It all starts out quite innocently, that first adolescent sip of a fizzy concoction that looks all the world like someone’s urine sample. Initially, for most of us, it tastes like it, too. In this way, beer is much like religion in that no one wants to fess up to the reality of the situation, so everyone just plays along as if nothing’s wrong. So what if God’s invisible; he’s still “there.” So what if beer looks and tastes like whiz; it’s still “good.”

cartoon beer
Cartoon beer, because beer is funny

Ben Franklin is alleged to have said something about beer being proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. Tell that to the raging-drunk, beer-swilling alcoholic who beats his wife and children. Tell that to the guy’s wife and kids. Tell that to the kid who guzzled beer bongs until blitzed, then drove into a crowd of people, or off a cliff, or stepped in front of a cement truck. Ben Franklin didn’t get out much, it seems. Or maybe things were safer back in Ben’s day. No one knows for sure why Ben said this.

Contrary to God wanting us to be happy through beer, beer is nature’s way of humiliating us, often in public. Beer is also nature’s stomach pump, and bladder stretcher, and inhibition stripper, and bar-brawl fuel. It’s fairly obvious that at least one type of beer was named by a very drunken person.

Hans: “Hey, Karl, look at Volker over there, lying face-down in that ditch full of garbage and waste outside his hovel. He appears to be breathing… Volker! What happened?”

Volker: “Glaaaa… glarg! Glargy glarg blarrrrrg!”

Karl: “He acts as if someone brained him, but his skull is intact. Hello, what’s this? It appears he’s consumed some sort of liquid, made from those piles of grains and hops in the corner, near his stove. It looks like piss… it appears he’s cooked up a juice fit for the Kaiser.”

Volker: “Larlie larrrrr! Glarble gluck! Glooooo!”

Hans: “What is it, Volker? What manner of fluid have you invented? Speak to us, man!”

Volker: “Laaaa! Grrrrr! Laggghhh urrrrrrrr.”

Hans: “Lager it is, then! That’s what we’ll call it! Lager!”

And thus was born the brew called lager.

beer mug
Beer, or urine sample?

Rumor has it that ancient Egyptians were the first culture known to brew beer. However, it’s entirely possible – more likely than, say, some guy parting the Dead Sea – that a Neanderthal left a mastodon bladder full of hops and barley in the rain and sun for too long, which would produce the same odd concoction as beer, but that evidence has yet to be discovered.

Let’s just say that the Egyptians did it first, and the Egyptians likely didn’t brew their beer to be as bitter as they do in the Northwest, where most of America’s hops are grown, and from where apparently very few are exported, given the overriding and annoying bitterness permeating the beers in the Northwest, which some people in that region pretend to like.
Microbreweries abound in the Northwest, like beer cans on a frat-house floor.

And the best way to mask a bad beer is to add way too many hops into the mix, because no flavor, good or bad, can compete with, or penetrate, bitter. It’s also no secret that the vast majority of beers brewed in the Northwest are ales, which are reportedly easier to brew than lagers and pilsners. And which seem to attract hops.

The Mecca of crisp, pristine beer in America – the lagers and pilsners – has been Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Is it blasphemous to refer to the Beer Capital of America as a Mecca? Whatever. But you know you’re a beer capital of the universe when your nicknames include Brew City, Beer City, Brew Town, and Beertown.
No other city in America, nay, the world, nay, the UNIVERSE, can claim such fizzy, foamy-headed monikers.

Wikipedia says of Milwaukee that it was “Once known almost exclusively as a brewing and manufacturing powerhouse…” Brewing and manufacturing! What a combination, often combined, as discussed later.

To be fair, Milwaukeeans have had a long history of copiously imbibing various libations. Maybe it started that way to help anesthetize the nose from the smell of the dead alewives on the shores of Lake Michigan.

Will Ferrell promoting Milwaukee beer. Further proof that beer is funny. (Publicity photo)

Maybe it was to numb the irritation of Wisconsin winters, and the weird meteorological variability the lake would foist upon the city.

Maybe it was because they knew, even back then, that one day, a brutish, boyish, immature, mentally retarded Republican wholly owned by a couple of German-immigrant-offspring robber barons would govern the state, and it drove everyone in Milwaukee to drink to forget.

Regardless, one historian says that, in 1846, Milwaukee had 136 taverns. It had to be like everyone in the city at that time owned a tavern.

In the 1850s, immigrating Germans started cranking up wort tuns in breweries in Milwaukee. By 1856, the city had more that 24 breweries up and running, and we’re not talking microbrews. Keep in mind that these dozens of breweries in Milwaukee sprang up roughly 150 years prior to the advent of microbreweries. The sheer number of industrial breweries in 1850s Milwaukee was on par with present-day microbreweries in any given city.

Once upon a time, Milwaukee was the number-one beer producer in the world, and home to four of the world’s largest breweries: Blatz, Miller, Pabst, and Schlitz. These were not bitter ales; these were crisp, clean, refreshing lagers and pilsners, veritable champagnes of bottled beer.

Beer that, then as now, still looks every bit like a tall, cool, glass of pee.

Before OSHA and their buzz-kill regulations, and before buzz-kill civil-suit lawyers, many of these breweries had their beer on tap in the break rooms, for employees to enjoy responsibly on their lunch breaks. Those who could not enjoy responsibly simply exited their careers through termination, sometimes lethally through drunken errors on the job.

Darwin was busy in the days before regulations protected the self-destructive, regulations which have since allowed inferior DNA to water down the evolutionary gene pool, which explains the advent of the so-called Tea Party.

Yes, beer has been a catalyst in many a person’s lousy judgment. The typically yellow, occasionally brown, sometimes red elixir has brought us such unflattering idioms as “beer goggles,” “cry in your beer,” “12-ounce curls,” “beer belly,” and “Technicolor yawn.”

It’s made from wet, boiled plants; looks like a bodily fluid; is produced in part in a “wort tun;” smells like wet grain; and tastes pretty weird, when you really think about it.

And still, we drink it.

2 thoughts on “Beer

  • Meg Ciccantelli
    October 2, 2012 at 6:25 AM

    Ha! Funny, I never thought of Beer as looking like bodily fluids…bottoms up?

    • Mark Forseth
      October 2, 2012 at 8:28 AM

      Meg, seriously. You live in MaWaKee. You pee in M’wakee. The first time I ever heard, “You don’t buy it, you rent it!” was in a bar bathroom (Wolski’s?), and it’s stuck in my craw since then…

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