Every beer enthusiast has at some point found him or herself at a restaurant, bar, or friend’s where the only malt beverage option is BMC (Bud, Miller, Coors). Do you switch to a caffeinated coffee or tea; a fizzy, sugary soda; plain Jane water; or simply man up and choke down whatever pisswater swill is available?
In a recent Beer Advocate poll, two-thirds of the respondents agreed that there’s “nothing wrong with having a few Miller Lites every now and then.” A vocal minority (28%), however, would rather drink nothing if only BMC were available, and a radical fringe (5.5%) would go so far as to smuggle their own craft beer onto the premises if none was offered.
Now imagine the plight of the BMC drinker who accidentally stumbles into a brewpub or craft beer taphouse. What are his options? I have drank at many brewpubs and taphouses that pride themselves on not serving any BMC, or if they do, embarrass the customer, as at Baltimore’s Max’s on Broadway, by ringing a ship’s bell. You can afford to do that when you’re a beer mecca with 140+ taps, but for most establishments catering to the craft beer lover, a bland, watery alternative can be vital to the bottom line. How vital? I decided to find out.
Few good-sized urban areas in the mid-Atlantic region would seem to be more BMC-friendly than “Fredneck,” MD. Since I first moved to the area nearly 20 years ago, this one-time bastion of the KKK has grown and evolved into the state’s second-largest city and one of its most livable regions. Once a good-beer desert, Frederick now boasts four brewpubs, two production breweries (including the state’s largest), and a growing cadre of craft-oriented taphouses. I wondered: “Can a good ole boy still find him a cheap, flavorless brew here?”
I began my search at Roasthouse Pub, the city’s first, and still best, taphouse. To provide some cover, I enlisted an old friend, culinary artist and craft-beer enthusiast David Crosson, as my wingman. We scanned the two blackboards at opposite sides of the pub. Among the 20 well-curated selections were a cappuccino stout, a chocolate porter, an imperial brown ale, a barrel-aged barleywine, a dry-hopped pils, an Irish red ale, a Czech-style pilsner, a jalapeño IPA, a blood orange gose, and a basil-flavored witbier—but no BMC.
Feigning indignation, I inquired, “Don’t you serve any regular beers?”
“We have Coors Light, Bud Light, Miller Lite, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and regular Budweiser,” replied the bartender, Lindsey Pangburn.
Technically, PBR ain’t BMC, but since it was the most insipid beer available, I ordered one. David had the imperial brown. Our beers arrived in a shaker pint glass and 10-ounce goblet, respectively.
As David savored successive layers of complementary malt goodness, I took a big slug of my Pabst. Then another. When I looked up, David had barely made a dint in his beer, while mine was nearly drained. Drinking BMC is not that difficult if you compensate volume for flavor, it occurred to me. Who says BMC is not worth drinking? I ordered a second one.
This time I asked the bartender if I could drink from the can. She obliged, explaining that the bar’s policy is to pour all beers into pint glasses unless a customer requests otherwise. Glancing around the room, I noticed that everyone was drinking from pint glasses and goblets. Not a can nor bottle in sight, except for mine. How ingenious. It appeared that everyone was drinking craft beer, when, in fact, any or all of them could be imbibing BMC on the sly.
After a leisurely lunch, David and I left Roasthouse more or less equally impaired—my two PBRs (4.7% ABV) containing roughly as much alcohol as his single imperial brown (8.2%)—but having consumed more than twice as much liquid, I was forced to visit the restroom before heading off to our next venue.
Lunch was still going strong when we arrived at Barley and Hops, Frederick’s second-oldest brewpub. A profusion of Bud, Miller Lite, and Coors Light bottles around the bar and nearby tables, suggested that there were nearly as many BMC drinkers here as craft drinkers. A half dozen taps were dedicated to house brews; six more were pouring guest beers like Yuengling and Blue Moon; and a healthy supply of bottled BMC filled the cooler beneath the bar.
I was tempted to order a Blue Moon, but that would have been cheating—too similar to craft beer, despite its Miller/Coors provenance. As a compromise, I ordered Yuengling Lager (marginally more flavorful than BMC.) David enjoyed B&H’s Schifferstadt Stout. Thanks to happy hour pricing, each beer cost only $2.75, less than half of what we paid at Roasthouse. No wonder the place was so crowded.
Clearly, Barley and Hops was at the opposite end of the beer snob scale as Roasthouse. BMC was not only tolerated, but celebrated. I felt comfortable drinking bland beer here. Still, why would anyone pay $2.75 for BMC, when you can enjoy a flavorful craft beer for the same price?
With lunch winding down, we headed over to Frederick’s Old Town for our final two stops. Just 2½ year old, JoJo’s Restaurant & Taphouse occupies the former quarters of Patrick’s, a decades-old Irish pub that had distinguished itself in its waning days with a decent selection of beers from Flying Dog. JoJo’s has reconfigured the pub’s elegant old bar with two 10-spigot tap towers, whose offerings rotate regularly. The beer selection lacks the geek purity of Roadhouse—you’re apt to find taps for Stella Artois, a Shock Top brew, and Miller Lite sprinkled amongst the well-chosen craft handles—but there’s more than enough good stuff to go around.
The pub had just hosted a Sierra Nevada tap takeover and five of their beers remained: Torpedo, Nooner Pils, Hoppy Lager, Bigfoot, and the just-released Hop Hunter. David ordered a Hop Hunter, whose exuberant hop aroma I could smell from my stool. Reluctantly, I ordered a Miller Lite. At least it was on draft and tasted fresh.
I received some sympathetic encouragement from the bartender, Steven Curran, who exemplified the two-thirds of craft beer drinkers who find “nothing wrong with having a few Miller Lites every now and then.” “I prefer Miller Lite, but Bud Light is okay. I won’t drink Coors Light, though.” Tolerant, but not entirely devoid of prejudice.
Last stop on our crawl was Brewer’s Alley, the pioneering brewpub that introduced Frederick to craft beer nearly two decades ago. In 1996, pale, amber, and dark was enough. Today, Brewer’s Alley offers no fewer than eight taps to choose from (with one on cask), including six year-round brews, at least one seasonal, and a special release, which this week was Resinator, a 7.8% DIPA!
Fuck BMC. This story has a happy ending: I ordered a pint of the double IPA and enjoyed it immensely.
The highly unscientific, anecdotal evidence of this random pub crawl suggests three admittedly biased conclusions:
- Miller Lite is the beer to have when you’re out of craft; Coors Light, the beer to avoid.
- All beer is good (though some kinds are better than others).
- Craft beer always tastes better after a BMC.