Put a beer in a man's hand and install him in a cozy corner table at the pub and his mind starts thinking--usually about beer. What is that man thinking? Read on--
On this 4/20, I thought it might be worth looking at the history of the way beer has borrowed from cannabis in imagery and cultural signaling. (Also note that "cannabis" is actually the neutral, clinical term, not "marijuana," which was a slang term adopted by early anti-weed crusaders to help demonize it.) It has a long history, but one that, like "420" itself, is changing.
A couple years back, John Holl and I were drinking beers at The Commons when the topic of "romantic facts" came up. Romantic facts? You know, those (false) stories that have gotten repeated so often they've come to be accepted as truth. Ben Franklin saying "Beer is proof God loves us," or the one about how a monk smuggled yeast into Bohemia from Bavaria to brew the first pilsner--those kinds of things. In journalism there's a concept about a story that's too good to fact check, and the romantic fact is beer's version of that.
For decades, beer partisans have argued that fermented rather than baked grain led humans to begin sowing the fields, settling down, and abandoning their hunter-gatherer ways. I have found none of their arguments persuasive; there just wasn't a smoking gun to support it one way or another. Food is a more basic need, and in the absence of evidence, bread seemed the more likely spark to a change as revolutionary as domesticating crops.
The United States is almost entirely an immigrant nation. The ancestors of the people who live here now came from other places, and the culture of the country continues to evolve as new groups arrive. We are a country composed of little bits of culture pieced together by people who bailed on their former countries, adding their cuisines and couture and music and beverages to what it means to be "American."
My grandparents arrived in Eastern Oregon in the 1930s and raised their two daughters in various farming communities. One of them stayed, married, and has been farming around Vale since the 1950s. But one of them--my mom--decided to head off to the big city to seek her fortune. Thus was I born and raised (mostly) in Boise, Idaho. I made my way back to Oregon to attend college here, arriving when I was just a few years younger than my grandparents had been fifty years before me. That was 1986.
A few months ago I was sitting in an Irish pub with The Beer Nut and I did what any American would do: I held my pint glass aloft and said "Sláinte" with gusto. Hey, that's what the Irish do when they offer a toast, right? Fortunately, just as the word was dying in my mouth, shamrocks, leprechauns, and Blarney stones trooped through my mind and I had the good sense to ask John (the Nut's actual name) whether this is something Irish drinkers say.