I suffered from Red Sky, which prempted my trip for a bridge opening in Baghdadi, so I was just thinking about and remembering times past and people gone.  It can be a little melancholy, but remembering family gatherings also brings along many good memories and some interesting insights.  At my family gatherings, we always had lots of beer.  I don’t suppose that comes as much of a surprise in a German-Polish Milwaukee family.

Drinking Beer is a tradition in my family.  I have been drinking beer since just a little before it was legal for me to do that.  (BTW – in those days Schlitz was the leading beer.  It soon went downhill as they fooled around with the brewing process.  Now Schlitz is owned by Pabst and they are bringing back the old Schlitz formula.)  As I travelled around, I learned to appreciate different sorts of beer.  The Germans have a superb Beer culture, but the Belgians have a wider variety of beer and the Czechs are the world’s most dedicated beer lovers.  I even learned to like English beer served at room temperature, which, BTW, is not warm.

Beer connoisseurs generally have little love of American beer.  Paradoxically, American beers are among the world’s top sellers.  In fact, this paradox is easily explained and doing so help s explain the general paradox of American culture, which is simultaneously coveted and reviled.

Major American beer brands developed in a large market with lots of diversity, choices and competition.  Like other producers in such a market, beer makers had to appeal to a variety of tastes. Beer drinking is usually a shared-social event.   The beer consumed must appeal to everybody in the group. It is a kind of consensus system that leads toward a lowest common denominator.  The beer that everyone accepts will tend to be preferred over one that a couple people love but others cannot stomach.   The more diverse the group in question, the less extreme the choices are likely to be.   Five guys with similar tastes might agree on a very dark bitter beer; a hundred people from diverse backgrounds will not.

For example, most people find Budweiser (the King of Beers from St Louis) inoffensive, although few love it.  Some people love Budweiser (from the Czech city of Budvar), but most people find it a little heavy and “skunky”.  Beer lovers might object, but most casual beer drinkers prefer American Budweiser, which is even making inroads into the European beer market. 

America is good at producing products with mass appeal, which annoys those who consider their own tastes better than the ordinary people’s.  This means that many intellectuals and artists disparage the U.S. and its consumer culture, even as they live off its largess.

Adding insult to the injury they perceive, as the global mass market develops, the world is becoming more like America.  This does not mean that people are copying America in all or most cases.  It just means that the large mass market that helped shape American tastes and habits is now acting on people worldwide.  In the beer world, for example, we see the ascendancy of Corona, which follows the same pattern as innocuous American mass brews.

BTW – when Corona executives took their beer to be analyzed by a chemist, he told them that their horse had diabetes. 

Beer connoisseurs and lovers of distinction in all fields are encouraged by the counter trend, ironically made possible by globalization and new technologies made possible by the mass markets.  It used to be called mass customization.  In a very large and rich market, especially with the help of computer technologies, it is possible to assemble market worthy groups for all sorts of things.  Maybe a million people would like to drink some dark and heavy beer, but if they are spread across the whole U.S. they were so thin on the ground that nobody could afford to cater to them under the old paradigm.  Now there is more choice, as the marginal costs decline for producing variety and marketing it widely. 

We have passed through the mass undifferentiated market to a mass customization, with more choice and more variety.   The cooler of even local beer outlets now has a dizzying variety of brews.   The days when it could be technically accurate to say “When you’re out of Schlitz, you’re out of beer” are over.  The scary regimented socialism of the 1960s Sci-Fi never developed.

I am not sure we need all that choice, but that is not my choice to make.  That is the way its going to be for beer and everything else.