Drinking the Bottom Shelf: More Regional American Beer

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


[Photo: Will Gordon]

Hi. Here are next three in our series on cheap American regional beers.

Genesee Cream Ale

On the first leg of this tour I too-cleverly stumbled upon the name CARL to describe these beers, since I was calling the whole category cheap American regional lagers. Turns out this great land of ours mashes some of its amber waves of corn into cheap regional ales, too, so this week we're going to welcome our first CARA to the party.

Let me state my biases up front. Genny Cream comes from Western New York (Rochester), which isn't close enough for me to have grown up drinking it, but isn't far enough away to be exotic. I also don't like the name "cream ale." Near as I can figure it has nothing to do with liquids that come out of animals; something about fermentation, it seems. Well, that's certainly a relief, but why you gotta scare me like that, can of beer?

But still, I wanted to like Genesee, because I admire the label (more green than a lot of people who wrap foodstuffs might recommend) and also the economy of letters in "Genesee." Wouldn't you expect an extra n or s wedged in there? And the biggest reason I wanted to like Genny Cream is that I had to take the bus to buy a 30-pack of it on a rainy day.

When the boss first proposed this series, I was excited because I like to try new things when those new things involve beer, but I was a little nervous because I was afraid they would all taste the same. Nope. Genesee Cream Ale is noticeably worse than most other cheap beers. I don't think it's the worst beer I've ever had—that's probably still Keystone—but it really does suck, and that's coming from a thirsty, simple-tongued man who's got 27 left in the fridge. It smells like processed corn and tastes like cardboard. I know that's a boring, generic way to describe a beer, but I'm telling you, man, Genny Cream doesn't give you much to work with. This beer makes me angry. Let's move on.

Pig's Eye Pilsner

Pig's Eye Pilsner isn't quite nice enough to dethrone Grain Belt as my favorite cheap Minnesotan brew, but it's a very respectable budget beer. There's nothing distinct about the flavor, and if it were eye-droppered onto my tongue, I might not be able to distinguish it from Pabst.

But my research assistant isn't that indulgent, so I had to make do with drinking it out of a glass, which is how I learned that if you get two or more ounces of Pig's Eye in the same container, a fight breaks out. I know a lot of people aren't into highly carbonated beers, but if I'm drinking a CARL, I'm probably drinking more than just one or nine at a time, so I like it when the beer's as excited about the afternoon as I am; Pig's Eye just about jumps down your throat.

Narragansett Lager

As a New Englander I'm pleased to report that Gansett won this week's blind tasting. It has the subtlest smell of the three, always a good thing in a cheap beer, and the taste was great and dare I say perhaps even complex? It opens with the peaceably metallic bite of a good, simple canned beer, but the first impression was undercut by an unorthodox smoky note and I swear to gosh a faint hint of grape soda. I could drink this all day (again).