Your Dad Loved Bad Beer and So Do You
Why we still drink—and enjoy—industrial brews.
By Just Beer Community Collection on Jun. 19, 2017
My father doesn’t drink. He isn’t an alcoholic or anything, he just doesn’t really care to drink. Which didn’t seem so cool when I was a kid but is actually quite liberating now. Because, as an adult, I’m not forced to drink a shitty beer or two just to honor him.
For others, though, “dad beer” is big business at the moment. The hottest new spot in Manhattan is Boilermaker, a just-opened East Village joint trying to revive the lost art of a (dad) beer and a shot. I’ve likewise been noticing of late a lot of quality establishments—craft beer havens even—devoting a small portion of their well-curated beverage programs to dad beer with no shame whatsoever. The acclaimed Dinosaur BBQ even has a menu section titled “My Father’s Fridge,” which features those usual dad beer suspects (Genesee Cream Ale, Schafer, Yuengling, etc.) as a cheaper antidote to the pricy pints of local IPAs they also offer. And, dad beer made major headlines last week when Michelin-starred chef David Chang, had the gall to admit his favorite beer is…Bud Light.
The easily offended members of the beer cognoscenti (that’s most of us) fell into an uproar, outraged that the Momofuku impresario would dare like a different beer than them. They thought it absurd that a man whose life is so devoted to flavor could utterly neglect it when it comes to what he uses to get himself drunk. They called him an “asshat,” a “pretentious douchebag,” and many folks cynically even saw Chang’s contrarian piece as shameless clickbait (though no one has explained to me why an international restaurateur worth a reported $5 million needs a few extra pageviews in his portfolio). I read it as something quite simpler though. Whether he realizes it or not, Chang drinks Bud Light because it allows him to connect with his family’s past.
Aside from anything else besides maybe major league sports, mass-market beers are the one prevalent American product that easily lets us connect with our ancestors. Even in his piece, Chang notes that he started drinking Bud Light because his grandfather drank Bud Light. His grandfather probably did a lot of other things too, but I doubt Chang also proudly watches reruns of “Playhouse 90,” listens to Glenn Miller records, and/or wears pleated trousers to honor that same beloved grandfather.
Because, that’s the thing, unlike TV or music or certainly fashion, dad beer is always exactly as good—or as bad—as it was when dad drank it, because dad beers are beers that have been around for decades if not centuries and often had the exact same recipe that entire time. Thus, whether you’re sitting in front of a state-of-the-art, 60-inch OLED television polishing off some dad beer or enjoying a bucket of dad beer at a hip Bowery gastropub, a part of you can feel transported back to dad’s time. To when he would have drank the very same beer in front of his wooden-cabinet tube TV or while bellied-up at a crummy corner pub in his hometown.
Yuengling (1829), Schaefer (1842), Genesee (1878), Genny Cream (1960), and Bud Light (1982) taste just like they used to taste when dad used to drink them. Heck, many of them still even look the same. It’s almost no wonder Miller Lite went so far as to put their dad beer back in an iconic circa 1975 dad can last year. They clearly know why people buy and enjoy their beer nowadays (now if only they could add a dad-approved pull tab for even more authenticity). Likewise, Narragansett, a dad brand also popular in the 1970s, was revived in 2005 after twenty-four years of dormancy and, with intentionally retro cans, now sits proudly on many of those notable dad beer menus.
Pabst Blue Ribbon is technically dad beer, but it has, of course, long been drank purely ironically. Damn hipsters. Which brings up another point worth mentioning: dad beer is only drank semi-ironically. You see, most modern consumers know dad beer is not “good” per se and the fact that it’s often canned, served in bulk, cheap, and old-timey allows a certain kind of person to use these facts as an amused shell for their most earnest feelings. Semi-ironic dad beer drinking masks the real, sentimental reason people are actually drinking dad beer: because your dad used to (or still does) drink it. It may be a tautology, but it’s as simple as that.
We may be bad sons and daughters who live halfway across the country and never actually get to drink with dad or grandpa much any more, but by having a boilermaker we’re spiritually drinking with them. By polishing off a sixer of Bud Light or Miller High Life, we’re tacitly admitting we’re more like our dad than we ever thought we’d be. Perhaps by having a few Genny Creams we’re actually admitting that we’re finally adults because, to us, dad was always an adult.
As I said, my dad didn’t drink and thus he didn’t have “a beer” that was his. And, perhaps with such freedom that’s why I became a pretentious beer geek and get no joy out of drinking many of those aforementioned cans of industrial swill. Luckily, for people like me, though, we can still drink to dear old dad the way one acclaimed brewer honors his dad (and granddads and great-granddads and so on) with just about every new offering that he brews.
Shaun Hill has been making world-class beers at his Hill Farmstead Brewery since 2010. This Greensboro Bend, Vermont brewer isn’t simply devoted to rustic styles like saison and biere de garde, but is also devoted to honoring his family’s rustic past with each new brew. In fact, the majority of his beers are actually named after his relatives. There’s Arthur and Dorothy, Edward and George, Ephraim and Harlan, and earlier this year we even saw the release of a bourbon barrel-aged barleywine named Aaron. I wish I could say Hill was honoring me because we are distant cousins or something, but Aaron was actually his great-great-great-grandfather. Though he never met the man who was born in 1786, Hill surely gets to feel a unique kinship every time he quaffs a glass bearing Aaron’s name.
And that’s truly the point of dad beer. We all know that particular adjunct lager is not “better” than a craft pilsner and David Chang even admits that Bud Light is probably not better than the exotic stouts and whatnot created by his friends at Mikkeller. But unlike those modern craft beers, dad beer can actually put you in touch with your history. It allows you to relax like people did back when the world was simpler. When dad first started drinking that very beer.
As for me, I’m curious what will happen when I have a son. Will he drink bombers of Firestone Walker Parabola semi-ironically? Damn hipster.
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