Long Live Henry Weinhard

Henry Weinhard is no more.

Pour one out.

So long, Henry, we hardly knew ya!

Except for me. I knew Henry very, very well.

For those who don’t know, Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve is a beer. If you aren’t familiar with their beer, you might recognize their sodas and root beers. It’s the good shit way down at the end of the soda aisle. None of that A&W bullshit. Six-packs only, bottles only.

Ironic, considering the beer was at the other end of the beer aisle. Hack, a six-pack of their root beer might cost the same as a twelve-pack of their beer.

Private Reserve got me through most of my twenties. While not my only go-to beer, it was part of the regular rotation. True, twentysomethings aren’t generally known to be concerned with the quality of beer. Bang for the buck was my maxim, so a steady supply of the Bud Lights and MGDs of the world were on order. And that was the good stuff. 

Never was a fan of Coors, which totally cuts against my west coast bias. Then again, I started drinking after they had nationwide distribution. Hard to believe it was a forbidden fruit, the In n’ Out of its day. If they remade Smokey and the Bandit today, he’d be smuggling double doubles.

Scratch that. The dumbass voters in my state passed a proposition to make bacon as difficult to come by in California as Coors was in 1970s Georgia. If that isn’t call for a reboot, I don’t know what is. They’re hungry in Fontana and there’s grease in Texarkana.

I also drank quality beer when I could get it on sale. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Sam Adams Boston Lager. Microbrews, too. Nothing like a liter of Marzen from the local German-themed sausage restaurant, half-price on Thirsty Thursday or College Night or whatever the fuck night it was. 

Speaking of which, I recently looked up the Oktoberfest numbers in Munich, as it’s one of my dream destinations. In 2019, they had 6.3 million visitors and sold 7.3 million liters of beer. Am I the only one thinking there’s a lot of people not carrying their weight? That’s less than 1.2 per person. At a festival that pretty much exists only for drinking beer. 

Regardless, even if I drank my fair share of PBR, I knew what beer was supposed to taste like. 

Enter Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve. Flavor-wise, it was closer to Sierra Nevada, while price-wise, it was a Budweiser. Even in my twenties, I knew a perfect combination when I saw it.

You know those trendline graphs with individual plot points scattered around the average line? For instance, they’ll have percent of a state’s 2020 vote for Biden on the y-axis and COVID vaccination rate on the x-axis with an upward diagonal showing the average. We’d expect a state that voted 70-30 for Biden should have a 90% vaccination rate. But then there are the outliers, like New Hampshire, where Biden only took 52% of the vote but they’re, like, the most vaccinated state.

If you were to plot beers with price and quality on the axes, you’d see a similar trend. The higher the price, the better it tastes. Henry Weinhard’s would be the New Hampshire in that example. Priced down by PBR, quality up by Sam Adams.

Yes, I had these conversations while drunk in my twenties. I also once, while drunk in the red light district, opined that whatever the prostitutes were charging, it was above the quilibrium price for a Tuesday night in Sydney, because damn if there wasn’t a surplus of hookers on that strip of land. 

Some of y’all get drunk and get in fights. I sing karaoke and discuss social sciences. 

I don’t remember outgrowing Weinhard’s. There was never a time I proclaimed it no longer a go-to, but I certainly bought it less. Maybe I didn’t find myself strolling down that end of the aisle as often opting for craft six-packs instead of piss-water thirty-packs. But every once in a while, I’d see a Weinhard’s and have fond memories. If there was room in the fridge, maybe I’d buy a twelver as a palate cleanser. And every time I’d say, “Yeah, that’s still solid.” Then I’d forget about it for another eighteen months.

Not so with my other twenties go-to beer, Rolling Rock. I remember it being cheap and crisp. Then they were bought out by Anheuser-Busch, which promptly raised the price to be more in line with the craft brews. And I swear they changed the flavor, too. Maybe it’s psychosomatic and the $9.99 six-back doesn’t taste as good as it did at $5.99.

But man, over the past decade, every time I’ve tried a Rolling Rock, I’m flabbergasted I ever liked it. It barely even tastes like beer. It’s like bitter seltzer water. Whether that can be blamed on aging taste buds or Budweiser, I don’t know. Probably both. I also might have been duped by fun commercials, a distinctive bottle, and their fascination with the number 33.

Earlier this summer, while preparing libations for Camptathalon, I passed by the Henry’s and I equivocated. I didn’t want to be the asshole who brought lousy beer camping. One of the other guys busts out Miller High Life once every few years. It would be one thing if he sat in the proverbial corner and kept it to himself, but instead he always throws down with a “You know you want to see if it holds up.” To which I want to reply that Miller High Life never held any elevated position to which it might still “hold up” to. If he’d brought an MGD, maybe we could talk.

Incidentally, we all have fond memories of MGD. We have looked for it. It doesn’t exist anymore.

As for the High Life he brought camping. We all agreed it sucked and he had to finish the case by himself.

So I was gambling with the twelve-pack of Weinhard’s. If it was lousy, the most I’d be able to pawn off is one per person. 

The other campers’ reaction started the same as with Miller High Life: “Whoa, you brought Henry Weinhard’s?” But instead of segueing to “What the fuck were you thinking?”, the next line was along the lines of “Where the fuck did you find Weinhard’s?” As we talked about drinking it in our younger days, almost to a man, their reaction was the same as mine. The perfect intersection of price and quality. Everybody grabbed one. Willingly, unlike the High Life.

The verdict? It holds up. Bright, crisp, a little bit malty. Not “good” beer, but nothing you have to chase with an entire bottle of whiskey. Beforehand. If I had to choose between a Weinhard’s and a Sam Adams, I’d go Boston all the way. But up against every beer in its own price range, give me a Henry’s.

Although not anymore. Of course, right after I rediscover this gem of a cheap beer, they yank it from me. Did I mention it was bought out by Coors before being shut down? I can think of at least two other beers that Coors could stop producing instead of Weinhard’s. One is the champagne of beers and the other is the silver bullet. 

One Henry Weinhard’s Private Reserve remained when I returned from Camptathalon. Now I’m faced with a dilemma. Like a Death Row inmate ordering his last meal, I know that the next time I drink a Weinhard’s will be the last time I drink a Weinhard’s. I ought to wait for a special occasion, a solemn occurrence.

But I shouldn’t wait too long.

After all, it’s a cheap beer. Those don’t tend to age well. 

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