By Patrick F. Cannon
When I was a young lad in the Pittsburgh area, my choice of beers seemed more than adequate. The main brands were Duquesne, Iron City and Fort Pitt. McKeesport, where I lived from 1950-56, had its own brand, Tube City (McKeesport was the home of the National Tube Company, part of US Steel). If you had a few extra pennies, and wanted to show your sophistication, you could order Rolling Rock from distant Latrobe, PA. The country and private club nabobs may have quaffed national brands like Budweiser or Schlitz after their golf or tennis, but not we mere mortals.
In those days, bars had to close on Sundays. Wily and thirsty Pennsylvanians would leave their favorite tavern at midnight on Saturday and meander (or stagger) over to their nearest private club, which were exempt. As it happened, the Sons of Italy, the Greek American Protective Association or the Ancient Order of Hibernians, didn’t care much about your ancestry as long as you paid your membership dues.
While I drink beer only rarely now, my local liquor store – Binnys, a major Chicago-area chain – probably has at least a hundred brands to choose from (actually more like 700. I checked). In addition to the traditional national brands (Bud, Coors, Millers, etc.), there will be a bewildering array of imports and “craft” beers. I’m sure Pittsburgh has a similar culture of beer lovers thinking they have come up with a new way to make beer. They go into (and out of) business on almost a daily basis. Some succeed in a big way. In Chicago, Goose Island was such a notable success that it was bought by the folks who own Budweiser.
I rarely drink beer myself anymore, but I do keep some on hand for guests. At the moment, I have some Stella Artois from Belgium, Bernard Bohemian Lager from the Czech Republic, and Two Brothers Domaine Dupage Ale from Warrenville, IL (which happens to be in DuPage County). Lurking in the back of the fridge is one 16 ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. It’s there in case my daughter Beth wants a Radler, which is beer mixed with 7-Up or something similar. She feels using expensive beer is a waste for this German-invented thirst quencher.
Just think about this embarrassment of riches! What a great country! Instead of choosing from maybe 10 brands of beer, Capitalist entrepreneurship has given you 700! (Actually more, but that’s all my Binnys has space for.) There are lagers and pilsners, ales and stouts. Some are now aged in used bourbon barrels, or flavored with rare fruits and spices. You can find the palest of pale ales, and the blackest of stouts. Like dry? Like sweet? Like hoppy? Or malty? Some brewer is ready to please.
Don’t like beer? The craft spirit folks are ready to oblige. Just take Bourbon for example. Binnys has 277 kinds available, priced from $10.99 to $399.99 for 750 ml (you can actually pay up to almost $3,000 for the rarest of elixirs). If you prefer Rye whiskey, don’t despair (although you have only about 100 brands to choose from).
I won’t even start on wine. The point is that it’s a Golden Age for the drinker. As long as people are willing to risk their money, talent and passion to come up with a better brew or spirit, they’ll have a receptive audience. It’s like building a better mousetrap.
But I wonder what they’re drinking in Havana and Pyongyang tonight?
Copyright 2023, Patrick F. Cannon