Milton Babbitt: A Discussion in 12 Parts

9. Beer and New Music

FRANK J. OTERI: Let’s talk about beer…

MILTON BABBITT: Well, that, of course, you’re right is one of my specialties. I’m not able to drink much of it now I find, I’m allergic to it, but I still drink it. You’re right, I am a beer expert of a certain kind. What should we talk about? American beer has improved so that it’s remarkable. There was very little decent American beer fifteen-twenty years ago. There was some beer from the West Coast, I shouldn’t name particular brands, I guess.

FRANK J. OTERI: No, you can. By all means do.

MILTON BABBITT: There were one or two really good…then along comes something like, well, the beers from Boston that began and then all of a sudden we have all these tiny boutique breweries. There’s a new one every other day. Some of them are very, very special and very good; some of them aren’t. It’s remarkable too what’s happened to beer in this country. Next to England, I think we have the best collection of beers in the world. You want to talk about specific beers?

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, what was interesting to me was the whole notion of a microbrewed beer…

MILTON BABBITT: Yeah.

FRANK J. OTERI: …is the beer equivalent, if you would, of specialized music making.

MILTON BABBITT: [laughs] Well, good, O.K.! I’ll buy that and it’s perfectly true because they’re very different: some of them are done crudely and some of them are done very well indeed. It’s extraordinary. That’s one of the greatest cultural explosions in this country. Because before we had all of that terrible beer. You know, all of that mass-produced beer which is undrinkable.

FRANK J. OTERI: Yet, you know, some people drink Budweiser still.

MILTON BABBITT: Oh, you’re going to mention Budweiser? Bud Light?

FRANK J. OTERI: I hate it. Tons of people like it; just like tons of people listen to Britney Spears or the latest pop music sensation.

MILTON BABBITT: Yeah, I know.

FRANK J. OTERI: But there is a market for these alternative beers, these “new music” beers, if you would.

MILTON BABBITT: Yeah, but most of them don’t last unfortunately. Very few of these new ones and some of the very, very best ones don’t last. But that has to do with the whole commercial aspect of bringing out beer. The beer gets stale very quickly. For example, there’s a colleague here who knows how to brew beer, who knows much more about beer than I do now, who won’t buy beer anymore because he says you can never tell when it’s stale. For example, one of the great beers of the West Coast is Pyramid Pale Ale. You know Pyramid Pale Ale?

FRANK J. OTERI: I’ve had it a couple of times.

MILTON BABBITT: Well, where can you get it fresh around here? You can’t. Where can you get it at all? But to get it fresh is very, very, very different.

FRANK J. OTERI: I loved the Celis Brewery in Austin but they’re now out of business.

MILTON BABBITT: Has it gone under? I didn’t realize that.

FRANK J. OTERI: Miller bought it. They put it out of business!

MILTON BABBITT: Well, a lot of them have gone. I go for things that I once got and have gone now. What beer do you usually drink?

FRANK J. OTERI: Well, I love Guinness. I love Anchor Steam.

MILTON BABBITT: Oh good. Anchor Steam was the one beer that was there all through the years. A lot of people don’t like Anchor Steam; they don’t like the flowery aspect but that’s a matter of taste, so it never really caught on. But Anchor Steam certainly was the old pioneer. And there’s some amazing beers. I can’t even remember their names from day-to-day. There’s one that comes out of Virginia, if you like a hoppy beer not a malt. I like a very hoppy beer as opposed to a malty beer.

FRANK J. OTERI: Do you like Pete’s Wicked Ale?

MILTON BABBITT: Not really. It’s a little too sweet.

FRANK J. OTERI: How about Catamount?

MILTON BABBITT: Well, Catamount is a little better. You’re not getting to me where it really counts. Catamount, you know, there are a number of beers from up the New England way, which are very much alike but there’s one that I really like better than Catamount, Long Trail

FRANK J. OTERI: Yeah, Long Trail Ale.

MILTON BABBITT: Yeah right. I like that. I still go back to Fuller’s ESB.

FRANK J. OTERI: That’s a nice beer too. I’ve had it on tap.

MILTON BABBITT: Yeah.

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