Joe Sixpack: In the narrow category of worst beer, a fresh contender

Posted: June 24, 2011

ASK ME THE WORST beer I've ever had, and the answer was always easy: Stegmaier Gold Medal.

This was back in the 1970s. The case of 12-ounce cans was smuggled into a dorm room inside a leather suitcase, and we began popping them open before they were sufficiently iced.

It tasted like hay. Or, more accurately, hay that had been cut, baled and then used as bedding for incontinent goats. The rancid flavor lingers to this day and, as I said, it was the worst I'd ever tasted.

Until last week, when I swallowed a mouthful of MGD 64 Lemonade.

Before I go off on this product, let me just emphasize that - outside of that circa 1970s Stegmaier - I've found something likable in almost every beer I've ever tasted. That's because, at its essence, drinking beer is a hedonistic act; it is about the pursuit of refreshment, the appreciation of flavor with character, and the pleasure of social bonding. It's the first instinct of beer drinkers to enjoy, not criticize, whatever we're drinking.

In that light, MGD 64 Lemonade is nothing less than a malicious, exploitive assault on the very institution of beer drinking. It is so vile, so absent any merit, that it can be understood only as an attempt to establish, once and for all, that, persuaded with enough advertising, some Americans will literally drink their own pee.

I shared a bottle with several beer fans and the response was almost unanimous:

"Tastes like melted lemon water ice, then finishes with a touch of Lemon Pledge."

"Flat Diet Sprite."

"A hint of Windex."

"Ricola cough drops with the aroma of a urinal cake."

It contains nothing, absolutely nothing, even reminiscent of hops or malt. It's true, many so-called malt beverages are similarly devoid of beerlike flavor. But MGD 64 Lemonade establishes a new low.

"MGD" stands for Miller Genuine Draft, but it is neither genuine nor draft, and I wouldn't be surprised that, though he has been dead for more than a century, Frederick Miller is at this very moment preparing a lawsuit against the current owners of his company for misuse of his good name.

"64" is its caloric content. How light is that? I've done some math (I'll show you the work at my website) to determine that the alcohol content (2.8 percent by volume) accounts for 54.9 of those calories. Which means that the stuff that creates body and complexity and nutrition accounts for all of 9 calories, about the same as five peppermint Tic Tacs. MGD 64 Lemonade is essentially watered-down, colorized ethanol.

And "Lemonade"? Lemonade is made with lemons and sugar, neither of which are in this product. Instead, the label says it contains "natural lemon flavor and sucralose." The former is used to flavor cough medicine; the latter is a noncaloric artificial sweetener commercially known as Splenda. Both ingredients were invented by chemists and deemed safe for human consumption only after they were tested on rats.

You might say MGD Lemonade 64 is nothing more than an alcohol delivery device, but it doesn't do even that very well.

A 150-pound woman could commence drinking one bottle of MGD 64 Lemonade every 15 minutes, and after an hour and a half (a full sixpack!) she still couldn't get herself pulled over for DUI. She would, however, have consumed 384 calories - about the same as a McDonald's Sausage McMuffin.

Thirty-five years ago, that hay-like Stegmaier tasted rancid because of lousy ingredients and haphazard brewing. MGD 64 Lemonade, on the other hand, tastes like this on purpose.

It is watery and fake and intended solely for consumers who don't care what they're drinking as long as it's low in calories.

To these people, I suggest a glass of tap water with a slice of real lemon and a thimble of Smirnoff. Otherwise, you'll only encourage them to make Miller 64 Ice Tea.

"Joe Sixpack" is by Don Russell, director of Philly Beer Week. For more on the beer scene, sign up for his weekly email update at www.joesixpack.net. Email: joesixpack@phillynews.com.

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