Written and photographed by Sara Bir
From the land of sky blue waters,
From the land of pines’ lofty balsams,
Comes the beer refreshing,
Hamm’s the beer refreshing.
Recognizing those words off the bat will date you back to the era when beer had jingles. The one above is, of course, for Hamm’s beer, an insipid yet classic American lager founded in St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1864.
The jingle was before my time. For years, I thought Hamm’s hailed from Montana, because I first drank it there in the mid-1990s. Even though I wasn’t aware of the jingle back then, Hamm’s brought forth images of a majestic American wilderness: crisp, civilized refreshment amidst rugged peaks and lodgepole pines.
Such scenery surrounded me when I visited my friend Mike in Bozeman that glorious summer. In his neighborhood was a warehouse with a Hamm’s sign on it. Most likely it housed a beverage distributor, but it seemed to me that Hamm’s originated from that very spot, perhaps dappling up from a gurgling virgin spring. The Montana sky was big, and we scrambled over postcard-worthy backcountry before unwinding with cans of Hamm’s. Both of us were snobs about many things: camping gear, punk rock, coffee. Hamm’s breached our snobbery. I was contemplating a breakup with my boyfriend back in Ohio, and I needed beer, a lot of it, to mull it over. Its liquid clarity helped me achieve my own emotional clarity.
Thus began a new love affair, one of woman and beverage. Later, after destroying the heart of the Ohio boyfriend, I would go on runs through madrone groves in the sun-bronzed hills of Sonoma County and immediately jump into the shower at home with a frosty can of Hamm’s. A recent transplant to California, I had few cares besides earning enough money from catering gigs to buy gasoline, used CDs, and good olive oil. A shower beer in the late afternoon was a splendid thing for a sweat-drenched youth; the lightness of the Hamm’s echoed the coolness of the shower spray, and all was right with the world. I’d moved to Sonoma to explore the rarefied world of fine wine and wound up keeping budget-friendly Hamm’s as a fridge staple.
A good cheap beer must be free of flavor. Because if cheap beer has a flavor, it’s probably a skunky one. Hamm’s boasts little in the flavor department, and what it does offer is utterly inoffensive. I cannot say the same of other watery lagers. Really, temperature is the vital factor. The whole point of cheap beer is for it to be cold, as cold as possible, so you can relish the tiny beads of condensation that form on the sides of the can. And then your fingers muss it all up when you take a pull. Pounding isn’t the point. Mindless, pleasurable sipping is.
I like the ease of a shiny golden can and the mystique of the old-timey, idealized America it evokes: wheat stalks, the noble glory of the common man. Hamm’s is now brewed by multi-national behemoth MillerCoors Brewing Company; there’s nothing folksy or pristine about it. But in the summertime, a frosty Hamm’s is still the beer for me.
If you have a giant glass, you can do as I did in my salad days and make an ersatz Hamm’s shandy. It is half freshly squeezed lemonade and half beer. Do not use any powdered Country Time crap. You’re already skimping on the beer, though Hamm’s is a great team player in this equation. It cuts the sweetness and offers fizz, but little else.
Hamm’s also makes a fine pie dough. I am not kidding. I got this beer-in-pie-dough idea from Heidi Swanson, who I bet a thousand bucks is not using Hamm’s in her dough, but Hamm’s rocks it. I can’t give you an exact recipe, because I make pie dough by feel, but here’s the ratio: one stick of butter to about one cup of flour. Add a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of sugar, and enough cold Hamm’s to bind it all together. Then drink the rest. Also, sub Hamm’s for the dairy when boiling up a box of macaroni and cheese. I totally know you have done this, so I’m going to just validate you and say right on!
These days, my adult lifestyle distances me from the glories of Hamm’s, the session beer of session beers. I adore my obligations—bathing my kid, walking the dog, plugging away at my cookbook—that are, at best, one-beer activities.
Hamm’s tastes like freedom. Freedom to get a good buzz after work on a Tuesday evening when daylight lasted until 9-ish. Freedom to be constantly broke-all but still buy decent brie. Freedom to squander time on hopeless crushes and aimless solo hikes. I may not scale mountains or go to rock shows that conclude at 2 a.m., but I can still dig on an ideal, and when I want to indulge in a can of shitty summertime beer, Hamm’s delivers every time.
Sara Bir is a chef, writer, and food librarian. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Sara has worked at as a sausage cart lackey, chocolate factory tour guide, and pop music critic. She’s a regular contributor to Full Grown People and blogs at her website, The Sausagetarian.