Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Nova Schin Brazilian Lager

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

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


I've been in my 30s for so long that I can't really remember my 20s, but to the extent that I recall anything about that decade, it's that I spent most of it getting in my own way (and everyone else's way) because I hadn't yet figured out what I was good at. And worse than that, I wasn't even consciously trying to identify my strengths. I don't remember my full thought process, but I assume I just declared myself good at everything and then set about to do only the things that I enjoyed the most. This led to much debt and vomit.

I don't mean this as a blanket indictment of people in their 20s, because I think I was a late-bloomer when it came to self-awareness and skill-optimization. Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily, for example, still has miles of her 20s to go, yet she's already figured out that she's really good at eating oysters and wearing dresses, so she doesn't waste a lot of time eating shrimp and wearing shorts. When I was her age, I still thought I could walk on water and hold down an office job.

I realize not everyone goes through my long, sticky learning curve, but however late I arrived at the functional adult party, I'm here now and having a fine time of it, even though I haven't learned any new tricks in the past decade. Any success that I enjoy these days doesn't stem from new talents I've developed in my 30s but rather from a firmer grasp of how to maximize whatever little tokens of competence Darwin awarded me at birth. I no longer focus on doing what I love; now I find contentment in simply doing what I can. And brothers and sisters, I can drink beer.

Oh, can I drink beer. And I don't mean I'm one of those perfect-storm beer drinking dilettantes who can choke back four light ones on a fishing boat full of friends on a 90-degree day. I hate to boast but I need you to know that I can drink beer in the morning, and in the afternoon, and oh lord can I drink beer at night. I can drink beer that is itself warm or cold, and I can drink beer when the ambient temperature is warm or cold. Right now I am drinking beer in my 73-degree apartment. I could turn on the AC or the heat, take off my shirt or put on two sweaters, and none of it would have any bearing on my ability to drink beer.

Do I prefer to drink cold, clean beer in the company of good friends and salty snacks? Well of course. Same way your mom preferred to feed your infant self on days when you weren't disgusting or annoying. But she fed you every day or at least almost every day, and I try to take the same approach to my beer-drinking. You rig me a calendar full of balmy Saturday nights spent listening to the Talking Heads on a meat-filled back porch, and I'll drink beer under perfect circumstances in perpetuity. But sometimes life hands you cloudy, lonely Wednesdays. I drink beer through those Wednesdays.

This is why I'm reluctant to call any beer "easy-drinking," because Serious Eats Sandwich Fest attendants may have noticed that I found it quite simple to drink 16 porters while toiling under the glare of a very angry sun and an only slightly less angry editor. But I must admit that I have stumbled upon a beer that is even easier to drink than the others: Nova Schin Lager, Brazil's third-favorite beer and, for the price, my new first favorite.

There's a store on the outskirts of Harvard Square that sells 12-packs of Nova Schin for $9.99, which is a couple bucks less than they get for PBR. I can't believe it took me two months to try it, and I was shocked that I managed to try 9 in one sitting without really noticing. This stuff goes down FAST. It's a fairly standard macrobrew in the American adjunct tradition, which means it's probably half corn or rice or something. It tastes just fine, not too special though a little unusual: It has the requisite simple malt blast, but not as much of the sour lemon these beers usually throw at you via desultory doses of crappy hops. The malt dominates but it's balanced by token resistance from a slight apple character reminiscent of 3-pound-for-$1 scratch-and-dent Macintoshes at the farmer's market in July. It's not the world's most pleasant flavor, but it adds an inch of musky depth to the proceedings.

If you come across Nova Schin, buy it. Don't be deterred by the weird packaging—normal bottles exist online, but my store sells 12-packs of 11.83-ounce cans shrink-wrapped together on a bed of floppy cardboard, and each can comes covered with an ominous chunk of aluminum foil. At first I wondered what they were hiding under the extra layer of aluminum, but now I realize they were just trying to slow me down.