Saturday, January 17, 2009

Battle of the (Cheap) NFL Beers

A recent post at SlashFood got me thinking about this weekend's NFL playoff games and the fact that I have ties – some tenuous, others long-standing – to each of the four remaining cities. (This is bested by my wife who has lived and worked in all four of the cities left standing in the hunt for Super Bowl supremacy.)

I grew up in South Jersey, just 20 minutes from Vet Stadium and The Spectrum, where the Phillies, Sixers, Flyers, Eagles and Stars (I loved me some USFL) plied their trades. That's where a large part of my family still resides and I shall always call home. Though it's brewed outside of the city in Pottsville, PA, the beers of the Yuengling Brewing Co. are what I'll always associate with my time spent there in college and hanging out in rock clubs and cheap bars just about every weekend until the early 1990s when I moved across state to Pittsburgh.

My time in Pittsburgh was brief, not quite three years, and I lived in a great neighborhood called Bloomfield. The great thing about Bloomfield – and this is probably true of a lot of the neighborhoods that make up the Pittsburgh region – was that I could walk to anything I wanted... video store, post office, dollar movie theater, liquor store, beer distributor, grocery store, Italian deli, multiple diners, a butcher shop called HOUSE OF MEATS, an indie record store, the incredible Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, and Tessaro's – home to the best hamburger I have probably ever had in my life.

Unfortunately, I don't have fond memories of Pittsburgh's trademark beer, Iron City (or, Ahrn City as it's frequently referred to) and generally avoided it at all costs. In fact, one of my most pleasant memories of my time in the 'Burgh was when Yuengling was finally available at the local beer distributors.

Frankly, my favorite beer-centric memory of Pittsburgh is the Church Brew Works, a former Roman Catholic church that was converted into a brew pub. Though the beer wasn't great and the food was just okay (an opinion backed up by a trip to the area about five years ago), the slightly sacrilegious kick that came from drinking a beer in view of giant tanks gracing what was once the altar was sorta fun.

When it comes to swill beer I actually think is swell, my current home state of Maryland definitely takes the prize. I've been drinking National Bohemian (aka Natty Boh) since long before I ever made the move from Bucks County, PA (where I settled after Pittsburgh) to the confines of Baltimore County. As a poor college student, I remember scraping up change and taking donations so we could afford the $6.99 case of Natty Boh cans we'd get from the Springfield Beer Distributor located not far from the radio station where I spent much of my college daze.

Touted as originating in "The Land of Pleasant Living", Natty Boh hasn't been made in the Baltimore area in years and is currently brewed by Miller and distributed by Pabst. Though old-timers wax nostalgic about how great Natty Boh once was, I'll just have to take their word for it.

The current recipe is much like what I remember from my college years, a thin and watery brew with an appearance that one reviewer wrote "totally looks like urine". While it's not something I rush to drink on a day like today when the temperature outside is struggling to get into double digits, the Boh is hard to beat when summer heat and humidty has the area in its grip and you know you should drink water but what you really want is beer.

As for Phoenix, well, I almost moved there when Chris was working there in the 90s and my brother lives there now so I'll consider that my tenuous connection. I also visited the city once a couple years ago and saw Kurt Warner in a Rubio's but I have no firsthand knowledge of whatever regional cheap beer is favored by the city's population of college students, cowpokes, and artists. I even checked a poll on something called and found respondents singing the praises of such national labels as Keystone, Miller High Life, Schlitz, Bud Lite and Michelob.

Keystone?! No wonder the Eagles are going to beat them tomorrow.

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