The Universal Notebook: Back to beer basics


On Nov. 18, 1980, I used my BritRail pass and Campaign for Real Ale guidebook to track down a pint of Adnams Best Bitter at the Bell & Steelyard Pub in Woodbridge, Sussex. Carolyn, my lovely bride of just one month, had a full day of classes at King Alfred’s College, so, having nothing better to do, I took the train from Winchester to London and from there to Ipswich and on to Woodbridge, where I had a rendezvous with the best local ale in all of East Anglia.

There are many fine local Maine beers these days, but I have never found anything this side of the Atlantic to compare with a pint pulled in a British pub. Local microbrews are all too hoppy and fizzy for me. A smooth, cool pint of English ale slides down the throat and quenches the thirst as little else will do. But don’t get me wrong, I am not a beer snob. Quite the opposite. I’m a reverse beer snob.

When I was growing up, my folks drank Miller High Life (The Champagne of Bottled Beers). When I was in college I drank bottles of Rheingold (My Beer, the Dry Beer), which came in plastic bags. It took only one semester away from home to learn the hard way (mononucleosis) that man cannot live by beer and hot dogs alone.

I am well aware that I am trespassing into Al Diamon territory when I take up the subject of my taste in beer (or lack thereof). Al and I have been friends since college, so I know all too well that the three legs of the barstool that supports his existence are beer, baseball and politics.

Back in the 1970s, Al and I were among the anxious imbibers who waited each spring for Ballantine to release its seasonal bock beer, just about the only brown beer you could find in those days. And when I was working at the Portland Public Library I contacted the library in Superior Point, Wisconsin, to arrange for the interlibrary loan of a six-pack of Point Special, a local beer Al had his eye on at the time.

It was only a few years after we got back from England that David Geary brought the first modern microbrewery to Maine in 1986. D.L. Geary was followed by Gritty McDuff’s brewpub in 1988; Andrew’s, Allagash, Atlantic, Kennebec River, Sheepscot Valley, Shipyard, Sunday River and Sea Dog came along in the 1990s; and the Maine beer scene exploded in the 21st century with dozens of hot new brews from brewers like Bissell Brothers, Maine Beer Co., Funky Bow and Oxbow. Now there are close to 100 breweries in Maine.

I’m not sure what the carrying capacity of the state might be, but Maine sure can hold its beers. Just here in Brunswick we now have Flight Deck out at the old air base and Moderation Brewing downtown. Anthony’s Cleaners in Yarmouth turned into Brick Yard Hollow Brewing last year when I wasn’t looking. Busloads of bleary beer buffs are being trucked all over the state at this very moment sampling our suds.

Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my taste for IPAs and APAs and I never cared much for porters and stouts. I know I am getting old and crotchety, but I just find $7.99 for a 12-ounce beer pretentious and off-putting, especially when you can get good beer for far less.

I was in a beer store not long ago and felt like I should hide my face when I placed a six-pack of 16-ounce Pabst Blue Ribbon on the counter. Then the clerk winked conspiratorially and said sotto voce, “PBR, you can’t buy better beer for less.” A Pabst Pounder costs about a buck.

Lately, I’m afraid, I’ve become something of a retro lager guy. Bud (The King of Beers), and Bud Light (Dilly, Dilly) don’t taste like anything at all to me, but I’ll take a PBR, ‘Gansett, Schlitz or Genesee Cream Ale over a hopped up fruity session ale or IPA any day of the week.

Narragansett (Hi, Neighbor, Have a ‘Gansett) has become my go-to beer, but when I discovered that Bootleggers could special order Schaefer I jumped at the chance. Now that case is almost gone. Schaefer, after all, is the One Beer to Have When You’re Having More than One.

Still, if I could get my hands on a cool pint of Adnams Best Bitter (now Adnams Southwold Bitter), well, as they say across the Pond, “Here’s to a long life and a merry one, a quick death and an easy one, a pretty girl and an honest one, a cold beer and another one.”

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.