My first Drunkspin post was last summer's "36 Cheap American Beers, Ranked." It will almost certainly be the most widely read thing I ever publish. Kurt Loder and Steve Inskeep tweeted about it, and it got me booked onto one really cool AM-radio show in Minnesota and one really obnoxious beer podcast in Brooklyn. It's how I fell ass-backwards into my evergreen shtick of "guy who hates Yuengling for no real reason." It was great! Except for the part that was a horrible, irresponsible mistake that I've finally found the courage to admit.
The ranking was 97.2 percent accurate, but in placing Schlitz 30th—behind the likes of Miller Genuine Draft, Natural Ice, and even Yuengmotherfuckling—I did a grave disservice to all beer drinkers, blog readers, and truth seekers. Let me set the record straight. After 15 months devoted to learning more about beer, honesty, and my own dark soul, I am ready to admit that Schlitz is the very finest cheap beer available in the United States of America.
I wasn't always an idiot. One of my first economic epiphanies was that a dinner of six Schlitz and a tube of cashews was both superior to and cheaper than six Budweisers and a tube of peanuts. I drank plenty of Schlitz in my early twenties, but then I moved to a neighborhood where it was less accessible, got a job that made thrift (slightly) less essential, and switched over to a steady diet of Guinness, middle-of-the-road IPA, and whatever was on special. But although I stopped drinking Schlitz regularly, it still retained a place of honor in that fatty part of my innards where my heart and my liver meet.
Then, in 2008, Pabst Brewing Company (owner of Schlitz and dozens of similar heritage adjunct lager brands) reformulated the recipe, replacing the beer I grew up on with a version said to be more reflective of the beer my father grew up on. The proud new tallboy cans even had "Original '60s Formula" printed across the top. I was excited; Pabst spent a few bucks promoting the reinvention, which meant "The Beer That Made Milwaukee Famous" became more widely available, and I never doubted that I'd prefer the classic formula.
Something was wrong with either my tongue, my expectations, or my entire wasted life that year, because for whichever regrettable reason, I wasn't ready for the change. I immediately denounced the new-old Schlitz, twisting myself into the idiotic pretzel of a cranky young man nostalgic for the bastardized version of a classic American lager.
Other, more reputable sources knew better right away. RateBeer, while admittedly scoring the present-day Schlitz a mere 18 due to the beer-ranking world's general prejudice against the pale lager category, still notes that this places it in the 95th percentile among its class. Rival rating site Beer Advocate gives Schlitz a solid 81, which makes it their highest-scoring American adjunct lager (for context, BA rates Budweiser 56, Miller High Life 63, PBR 68, and the top two of my aforementioned almost-perfect ranking, Narragansett and Grain Belt Premium, 77 and 75, respectively). And no less an authority than Cicerone.org Exam Manager Jenny Pfäfflin is a huge fan. People who know what's up have long recognized Schlitz as the best low-rent beer out there, and I am relieved to finally rejoin their proud ranks.
Schlitz is not altogether different from its fizzy yellow brethren; it's the same damn thing most high-end beer drinkers scorn, only better. Much better. The key distinction is the presence of real, live, decent hops in both the aroma and the flavor. Schlitz uses a blend of Cascade, Mt. Hood, and Willamette hops to balance the classic (to be kind) bready malt character endemic to its breed. In addition to the hops, Schlitz further distances itself from the field merely by virtue of having no obvious flaws. It doesn't taste like wet cardboard, it's not sour, it's not the bad kind of bitter. Ergo, Schlitz is the best.
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Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain. Image by Jim Cooke.
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