A 1976 Beer Symposium

My trilogy on c.-1980 full-text beer articles in American SpectatorGreat American Saloon Series ends with its “Symposium” on beer. The term is appropriately high-toned with its classical allusions. It consisted of three repliques to Aram Bakshian, Jr.’s beer encomium I described in Part 1.

The writers were John Coyne, Jr., also an author and Presidential advisor to Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., founder and editor of American Spectator, and Karl O’Lessker who was an academic (political science and the environment) and author. The articles appeared in the October 1976 issue of the magazine (see website for archival issues).

(Coyne and Tyrrell are still active in political writing and commentary, lifelong conservatives as it happens, O’Lessker died some years ago).

Each replique takes a different tack, and some of it is certainly dated, not just in the period references which of course is expected, but in style as well. Still, together the essays with Bakshian’s, form a snapshot of informed consumer commentary prior to the rise of craft brewing, legal home brewing, and modern beer journalism.

It would be bootless to take bits of each article and offer my reaction, when you can read them in toto and decide for yourself. But I’ll include here one quotation from Tyrrell, as it shows what some valued in American beer at the time. The choice in stylistic terms was far less than today, but reflective beer drinkers thought about what the drank, made distinctions, and counselled others. In a word they were connoisseurs, and proto-beer journalists certainly.

Of the middleweights there are many that have engaged my attention and high respect. Schmidt’s of Philadelphia comes to mind as does Waldech produced by Hamm’s and Andeker produced by Pabst – though Andeker is a bit too sweet. The champion in this division, and – truth to tell – the title-holder over all American beers, is, in my opinion, Budweiser. It is a beer of poignant taste, balanced animation and clarity. Clarity is one of the attributes that sets high-grade beers apart from the flotsam and jetsam, and the King of Beers has it. It also has ample body, bouquet, and consistency; the latter being a quality often ignored even by the cognoscenti.

Budweiser sounds like a different beer then, and in my view it was. Today it has very little flavour, in my estimation, and certainly no bouquet, none I can detect.

And on it goes, he greatly admired the German Wurzburger, which shows his good taste right there. He also liked Guinness, at the time certainly in the bottle (Guinness Extra Stout) a prime product. He considered Stroh of Detroit heavy-bodied, and maybe it was; it sounds like he was in a position to tell.

Tyrrell’s remarks on how to appreciate beer, with due reverence and pace yet in large sips, gets at the correct ethos too. I wonder if he is still a beer man, in his mid-70s. We hope so.