It all began when I opened the bottle of Labatt Classic. It wasn’t the bubbles rising to the top of the golden liquid… no, it was the quaff! The crisp flavor acted as an ester driven time machine, transporting me back decades. Before retro-classic, before craft brewed, before micro-brew pub. This was the way it was.
And suddenly the memory returns.
I found myself in a cozy little food shop that specializes in Canadian and imported beers. There is Molson Export, Golden and that French Canuck juice known as Molson Brador. There is Cinci Cream Lager with a maple leaf label, mind you this was before they used the Handsome Waiter symbol. There is Labatt 50, a classic Canadian ale still being brewed today. There is Moosehead, and Grizzly and Iron Horse.
Across the pond selections had the usual suspects: Bass, Beck’s and Whatney’s (suddenly I recall Stingo, was it an ale or stout?). Buying imported beer at this time was a tricky affair at best. Often improperly stored, light and heat damage often occurred. I remember visiting the storage basement of a rock-college bar where they had cases of Heineken stacked to the ceiling, right next to the furnace. Many of the college crowd in those days actually thought that a skunky taste was the way an import was suppose to taste.
On the domestic front, there was the niche group who drank Rolling Rock straight from the printed glass bottle. It had it’s moment: from the glass lined tanks of old Latrobe… but all of that is gone. Rolling Rock is just a brand in the Budweiser portfolio, manufactured in New Jersey.
Seeking an interesting beer at this time was not an easy procedure. Besides an occasional local spring bock, most of the time was spent knocking back ordinary suds. And how mundane they were! Many decent regional recipes were compromised by marketing geniuses who thought it was wise to use less and cheaper ingredients to make more product. Before their demise, many a brand was not recognizable in its final form. Many years later, this lead to the retro-classic revolution: a brewing restoration of classic macro brands, using their original formulas. But back before 1980, when the President’s brother put his name on that awful Billy Beer, Foster’s which was made in Australia then, seemed like a decent beer. A husky adjunct loaded lager, in a 25 ounce steel can. In those days, that was strong lager for most people. For the more adventurous, there was Carlsberg Elephant from Denmark.
As we moved into the 1980’s, the demand for better beer began to take hold. Merchant Du Vin began importing unknown beers from England and Germany. Smaller, mostly unknown breweries began to be noticed: Anchor, August Schell, Yungeling. New beers from Holland, such as Alfa and Brand, began to appear. Even Ballantine’s India Pale Ale, stored in oak barrels in Fort Wayne, Indiana, could be found on shelves.
The craft brewed revolutions was just a few years away from really taking off. People such as Fritz Maytag and Jim Koch challenged the orthodoxy of the brewing industry. Soon an entire community was created to ensure that beer, one of the oldest and most noble drinks, would not allow its culinary dignity to be destroyed. Prosit!