Beer’s Evolving Role in Popular Culture

In August 2019, “Beer never broke my heart” reached the No.1 spot in Billboard’s Country Airplay chart.  The song, by country singer Luke Combs simultaneously acts as an ode to ale and a wry take on a country music ballad.  However, it interesting to note that “Beer never broke my heart” is one of the very few mainstream songs about beer.  In fact, there are very few examples of mainstream popular culture that celebrate the world’s most popular alcoholic drink….Beer.

Of course, beer has a symbiotic relationship with pop culture, and we can point to many examples if this relationship, ranging from Duff Beer’s comedic role in The Simpsons to its almost unsettling presence as a prop for Rust (Matthew McConaughey) in True Detective.  Yet, beer as a cultural icon is both ubiquitous and never central.  Yes, there are some beer movies, songs, and games, however, there are no beer movies that celebrate beer in the way that Sideways, Red Obsession, or Uncorked act as love letters to wine.

Why is that the case?  It’s perhaps the commonality of beer that makes it less likely to be the centerpiece of a piece of pop culture.  You don’t see many films about milk or songs about tea, and beer’s universalness puts it in a similar bracket.  However, beer itself is evolving, becoming more of an art form due to the craft beer movement, so thereare more examples of the artistry of beer, similar to that of wine.

Beer marketing forms part of its iconography

Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that our consciousness of beer in the media is usually formed by the use of advertisements.  Ask anyone, and they could easily list a dozen beer advertisements that are deemed iconic: Budweiser’s Frogs and Whatssuupp ads, Guinness Is Good for You, and Heineken’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, just to name a few.  This is by design rather than chance.  Advertising restrictions mandate that alcoholic beverage companies can’t push the virtues of alcohol too hard on the audience, so they beer advertisements aim to be clever and memorable instead.

Beer has made its way as a central theme in some movies, including Beerfest, a hit from the team behind Super Troopers.  There are also Drinking Buddies, Strange Brew, and Beer for My Horses, all which vary in quality.  Smokey and the Bandit is also focuses on beer, albeit smuggling.  There are also a plethora of fun beer games, with players spinning the reels on Octobeerfest, Bier Haus, and Prost, and we can’t forget the iPhone Beer App.  The gag screensaver-style app allowed people to mimic drinking a cold pint, which was a hit for iPhone 4 and was making upwards of $20K per day at its peak.

Beer and sports go hand in hand

Beer’s iconography also tends to lend itself to sports, for example something that The Simpsons align with its references to Duff Beer. Of course, this is often tied up to marketing.  Talk to soccer fans, and they will say that Heineken as being synonymous with the Champions League as Carlsberg as a symbolic part of Liverpool FC, as the Danish brewer adorned Liverpool shirts for several years.  In Ireland, Guinness and rugby go hand in hand, and in the United States, well, you might take a trip to Coors Stadium, Busch Stadium, or root for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Of course, if we travel to Germany, then beer takes on a direct cultural role, one that goes beyond the cliché of Octoberfest.  There is a reverence for beer as a cultural entity, and as part of what makes a community.  This is also not limited to Germany alone, of course, and there is historical evidence on almost every continent of beer as a cultural symbol.  Beer drinking goes as far back as Ancient Egypt, perhaps further.  Ever since we learned how to brew it, beer has become synonymous with culture.  It may have an unsteady relationship with the pop culture of the 21st century, but its influence cannot be denied.

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