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The American Mind

Face it, IPAs are horrible

William Hillman

(4/2017) This month Iíve changed focus a little bit to talk about the politics of beer. Specifically, the current rage for IPAs.

When I started occasioning bars back in the 1980s, the choice of beer was limited to Budweiser, Miller, Schlitz, and maybe Rolling Rock. These beers were best served very cold so that the taste buds would be numbed. Most people could not tell the difference between the major brands. If the bartender gave you the wrong beer, you would never notice.

My favorite neighborhood pub had two taps on the bar, Miller and Budweiser. One evening while watching a baseball game with some of the regulars, the tap ran dry. Jerry, the bar owner, just had a hip operation and asked me if Iíd change the keg. After a brief description of where it was in the basement, I obliged. What I came to learn that night was, the bar had two taps, but both taps were connected to the same keg. I switched the keg, God only knows what the beer was since it was not labeled. I went upstairs to resume my position at the bar. At some point Jerry left to use the restroom. I turned to an old construction worker next to me known as "Cookie" and said, "Both of those beer tabs are connected to the same keg in the basement, so it doesnít matter what you order, itís the same stuff. Cookie shrugged his shoulders and said "Everyone knows that, but the beer that comes out of the Budweiser tap tastes better."

American mass produced beer was just interchangeable swill. The only option was German beer imported at prohibited costs. As students, those $30 - $40 German beers were not considered when Schlitz was $8 for a case of 24.

The explosion of boutique breweries started in the early 90s and was a welcome rescue for us beer drinkers. Finally, it was possible to buy domestically brewed beer of quality and taste at reasonable prices. I had never heard of the term "microbrewery" until the Boston brewing company, Sam Adams, opened a small brewery restaurant in Philadelphia. With fresh lagers and ales, how refreshing it was to have locally produced clean, tasteful beer. Soon Dock Street Brewery was opened in the city. Each year passing saw more small breweries added. This trend spread throughout the country.

This was the First Great Awakening. We learned that there was something better than the beer produced by industrial breweries at a rate of millions of gallons per day. Their marketing mind control that made us believe we had no other choice would no longer work.

Twenty-five years later and every small hamlet and town has its share of micro-breweries. The town I live in has three microbreweries.

But more does not mean better. We have entered another Dark Era of beer.

My local beer shop is stocked with a staggering number of beers from every part of the country. They have names like "Hoppy Ending Pale Ale", "Arrogant Bastard Ale", "Blind Pig IPA" and Polygamy Porter." There are literally thousands of these beers to choose from. The overwhelming majority of these beers are Indian Pale Ales. The one thing they all have in common is they taste awful and are expensive.

Four dollars for a can of beer? That equates to $96 for a case. Who can afford that you ask? From my unofficial survey of the beer shop, it appears to be college students with massive school loans and young millennials living in their parentsí basement.

Why does it have to all be IPAs? A pilsner, clean lager or ale is a wonderful thing. Indian pale Ale is poison!

For a few weeks last year, I found myself working out of an office in Ardmore Pennsylvania. There is a Brewery in this town called Tired Hands. One would think by the lines of people winding for blocks, all waiting for the chance to buy the latest beer being canned each Thursday, this must be the greatest beer ever made. At 8:00 in the morning there would be a hundred people in line for a "release" at 3:00. From my office window, I would watch this line grow longer, stretching several blocks. Curiosity got the best of me. I had to find out what this beer was and who these people are so I walked down and spent some time talking to them. People were there from as far away as New York and Baltimore. They had taken the day off (assuming they worked) and traveled just for the beer. It was interesting to see these people walk out of the store with their two six packs, giddy like young school girls. As is the custom these days, everyone had to stop a take a selfie with the beer. At the end of my day, I stopped by the Brewery to try some of this legendary beer with two of my friends, Jim and Richard. The fleeting trend at the time was adding grapefruit to the brews. All I can say is, what a horrible thing to do to a beer. It was awful. The three of us each tried every beer on their menu. None of us could find anything palatable. To be fair to this brewery, Iíve been back three different times, but have yet to finish a glass of their beer. I just donít get it.

So where did this horrible stuff come from? In the early part of the 18th Century a request was made by the East India Company to the Bow Brewery of Middlesex for an ale that could be exported to India. To help preserve the ale, the brewers added extra hops. Hops have antibiotic and preservative properties. Hops also add the distinct bitterness to the IPA. The reason they drank it was because it was the only beer they could get that would not spoil.

We are not limited by lack of refrigeration and sterile bottling systems. We can drink a better beer.

It is not just the ales that are being bastardized, last fall I was given some pilsner from a brewery out west. It had zucchini in it. What sick mind would put zucchini in my beer? These people should not be permitted to walk amongst us. As a people, we must have standards.

I beg of my fellow beer drinkers, donít buy that bottle because it has a funny name and a half naked girl on the label. Have some dignity.

The time for the Second Great Awakening has arrived. Reject the IPAs. Next time you are at a party and someone tries to give you an orange labeled IPA, stand tall, look them in the eye and say, "I donít drink that shit, do you have a lager?" We must reach out to our friends and pull them into the light. Be the prophet that brings Pilsner Urquell to the party and open your friendsí eyes. Only when we come together as beer drinkers and reject the IPAs will the breweries be forced to produce beer we can drink.

Read other articles by Bill Hillman