Something in the Air

Call out the instigators
Because there’s something in the air
We’ve got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution’s here … and you know that it’s right

– From Something in the Air, Thunderclap Newman, 1969

New York Rocks Beer, 1971

In this post I discussed a 1971 New York (the magazine) article on a beer tasting organized by the editors.

The tasting presaged countless similar events of today. There were no craft beers available to be sure, but plenty of exotic imports. Exotic is the key word here, then or now.

Still, some period anomalies appeared. The panel was divided between blue-collar and white-collar, all pictured. The white collars wore jacket and tie. The blue collars eschewed such refinements.

On the panel was journalist Patrick Owens, a Montanan transplanted to New York. He worked for the Long Island-based Newsday.

According to this online obituary, Owens was a U.S. Army veteran who started in journalism after high school, editing an army newspaper. He died at 72 in 2002 after suffering a stroke some years earlier. Owens was a well-regarded professional who reported on a wide range of subjects, as testifies this admiring memoir by fellow journalist Paul Greenberg.

Owens wrote a piece in Newsday as a replique or ironic commentary on New York’s report. Clearly he thought the panel rather lightweight in the beer arts with one exception, a brewery worker he called a “hollow leg”. Olives were among the snacks served at the tasting, which struck Owens as contrary to the beer ethos vs. perhaps a liquor drink.

Owens typed the writers and audience of New York as mainly interested in food albeit with an “underground”, value focus.

He went on to describe his ideal beer tasting. Unlike the magazine’s, it would not be in a sterile photographic studio. Instead he named a heaving beer emporium on Long Island where “democrats”, not classified by collar he said, enjoyed beer either for “esthetic” or “budgetary” reasons. He cautioned that “sousers” did not frequent the locale and the typical guest held himself to “two or three dozen glasses”. Owen’s self-described taste in beer was “dilettante”, which must be taken similarly tongue in cheek.

He concludes by telling us that, presented with a glass of “Piel’s”, a Long Island steady sipper likened it to the waste product of a dog. In fact, it was another brand, one that finished high in New York‘s ratings. Conversely, Schaefer, an old Brooklyn favourite, scored indifferently in the latter whereas Owens thought it a surer bet in the company of “experienced” but not “dissolute” or “undiscriminating” hands.

Hence his secret of the suds: the palate of a confirmed imbiber can outpace a trendy magazine’s elect panel. Putting it a different way, the article ends on a wink of the eye.

Certainly Owens saw that something was in the air, that “dabblers” were demanding more of the breweries. He thought New York the perfect tutor for this new type of beer drinker as both were in synch. In this, he was remarkably prescient, as only a few years later the growing interest in beer imports became allied to the budding microbrewery movement, with journalistic pipers soon abounding to recruit followers. Beer would never be the same again.

As Owens lived into the craft beer era I wonder if he remembered this tart essay from the Age of Acquarius.

In truth, and as Owens recognized, to understand beer well, you can’t treat it with kid gloves. You need to get down a certain amount of it, sans olives, preferably.

2 thoughts on “Something in the Air”

  1. The 1971 New York Magazine results look like the rankings were randomly selected. The highly rated Old Bohemian Bock was probably brewed by Eastern in Hammonton, NJ, and was likely not very distinguished. Ballantine India (IPA, in 1971, likely a Falstaff product) and the well-regarded Prior Dark (Schmidt of Philadelphia) are found near the bottom of the rankings. New York City was actually a very good place to find excellent domestic and imported beers in about 1970. My grad school roommate frequented McSorley’s ale house when an undergrad at Seton Hall in the late 60’s. He extolled the virtues of the brews available then at McSorley’s (ale by Rhinegold and dark by Stegmaier).

    • Thanks Arnold, you could have something there, and there is too the high ranking of Watney’s, which by 1971 was earning derision in English beer circles.

      Although, I think Prior Double Dark, which I remember well myself, is misplaced in the ranking, as it got a shared 4.25 from the panels. But in general you could be right, and Owens too. Whitbread Pale Ale seems to score too low for example.

      The condition of the products may have been a factor too though, as noted in the New York article.

      It occurs to me finally Owens may have chafed at being included with the white-collars. As an army-turned-newspaper man who hadn’t progressed much past high school, his sympathies probably lay with the blue-collar guys more than the other white collars on the panel.

      One may note too the absence of a single woman on the panel, despite the hip, liberated image of New York magazine from its earliest days. A datum that speaks to its time.


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