In 1979, the year All About Beer Magazine debuted, I was working as a researcher at the University of Michigan. For a budding beer traveler, it was the perfect job: It offered plenty of vacation time; and my assignments took me to out-of-the-way towns like Altoona, Beloit and Sauk Centre, where the evening’s entertainment consisted of conversation, bar food and beer.
On that epic road trip, I lived on sandwiches and Christmas cookies; and on my first night west of the Mississippi, I slaked my thirst for Coors.
“Beer” meant American-style lager. Some brands tasted so awful the standing joke claimed that the brewing process included a horse. But the local stuff was cheap, and there was an offbeat charm about finding beer that wasn’t available back home. Brands like Point Special, whose cans Wisconsinites called “blue bullets”; Schmidt, a Minnesota beer with wildlife-themed labels; and P.O.C., which, depending on who you talked to, stood for either “Pride of Cleveland” or something less printable. Like thousands of other American males, I started collecting the cans, then later decided they were taking up too much room and threw them out.
Back then, most bars were refuges for the guys. Some were so dark and decrepit that few women dared enter. Frankly, it’s a wonder that the health department hadn’t shut some of them down. The menu was simple—burgers, with condiments brought out in six-pack holders; bratwurst and sausages; chili, which was often quite good; and microwaved pizza, which wasn’t. The beer selection was, in a word, limited. In some crossroads taverns, proper etiquette demanded that you ask for “a beer.” If there was a choice, it was between a glass schooner of the local brand or a longneck bottle of a macrobrew—or vice versa.
Electronic entertainment had yet to invade most bars. Few places could afford the novelty of video games. Besides, the state of the art hadn’t progressed much. “Asteroids” had just been invented, and “Pac-Man” was still on a drawing board somewhere in Japan. You were more likely to find puck bowling and shuffleboard, and maybe a pinball machine or a pool table or two. Then, as now, people fed the jukebox until closing time. In many places, the old joke from “The Blues Brothers”—“we’ve got country and western”—had a ring of truth.
Living in Big Ten country, football season was an excuse to hit the road and party. I’ve managed to see a game in every stadium in the conference, along with some in other parts of the country. If you think today’s tailgaters are hard core, you wouldn’t have believed what went on in the parking lots during the seventies. People fired up the grill and tapped the kegs at the crack of dawn, and many partied on until well after darkness fell. Inside the stadium, security was rather lax. At an Ohio State-Michigan game, I saw four seniors lug a quarter barrel of beer into the stadium, unchallenged by police or security guards.