/rock band back in 1969. Ian Anderson, lead singer, flautist and band factotum, turned 63 three days ago, and I have been humming this tune quite a bit lately as I sit by the lake.

Each summer I drive hundreds of miles between Maryland and Maine, a trip that brings with it the opportunity to drink the pure local water. This includes the proffering of Poland Spring, which is located just a few miles north of our cottage. There is also the growing variety of micro-brew beers produced throughout the state using this very same water as one of it their key ingredients. A few of these beers have found markets throughout New England, but they are few and far between once you get south of Boston. So, if I am spending my summers in Maine, and since scientists are now telling us that beer hydrates better than water (I am not making this up), I have taken these opportunities to drink the local stuff.

I figured this would be the case when we returned to Maine again this summer. I stopped by the local roadhouse on my first beer run and ended up passing over the micro-brews for a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon 16 ounce tall boys. It has now become my official “Beer of the Summer.” I like PBR, the “American Style Premium Lager” that I cut my beer drinking teeth on. I was living just outside of Milwaukee the year I reached legal drinking age, and the rest is history. A couple of years later I was back in Milwaukee for the summer and I worked a night shift. The group I worked with would often get off work at the end of the week and have breakfast at a local IHOP and then go downtown to the Pabst brewery for a tour and “brunch” in the tasting room. PBR was also our beer of choice when we went to see the Brewers play in the Old County Stadium. PBR and I go way back!

I am not setting any precedent here by choosing one of the old brand name beers. The first summer we spent in Maine back in 1988 I was drinking Narragansett out of the can. I had heard of this legendary New England beer yet I had never had the opportunity to drink it before. It was not bad and it got me through that first summer before I began to discover and sample the offerings of the local Maine breweries.

What goes around comes around. After years of drinking the micro-brews, perhaps it is time to return to the gold standard . . . even if the old names are a little tarnished these days. They are coming back slowly but surely. Over the past year I have begun to see PBR available in most stores, and more recently I am seeing it on tap in bars and even available in cans in some top shelf eating established around the country. And why not. PBR has a long and distinguished history. Founded in Milwaukee in 1844 (before Wisconsin gained statehood), it took the name of Pabst in 1889 at a time when other breweries were established in the city. During the Depression the company turned to other pursuits, including cheese production. It eventually fell on hard times, as did many other local breweries, and operations were moved to San Antonio. The venerable Milwaukee brewery we came to love was abandoned and fell into disrepair, and it was finally demolished in 2007. The company that brews PBR today owns the rights to the name and trademark, and regardless of what anybody says, I think it still tastes pretty damn good regardless of where it is brewed. Apparently I am not the only one who thinks so; PBR is très chic these days!

And not just PBR. Narragansett is also rising from the ashes (in southern New England, at least). Originally brewed in Cranston, Rhode Island beginning in 1890, a century later it moved its operations to Fort Wayne, Indiana until the company closed in 1981. The Cranston brewery was demolished in 1991. With new investors in Rhode Island, production resumed in 2005 and just last month it was named the official “Beer of the Clam.” I have found it in a few stores here in Maine and perhaps next summer it will be more widespread. One can only hope.

Beer drinkers know a good thing when they see (and taste) it. I have no complaints with micro-brews; there are a lot of good ones out there. But there is something special about popping a can of PBR on a warm summer day sitting here by the lake. I agree with Ian Anderson. “Oh we won’t give in, / let’s go living in the past.”

1 comment:

  1. Speaking of living in the past...I introduced Greta and Read to that great old beer "from the land of pleasant living"...National Bo...they backed the Os and Senators in the day...but I think Greta leans to PBR. RL