Monday, September 20, 2010

Miller High Life - The Champagne of Beers

Last year during the summer, I made a point to make the rounds of  the beers of my elders.  I wanted to find out what was or wasn't good about these beers, and I'm getting ahead of myself here.  I'll save that story for another time, but the whole idea was to find out why or what the appeal was of what we are taught to be "cheap" beers.

I can actually remember my first taste of beer.  I was four years old, and it was my grandfather's Schaefer.  He was enjoying it in a proper pilsener glass.  I can recall being drawn to the brew by the way it bubbled in the glass, and it's golden color.  I thought I'd be drinking something akin to Ginger Ale, and the adults were more than happy to get a laugh at my expense, for the sure to be made face at the bitter flavor in the stead of the expected sweetness.

I know some of you may find this notion preposterous, but that first sip always stuck with me since that age.  It was fresh, bitter, and clean all at once, and the mental file it created immediately, was used to compare all subsequent tastings of beer from there on out.  As well as my first Budweiser.  Occasionally, I'll have a crack at a Bud, and even rarer, every once in a while, depending on the situation, the first whiff of that brew, and it takes me back to a chill autumn night in Upstate New York, standing around a bonfire at age thirteen, and I was handed an ice cold Budweiser from a cooler with beads of water running down the side, and a fresh, clean tasting beer on the inside.  Up to that point in my life, I'd never had a finer beer, and replaced the Schaefer as the standard to judge all beers moving forward.  It was a damn fine beer, made in another time (Fall of '81), and I'd suspect the recipe has changed over the years, but occasionally, I get a hint of my first memorable taste of that beer.

There were many other opportunities to try beer as I got older, and as I mentioned, I'll save that for another time.  My household, was an Anheuser Busch household.  Most beer related products brought into the house were branded within' the company's umbrella.  No my dad wasn't an employee.  He just preferred their products.  My Uncle on the other hand.  He was a Miller man.  His beer of choice was Miller High Life.  The Champagne of Beers.

Given my past penchant for wrangling beers as a minor.  I of course had to get a sample of this strange looking beer in a clear glass bottle.  I can't recall any earth shattering aha moments on my first drink.  No mind and sense burning epiphany's that would follow me well into adult life to use as a measuring stick against all subsequent beers.  I can't recall any negativity in the flavors.  It was just, there.  A beer.  As I got older (and legal), I would notice that anything brewed by Miller that I would consume, would cause me to get a sour stomach.  This caused me to have a bias towards Miller products through the late eighties and early nineties.  This bias formed an habit to avoid Miller products as they were deemed unworthy of me due to the side effects.

Fast forward to last summer.  A new saloon had opened within' my immediate neighborhood.  Of course, it has to be checked out.  The tap selection was uninspiring, but one obscure tap, off to the side bore the name "Miller High Life".  According to the bartender, that was their "slum tap".  At two dollars a pint, I couldn't argue either.  I'd ordered a couple here and there.  It wasn't bad.  A little too sweet sometimes seemingly due to adjuncts which I'm guessing would be corn.  This taste from last year, prompted me to give the old workhorse another shot, at home, in the bottle. 

I pour a bottle into a pint glass, and take my first sip.  First impression was okay.  Nothing major going on here, and again, a hint to sweet from adjuncts maybe.  Continuing to drink, I noticed the weak head went away early on, but there seemed to be a bit of carbonic bite going on.  The beer was bubbling wildly in the glass, and the aroma was fair.  In addition to the sweetness, towards the end of the glass, the aftertaste seemed to be metallic.

This would all be forgivable in the price point, but to be honest, Old Milwaukee, and Pabst are a better tasting and put together beer in the price point.  What happened next was unforgivable.  I poured a second beer into the same glass, and sat back down in my chair.  As I brought the glass to my lips, my nose rankled at the smell coming out of the glass.  Pure sulfur.  No exaggerations either.  I remembered the old jokes when I was a kid, that I'd hear the adults say about a cheap beer.  "Brewed from the sewage treatment center."  "Brewed from (insert the name of any polluted and fetid body of water near you here)!"  Etc.  This smelled like it was brewed from a dirty diaper.  Tasted like such too.  The smell of sulfur was so strong, the beer of course tasted like it as well. 

I choked as much as I could down and dumped the remainder in the sink.  I grabbed a piece of cheese out of the fridge to get the taste out of my mouth, then rinsed with water.  After about twenty minutes.  I grabbed a fresh glass, and poured another Miller.  Again.  The sulfur thing going on.  This is not good.  My home brewing experience tells me a couple things.  Sulphur odor can be a by-product of Lager yeast in the fermentation process, but should dissipate with age.  Or it's a by-product of an infected beer.  Either way, it's not good in the finished product. 

Being a glutton for punishment.  I decided to go back to the well.  This time, instead of pouring into a glass to "enjoy" the wonderful fecal aroma.  I kept it in the bottle.  While this kept the aroma from tainting my taste immediately, the hint of sulfur was still present in the flavor.  As the beer warmed up, it became pronouncedly worse.  This of course, ended up being a dumper as well.

All-in-all, I gave it a shot.  I tried to be a trooper and see if the flaws of the beer were just limited to one bottle by trying multiple beers different ways.  I've seen enough out of one batch, that I won't be giving The Champagne of Beers any further chances to redeem itself.  Champagne of Beers?  Eh, rather Champagne of Sewage.

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