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Roll out the barrel at the 19th hole

Tom BedellBy Tom Bedell,

I love beer. To me, a day without beer is, well, unusual. It probably means I'm sick, which I actually have been for the past three, beerless, days.

I'm already looking forward to that first post-recovery beer almost as much as I look forward to the first post-golf round beer. And in each case, I'll actually give some thought to what that beer will be. To me, the unexamined beer isn't worth drinking.

Call me a beer snob, I can take it. Though I prefer to think of myself as a beer expert. As far as I know, I'm the only member of both the Golf Writers Association of America and the North American Guild of Beer Writers. And I'm a certified beer judge; yes, there are such things, and I paid my swill-drinking dues to reach such a rarified aerie.

For years I've been trying in vain to convince beer publications to let me write about golf on a regular basis. It took the wisdom of editors at a golf publication to let me write about beer on a regular basis. And what could be a more natural combination?

Things are getting better all the time, but I'm still often not happy about the beer offerings at golf courses, skewed toward the same old suds from Megabland Brewers. Actually, Megabland Light, usually, considering that the five top-selling beers in the U.S. are Bud Light, Budweiser, Coors Light, Miller Light and Natural Light.

It always amazes me that golfers will persistently drink these virtually tasteless watery bursts of carbonation often served ice cold to further blunt any flavor. Aren't these the same guys who have a tireless thirst to play new courses, in varied locales, designed by different golf architects? Aren't these the players who happily will discuss the virtues or pitfalls of this hole or that pin placement, or the inherent unfairness of a particular water hazard?

(Let's not slight women, who drink about 25 percent of the beer sold in the United States and actually buy about 60 percent of it.)

Why do golfers turn off their brains when picking a beer? Maybe it's because there's no great challenge to chugging a brew. If a bottle of beer came with a high slope rating, maybe it would get more respect.

I'm not saying these beers are bad, mind you. They're clean, expertly brewed and, to paraphrase a famous golf line, the best beers of their kind I've ever had. It's just that they have a stylistic range that runs all the way from A to B. Drinking them is about as exciting as playing 18 holes all straight, all featureless, to 18 flat-as-pancakes greens.

They're all the same style-a wan cousin of the original lager beer from Pilsen, in the Czech Republic. But there are scores of beer styles--pilsners, dark lagers, kolschs, alts, blonde ales, extra strong bitters, milds, porters, dry stouts, milk stouts, imperial stouts, barleywines, lambics, wheat beers, rye beers, black beers, brown beers, red beers. (But no green beer--to be sternly avoided on St. Patrick's Day in favor of dry stouts.)

As recently as 30 years ago, the United States was a sorry brewing nation, with less than 50 producers, all churning out the same unadventurous product. Today, the country is by far the most diverse brewing nation in the world. Look hard enough, and almost any style of beer can be found, and a few that are stretching style categories in new directions (a Rogue Imperial Pilsner from Oregon, anyone?).

I don't expect Belgian Trappist ales to start showing up on golf courses, although I've often said they'd be appropriate, considering how often the deity is invoked during play. I'll even concede two things:

One is that after a scorchingly hot round of golf, almost any beer will do, possibly even a virtually tasteless watery burst of carbonation served ice cold. (But probably not.)

Second is that there aren't that many fine beers in cans, and courses understandably don't want to stock on-course refreshment carts with glass bottles. I don't actually imbibe much while on the course. Some players can't get through a round without some swing oil, but I'm not a big advocate of drinking and driving.

The 19th hole is a different story. There, there should be no more excuses; life's too short to drink bland beer. There's no reason a clubhouse bar can't stock some regional microbrews, a keg from the local brewpub, or some imports more intriguing than Corona or Heineken. Bring on a refreshing pale ale, an effervescent wheat beer, a tasty brown ale, a malty Munich lager, a sturdy bock. Offer more choice, dammit.

And players, wake up your taste buds for a change. Don't roll over and drink the same old belly wash time and again. The days of brand loyalty in beer are history, so don't flog a dead horse. (Drink a Dead Horse IPA from McNeill's Brewery in Vermont instead.) Sure, call me a beer curmudgeon, I can take it. But just take the challenge and try that higher slope-rated beer. Don't make me drink alone.

Next: Holiday Beers

Tom Bedell has written about golf and golf travel for American Airlines' luxury magazine Celebrated Living since 1999, and has contributed to Travel & Leisure Golf, Golf Connoisseur, Virtuoso Life, Lexus Magazine, Acura Style, Tee It Up, American Way, The Met Golfer and many others. He is currently the travel editor at Troon Golf & Travel.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Finally: a Golf Course Devoted to Good Beer!

    Pete Campbell wrote on: Dec 11, 2007

    I couldn't agree more with "Roll Out the Barrel at the 19th Hole." I'm GM at Arizona's oldest continuously-run golf course, tucked in the southeast corner of the state, on the Mexican Border.
    Though I'd LOVE to carry Chimay beers, I don't see that happening. However, whilst the majority of our tap beers are selected to accommodate the majority of our drinkers, we've always supported Bisbee's local brewer, Electric Dave, the man with Arizona's first microbrew license.
    Unfortunately, Dave burned out on the business and no longer produces. I've decided that in his absence, we will put into regular rotation a keg of brew alternate to the big boys. Every keg will be something new.
    Our first experiment has been with Arrogant Bastard Ale, tapped last Friday. It tastes distinctly different from the bottled variety. And I've already caught wind of a complaint about it! However, I tried my first pint yesterday, for my birthday, and I loved it. The second was even better. I stopped there, however!
    We do have a few beerO'ssieurs out here though, and once they catch wind of our new keg, they'll be quite happy and vocal about it. No matter what, I will remain committed to providing at this tap an alternative to the mainstream.
    I'm not sure what we'll go with next; perhaps my buddies at the Santa Fe Brewery will soon be releasing kegs in Arizona and I can carry something of theirs. In the meantime, AZ has plenty of options, but I'd certainly entertain any of your (esteemed) recommendations.
    I do wish that the guys from TX who made Grand Cru were still in business!