After I had been gone from Maryland for a number of years I was back visiting my family with my then girlfriend and now wife. My brother and sister-in-law had taken us to a bar in Shepardstown, West Virginia were I ordered a Hefeweisen. My brother took one look at it and asked me when I started drinking dark beers. That same night my wife ordered a lemon drop and she didn’t quite know what to do with the sugar rimmed shot glass of vodka with accompanying lemon wedge that arrived in front of her moments later. We weren’t in Seattle anymore.
There was a time when I didn’t know what to do with the 15 micro brews on tap in all of Seattle’s bars. Yes, even the dives have endless rows of small batch beer made in some Oregon basement. Mirror Pond to my ears sounded like merepun and the first time I ordered it I just tried to phonetically copy what I had heard someone else say. Thank God it came with a label. I can’t think of any country songs that name drop Mirror Pond or Fat Tire or Manny’s Pale Ale and certainly none have ever mentioned Pyramid Hefeweisen. Frankly, I’m a bit embarrassed to have snotted up my palette this much. Squeezed lemon wedge in my beer even. Damn, that’s sissy. Hey, did you hear the one about the three legged dog who walked into a bar, six shooter strapped to his side? He was there to find the man who shot his paw. Hee Haw! The rub here though is anyone who thinks a tractor’s sexy doesn’t drink an ESB. I’ll even go as far as saying if you don’t know what ESB is you most likely do think tractors are sexy and if you have no idea what that’s referencing you’re probably reading this while drinking an ESB. Alt.country fans excluded of course from this entire discussion. In Washington’s defense of its low class roots however, I would like to nod my cap to Rainier Beer, which aside from rhyming ,which is awesome, used to have this fantastic commercial that had someone saying Rainier Beer like they were changing gears on a motorcylce – RAAAAAA – NEEEEEAR – BEEEEER. Although dubiously encouraging drunk driving, this was certainly the greatest beer commercial on record until Milwaukee’s Best campaign about men acting like men which doubles as a public service announcement.
I digress, the subject here being about beer in country music. The discussion should, I suppose, begin with the Hank Williams’ tune There’s A Tear In My Beer. Everybody knows it, but ironically it’s a song that really hasn’t been in the public memory for all that long. We just think it has been. Yes, Hank wrote it and it was first recorded and released in 1952, but by Big Bill Lister, not Hank and was not a hit at the time. Lister, born in Texas just south of San Antone in 1923 grew up listening to Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb. Big Bill indeed, finishing at just over 6’7″ in his prime. He toured extensively with Hank and the Drifting Cowboys for a few years and ended up with the demo of Hank singing There’s A Tear In My Beer, after complaining to Hank that he needed a beer drinking song. Hank replied, “Don’t worry about it, Big un, I got you covered. I got one that’s hotter than a pistol.” The demo, a tune Hank wouldn’t be allowed to record because of his already infamous troubles with alcohol disappeared into a box not to be rediscovered until 1988 by Lister’s wife Lila. They gave it to Hank, Jr who overdubbed himself on it and the world finally had a father son duet. The history we know isn’t always the history that was.
Post Script – Being a bit about wives, I should mention that Big Bill married at the age of 18 to Lila Mayfield who was all of 5’2″. That was in 1941 and they’re still married today. Tear in my beer, indeed!
Special thanks to Colin Escott and Kevin Coffey