I love mainstream pop culture, but I’ve also always been a little distrustful of anything that’s a huge hit, and I can be embarrassingly stubborn about trying something after it reaches critical mass. This is partly because I love an underdog, and partly because — like a lot of people — I’d rather “discover something myself” than go along with the crowd, no matter how right the crowd happens to be.
Peer Pressure, then, is my belated attempt to wade deeper into the mainstream, one week at a time — whatever that means in an ever-more-fractured cultural landscape. What is a “hit” anymore, anyway, when a guy like me can go 11 years (and counting) without ever watching an episode of American Idol? What do our favorite things say about us as a country? I aim to find out by trying a chart-topping something in every column.
21st-century Americans can’t agree on much, but if you wanted to try and point to a couple of things that most of us love, you could do worse than starting off with beer and football. In spite of a slight two-year ratings decline, the NFL still dominates TV ratings every fall, and even though beer consumption is down a whopping 11 percent over the last decade, we still drink more of it than any other alcoholic beverage.
So what better way to kick off Peer Pressure than by writing about drinking some Budweiser while watching the Super Bowl?
Admittedly, I did a little niggling here. Technically speaking, Bud Light is America’s top-selling beer, with garden-variety Bud coming in second, but I justified my choice of Budweiser’s new Black Crown label on a couple of grounds: One, they were promoting the shit out of it during the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl; and two, Anheuser-Busch settled on the new brew “after 12 recipes, six beers brewed for national sampling, and 25,000 opinions.”
A crowdsourced beer recipe! America’s beer. During America’s game. And as an added bonus, it isn’t Bud Light, which I’d clearly use any amount of excuses and/or tortured logic to avoid drinking. Perfect.
A caveat is probably necessary here, which is this: My experience with regular Bud is limited to a backyard barbecue a few years ago, and the only time I’ve ever tasted Bud Light was by mistake at a hockey game. My point is that I can’t really compare Budweiser Black Crown to their ordinary, less “premium” brews — but I do have a fair amount of experience with other cheap beers like MGD and Rolling Rock, so I figured Anheuser-Busch’s claims of “a little more body and color and a touch more hop character” would basically translate to a slightly darker, heavier substitute for pale ‘n’ foamy bargain suds.
On that front, Black Crown didn’t disappoint. This stuff has been getting dumped on by the reviewers at Beer Advocate, and I can understand why; it’s priced like a craft beer, but it’s every bit as bland as you’d fear. It’s more of a marketing gimmick than a beer, which makes it sort of perfect for this series on a conceptual level — plus, it has the extra advantage of being brewed specifically to accommodate notes from a 25,000-person focus group. If you tend to view mainstream product with a jaundiced eye, Budweiser Black Crown is basically the reason why; in trying to cater to everyone’s tastes, it has none of its own.
That said, Black Crown is also a perfect mainstream product because it isn’t the slightest bit offensive. I suppose if you’re a beer connoisseur, tasting it might piss you off — but you’d have to be pretty angry, because it really isn’t bad. It isn’t good, either…it’s just there, until it’s gone, and all you’re left with is Bud bloat and the pleasant buzz of 6 percent ABV.
You can see this as a brewing failure, or you can see it as a solidly average beer that sets limited goals for itself and accomplishes them without a lot of flavor, style, or flair. I tend to think both descriptions are more or less accurate, and that’s Budweiser’s genius: For every guy like me who has a loyalty card to his local independent beer shop, there are easily a dozen who just want a bottle (or a can) of something that’s going to get the job done. Take the edge off. Nothing fancy.
Left to my own devices, I prefer a beer with some character, but I cannot tell a lie — I watched the game with a neighborhood guy I don’t know very well, and nine bottles later, we were gabbing like old friends. It got the job done, in other words. Not elegantly, and without a lot of obvious effort, but this is the American mainstream we’re talking about, so that’s only fitting…right?