Sunday, July 4, 2010

Some Guy’s Adventures Through the Pint Glass, Part 6

Day 6: “I wish it were winter so we could freeze it into ice blocks and skate on it and melt it in the springtime and drink it!”1

As I sit here poisoning my liver on a warm July night, I can’t help but think that the polar bear has to be the luckiest animal on Earth.

Think about it: name a lazier, more good-for-nothing animal on the planet. Go ahead, try. I dare you. It can’t be done, can it? At the risk of sounding like I’m stealing from someone else’s gig, polar bears are fat, lazy loafers who haven’t had to do a hard day’s work in their whole lives.

At the same time, though, they’ve carefully cultivated a reputation as terrifying, bloody-minded, stone-cold penguin killers. Now, I know what you’re saying:
  • “they’re carnivores, killing is in their nature,”
  • “polar bears mostly eat seal, not penguin,”
  • “there are no penguins in the Arctic, asshole,”2
or even
  • “I was with the polar bear that evening, she has an airtight alibi.”
But these trivial excuses become obvious nonsense in the face if incontrovertible photographic proof. Look at the poor little guy—he died so fast, he didn’t even have time to stop smiling.

But take a second look at that photograph. Did you notice the size of the ice floe? It’s tiny—barely the size of an American SUV—and rises little more than a foot or so out of the water. That’s no place to raise a family, and it’s but one small example of a critical global problem: glaciers are receding worldwide, and the Arctic ice pack—the polar bear’s natural habitat—is shrinking and breaking up, leaving these bears with fewer places to loaf and far more time in the water. Less time on solid ground (er, ice) means less time hunting and eating; more time in the water means more drowning and being devoured by MegaShark.

However, the best news of all for these poor lucky bastards is that despite being both lazy slobs and ruthless killing machines, they have somehow retained the ability to be cuter than a whole dump truck full of puppies, and it’s this intrinsic irresistibility that may allow them to dodge a watery doom. People love cute animals—even merciless penguin assassins—and will work their tails off to save them, even if it means shipping ice cube trays up to the North Pole and restocking the Arctic by hand. You really think it’s not about cuteness? Be honest, take a look at the four animals in the following pictures and tell me, if you’re filling up the last three spots on the Ark, which one doesn’t make the cut.

So now that we have this sad polar-bear business wrapped up, I’d like to turn our attention to a subject far more significant and far less publicized: the receding popularity of ice beer, which, much like the polar ice caps, once blanketed vast swaths of the North American continent in chilly misery, turning life into a bleak and perilous struggle for survival.

If you’re too young to remember the Dawn of the Ice Beer,3 ice brewing became popular in the 1990s as a way to increase a beer’s alcohol content4 while simultaneously cutting back on that pesky “flavor” thing that, for some brands, was little more than a distracting side effect. Breweries with a reputation for producing complex, flavorful beer—Guinness, New Belgium, Warsteiner, and O’Dell, to name a few5—generally steered clear of the “ice beer” fad, whereas Miller, Budweiser, Busch, Natural, and Keystone all jumped in with both feet. So I, despite having avoided ice beer since my college days, have decided to jump in as well by reviewing both

Bud Ice (Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, Missouri) and
Keystone Ice (Coors Brewing Company, Golden, Colorado).

My reaction to Bud Ice was not as negative as I expected, but this is primarily because the details of the tasting are a bit hazy—two bottles of Bud Ice emerged from the Beer Mystery Case on my return from a dinner out with family, and said dinner had involved a couple of 22-ounce glasses of Fat Tire (a beer with a genuine reputation for flavor, courtesy of Fort Collins’ New Belgium Brewery). Upon making it home I poured what I thought were two glasses of water, giving one to my brother-in-law in a display of questionable hospitality, and probably would not have realized my mistake had I not fallen up the stairs a couple of times over the remainder of the evening. Bud Ice is much like Bud Light—and this is not praise—except its taste is a bit thinner, less substantial, and harder to remember the next morning.

On the other hand, my cans of Keystone Ice (motto: “Only 83% as crappy as regular Keystone!”), were my first drink(s) of the evening,6 and I was therefore fully aware of my surroundings and in clear control of my beer-tasting faculties. However, that didn’t make all that much of a difference—I left my Keystone Ice experience with no memorable impression of smell or flavor, other than that it tasted sort of like Keystone, but also sort of like Bud Ice. To its credit, though, it did help me get to sleep pretty quickly. 5.9% alcohol content by volume, indeed.

It’s difficult to give an accurate or helpful rating to a drink—in this case, two—that almost completely fails to register in my memory. So instead I’ll give two ratings, because if you’re inclined to buy Keystone or Budweiser in the first place (either their regular or their “ice” versions), odds are your goal is not to slowly savor a tasty beer, but to get a good cheap buzz on and act like a jackass. So, Some Guy’s rating for Bud Ice and Keystone Ice are as follows:

(1) If you’re a grown-up with any sort of developed/sophisticated taste for beer, Bud Ice and Keystone Ice get our lowest rating yet, one (1) happy severed penguin head.

(2) If you’re a college kid on a budget, looking to get loaded on a lonely Friday night without breaking the bank on a high-class beer such as Coors Light, then either Bud Ice or Keystone Ice would be a fine choice. For the sad, sorry purpose of getting you hammered in your dorm room while playing Xbox, Bud Ice and Keystone Ice get three (3) BITTER BEER FACES.

For more of Some Guy’s Adventures through the Pint Glass, check here: Day 1  Day 2  Day 3  Day 4  Day 5  Day 6

1. Barry Badrinath (Jay Chandrasekhar) from Beer Fest, a movie about beer drinking that is only barely watchable even when drunk.
2. You poor, stupid, gullible sap—you’ve bought the polar bears’ shoddy alibi hook, line, and sinker.
3. If you really are too young to remember this, you’re probably too young to drink anyway. Come back and finish reading this column when you grow up, youngster.
4. The increased alcohol content has something to do with how the ice-brewing process removes more of the yeast—or removes it earlier in the process—than happens in regular brewing,thus weakening the flavor. To be honest, I didn’t really look into it. If you actually expected to find beer information in this beer review, then, wow, are you ever barking up the wrong tree.
5. You may not have heard of a couple of these breweries (here I’m addressing potential future readers of Bowling in the Dark, not current actual readers), but they make very tasty beer.
6. There’s a third can still in the fridge, for those of you who are counting down the Case. I’ll get to it later, I’m sure, but probably won’t write about it.