Thank God for Beer

Issue No. 8 | April 8, 2022

Friends, Americans, Countrymen:

“We should thank God for beer,” said G.K. Chesterton, a bon vivant always ready to practice what he preached over a pint or two. For Chesterton, there was something profoundly ungrateful and unnatural about abusing this divine gift: “Never drink because you need it, for this is rational drinking, and the way to death and hell. But drink because you do not need it, for this is irrational drinking, and the ancient health of the world.”


The 1977 Burt Reynolds classic “Smokey and the Bandit” is a kind of paean to beer and its irrational consumption. Big Enos Burdette could surely afford to ply his party guests with an unlimited supply of any number of domestic or imported brews. Instead, he insists on hiring Reynolds and Jerry Reed to smuggle in 400 cases of the one brand he can’t legally get east of the Mississippi: Coors Banquet. And those are the only stakes you need for one of the great American car chase movies. As Big Enos says, sometimes you just want to “celebrate in style.” 


Next Friday is Good Friday, and The American Man is on hiatus. Look for us the following week, on April 22. By then, those of us who observed a Lenten sacrifice will have been able once again to indulge in whatever small pleasure we had given up. Perhaps a nice beer. May we all enjoy it with the reverence and attention it deserves. 


As far as we’re concerned, the approach of Easter means it’s permissible to start looking forward to summer. Anticipated pleasures include cold beers on a hot day, of course, but also the occasional pre-dinner Negroni on a porch or patio or dock somewhere. 


This uniquely refreshing cocktail, allegedly created when an Italian count asked for an Americano with an extra kick, is easy to make: just combine equal parts gin, sweet vermouth, and the ubiquitous, bright red Italian bitter Campari. To honor the Negroni’s “American” origins, you could forsake this last mass-produced, artificially colored ingredient for Forthave Red, a “bittersweet aperitivo infused with 13 botanicals, including orange, chamomile and rose.” The Brooklyn, New York-based distillery Forthave Spirits also produces a number of other spirits including an amaro, a gin, and a coffee liqueur. 


Of all alcoholic beverages, beer is especially egalitarian. Everybody likes it. It brings together people from all walks of life (“Cheers” wouldn’t have worked in a wine bar). It doesn’t take a lot of money or rich friends to explore its infinite variety (the good stuff is rarely much more expensive than the swill). And nobody expects you to discuss it while enjoying it, despite occasional attempts to introduce pretentious, wine-style snobbery to beer drinking. 


Beer is also relatively easy to make at home. George Washington did it. As did Thomas Jefferson’s slave, Peter Hemings. Our friend Lynne Weaver made such tasty home brew she went pro. If you’re interested in following in their footsteps, Brew Your Own magazine is a good place to start. Their comprehensive website offers instruction, resource guides, and information on making your own brewing equipment. 


“I’m tempted to think then that my work is meaningless, because it isn’t political. But that’s the beauty of this stuff…It shouldn’t be political; it’s uniquely human, the inessential experience, the pleasure of tasting something for its own sake,” writes Thad Vogler in his 2017 travelogue-cum-memoir, “By the Smoke & the Smell.”  Vogler’s talent for conveying that pleasure in precise and evocative language is always apparent as he recounts his funny, harrowing, and sometimes melancholy trips in search of the world’s purest expressions of calvados, rum, mezcal, bourbon, and scotch.


Along the way Vogler shares a bracingly honest account his own journey from aimless liberal arts grad to pot-addled, drunken failed novelist/career cater-waiter to San Francisco bar impresario. In the end, his work as a prominent advocate for traditionally-made, local spirits is political after all, and his book serves as a stirring rejection of the globalization threatening the livelihoods and legacies of many of the producers he meets and befriends. 


The man known as Bill W. took a liking to drinking as a young artillery officer in the Vermont national guard. Finally, a cure for his crippling shyness. “I had found the elixir of life,” he later wrote. His initial delight soon became an ungovernable obsession, even as he married, served in World War I, and attended law school (too drunk to pick up his diploma, he failed to graduate). Modest success as a stockbroker followed, interrupted by regular hospitalizations for alcohol addiction. Eventually, the threat of professional ruin and imminent death motivated him to become sober for short periods of time, always ending in relapse. 


During one such period in 1935, a failed business trip to Akron left Bill with the overwhelming urge to head directly to the hotel bar. Desperate to keep his sobriety, Bill decided his only hope was to speak to another alcoholic. He called a local church, and was eventually put in touch with a surgeon and fellow drunk today remembered as Dr. Bob. The two met, and soon formed a friendship that led them both to lasting sobriety. This simple process of helping oneself by helping another became the template for Alcoholics Anonymous, a grassroots, free-of-charge, decentralized fellowship that declined to demonize alcohol and maintained only one requirement for membership: the sincere desire to stop drinking. Almost 90 years later, millions of alcoholics around the world have found in AA’s clear, unyielding principles the key to recovery.

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