Lucky Buddha Beer is beer. Because of the fact that I have had many other beverages definitively known to science as beer (not bragging ... much), merely tasting the Lucky Drink Co. product was proof positive: This is beer. Beyond that meek pronouncement, however, the bona fides of this stuff are somewhat more difficult to establish.
Start with the aforementioned Lucky Drink Co., the company with its website slapped on the back of the Lucky Buddha "Enlightened" Beer bottle. It's Australian—not that you'd find any evidence of that on their official site. There's hardly any room for that little disclosure, after accounting for the dopey faux koans and ham-fisted meditations on drinking that clog up the page.
"If you think that enlightenment is separate from the drinking of beer you have not yet understood"—Ancient Taoist Saying.
C'mon. Come on, folks. This is some fortune-cookie, plaque-at-the-HomeGoods-store, chain-steakhouse-décor-ass shit. Was Man who lie down with frog wake up with case of hops deemed too trenchant? Whatever happened to Pull up a chair, lift up your spirits :-)?This garbage is why the whole world laughs at marketers. But rather than grinding my teeth to nubs every time a social-media manager jots down the next ephemeral preteen colloquialism for future commoditization, let's strike a bargain: If you do PR for a living, consider first sending me a case of beer for review, then wade out to Trash Island and leave all the normal people alone for about 400 years. Somehow, I think YouTube and the Super Bowl will soldier on without you.
With a little online research, I was able to confirm that Lucky Buddha Beer is actually brewed in China: Hangzhou Qiandaohu Brewery in Xihu, Zhejiang Province, to be exact. From there, my bottle says it was imported by Sage Beverages in Carlsbad, Calif. So how does Lucky Drink Company inject itself into this equation?
The circumstance of Lucky Buddha Beer generates a lot of questions like that. For instance, is today's Lucky Drink Company the same one that was put up for sale by Australian businessman Philip Smouha in 2009? If so, why are Smouha subsidiaries predominantly in charge of distribution for the entire Eastern world, save China, the country in which the brew itself is supposedly beered? Further, why is the sole distribution contact for all of China not a company or consortium, but just some lady? Most importantly, how did they manage to blow out the front of the bottle with a big honking Buddha gut and still put less than 12 ounces of beer in the damn thing?
That bottle, though ... admit it, it's pretty great. Naturally, Lucky Drink Co. is quick to point out the molded image represents the Laughing Buddha, not the big man upstairs (or down the path) known to followers as the Gautama Buddha, or Siddhārtha. In nonobservant cultures, the Laughing Buddha is frequently confused for Gautama, though the big man is actually commonly regarded as a Maitreya Buddha, or spiritual successor to Buddha's current incarnation. Or, hey, maybe it's this triangle-hawking ding-dong in NorCal; we can't say for sure.
Maybe we oughta just ignore that stuff up there about religion and junk. You probably won't absorb much of it, and it's just gonna cancel out some information you might actually use some day, like how to jump your car's battery (very carefully) or where you left the remote (refrigerator). An analogy should be sufficient: Do you remember Jake and the Fatman? Ok, Lucky Buddha is the fat man. He's the Shrek to this guy's Donkey, the Chris Farley to his David Spade. He likes to give out candy, and wears a bag for a shirt. He's kind of like Santa, if Santa were known for nudely roaming the countryside in search of children.
It is funny, though, to read the company's defensive posturing about their appropriated symbol, almost as if they expect the foremost reaction to its American rollout to be, "Um, isn't this kind of racist?" instead of "I want to buy that!" Call me crazy, but as a business, doesn't it seem like you'd want to avoid the inessential and goofy thing you had to explain/apologize for periodically and emphatically, in very bold font? Uhhhh ... nevermind.
No, Lucky Buddha is probably not totally authentic. At the very least, they're playing up the angle like that friend of yours who is "one-16th Cherokee." Unfortunately, the sudden success of the giggling-green-babyman bottle is likely driven by American love for all things idiosyncratic, not thousands of years of tradition. And who could expect Lucky Drink Company to deny the tastemakers responsible for the development of gun family and gun egg?
Do you actually, truly care, for example, that your Panda Express fortune-cookie fortunes are likely written in an L.A. marketing cubicle, or that your designed-in-Cupertino iPhones are manufactured in China? Maybe they have some kind of exchange-student situation! You don't know. And I can't blame you.
After all, I personally discovered Lucky Buddha at friggin' Cost Plus World Market, which is essentially a software skin for Target. It's not like I flew into Beijing and scoured the Forbidden City for the One True Beer or something. I went to a strip mall and built my own six-pack. I have a frequent-shopper's card there, for crying out loud. They send me coupons.
For worse or worser, authenticity is being squeezed out of the free-market capitalism model; I suppose it's more profitable to create stories than to license them. Of course, we all know our favorite Clydesdale-rearing, American-flag-saluting lager is financed with Belgian Doo-dads, or whatever their currency of the month is over there. Plus, Samuel Adams didn't brew beer, Jim Koch is from Ohio, and the cool-beard-guy brewery you see on TV is for fuckin' tourists. Margaritaville doesn't even exist (except in our hearts, of course).
Eventually, it'd get pretty old to be the Beer Mythology Dismantler, or whatever the person who spent all day criticizing professional liars for lying would anoint himself. It does sort of stink, though, that it could be a full-time gig.
So for now, I guess I don't care too much about authenticity. Hell, just drink the beer—don't think it. And Lucky Buddha is pretty damn drinkable. I don't know if the green-bottle thing will ever go away, but get LB outta there and into your mug of choice, and it's not too shabby! It looks and tastes like ginger ale, with more crispy fruit flavor than malt, and without that trademark cigarette-soaked karaoke-bar aftertaste that infringes on much of the style.
When it's all said and done, you can make some dinky little crafts out of your beer trash, for purposes unknown. You can make an offering to the bottle like you see in Thai restaurants, leaving some rice and incense out for the little guy, picking it back up at the end of the day and saying, "Not hungry, huh?" as a little gag for yourself. You can dump it in the trash, I suppose, and doom our children's children to a depressing future wherein Mike Judge still gets pitch meetings with movie producers. But you've got to pop the top first, so you've got my blessing to grab a handful the next time you're at the store. I'd say you should rush out right this minute, but if Lucky Drink Co.'s success is any indication, waiting a couple thousand years to hop on board probably won't hurt.
Bronzehammer is a recovering Deadspin commenter and beer not-drinker. You can watch him tell jokes on his Youtube Channel and tell him what sort of drinks really put hair on your chest on Twitter @Bronzehammer. The Beer Idiot is a biweekly-or-so Drunkspin complement; previous installments are available here and here, not to mention here.
Image by Sam Woolley.
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