Before we go any further, I apologise unreservedly for mangling the Bard's most famous words.
I reckon we've all heard at least one story (whether actually true or just plain made up) about how someone who drinks one of the mass-market brands will be a diehard fan of their chosen beer but will fail to pick their favourite when challenged to a taste test between similar brews. In fact, such a taste test was featured in the film Beer Wars and did indeed show Bud/Miller/Coors drinkers picking the wrong beer after having faithfully promised that their palate could tell the difference. Of course, that's not a truly scientific study and we have to take the impartiality of the director as bona fide and hope that the proportion of right choices versus wrong choices shown in the film was accurate.
Nevertheless, it begs the question, is it good to have a favourite beer? Are you a mono-aleist?
In the case of the person who drinks only Miller or only PBR, there's a good chance that was also what their father drank. Parents are an important role model for kids and teenagers; Junior might have seen Dad knocking back the tallboys or the longnecks and decided that he would do the same thing one day, and if Dad had Bud in the fridge that's what he would have given Junior for his first taste of beer. Brand loyalty is well and truly fixed.
I didn't have that influence because we never had beer in the house, or pretty much any booze whatsoever apart from an ancient and half empty bottle of Booth's Gin which I don't think I ever saw opened or poured from. I had to make my own headway when I ventured into the world of drinking, and for a working class lad living in London, that meant beer. Because British brewing at the time was dominated by the 'Big Six' (Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle, Courage, Watneys, Bass Charrington and Allied Breweries) and also because of the tied house system where breweries own the pubs (apart from a small handful of free houses) I found myself in a similar situation to that of the American beer drinker of the early 1970s: I had a limited choice of beers brewed by industrial breweries. Whichever pub I went to, no matter which brewery owned or ran it, I drank bitter, mostly. For a while I drank nothing but Guinness; there was a period when I decided that a mixture of cider and brown ale was what I really wanted (what was I thinking?); when I was hard up I'd drink light and bitter because light ale was slightly cheaper, plus it came in a half pint bottle and the bartender would always put more than half a pint of bitter in the glass so you ended up with about a pint and a quarter for your money.
There was no brand loyalty though. If we went out for a drink on a Friday night our choice of venue was decided upon because of the venue itself. We went there because we liked the pub, not necessarily the beer. That was usually a secondary or purely incidental factor. Fast forward to today and it seems odd that I could have been satisfied with drinking the same beer all evening, sometimes every evening, but that's what I used to do. I had a go-to beer without realising it and it was determined by whichever brewery's pub I lived near to. I'm glad to say that as my appreciation of real ale (cask-conditioned) grew and its availability increased, the beer and the pub eventually attained equal status in deciding where I went for a gargle, but I was still drinking the same beer all evening. It was my 'usual.'
Just recently I've noticed myself slipping back into those old ways. For the past five or six years it's been pretty unusual for me to drink more than one or two glasses of the same beer in a session, the way that I used to drink Red Barrel or Robinson's Mild all evening, because I wanted to try... well, everything, and that's not easy when you're in a bar like Ginger Man with 80-odd taps staring at you and saying 'Come on, if you think you're hard enough!'
There are some who say that if you have a go-to beer or beer style you're showing a lack of knowledge about the subject. That seems a little harsh to me because it implies an either-or-ness about it which doesn't have to be the case. It's perfectly possible to have a favourite but still keep an open mind and always be ready to try something new. I have to say though, that in this current environment of increasing numbers of breweries, beers and beer styles, it's pretty hard to settle on just one. I'll admit that there are maybe half a dozen beers which, in different circumstances, I go to. One of them is always the first pint I order when I go to my local bar. A few others are beers I like to keep a supply of in the fridge to open when I get home after a hard day's work with a powerful thirst that needs to be quenched. And there are one or two beers that I treat myself to, just once in a while, and always get a little thrill of excitement when I lift the glass to my lips for that first sip. All the beers in the first two of those three categories are local beers and I don't want to appear to be favouring any of the Austin brewers by naming names, but the two beers I'm thinking of which I drink sparingly are Moylan's Moylander and Bear Republic Big Bear Black Stout. The latter, sadly, fell foul of the ridiculous Texas labelling laws which were deemed unconstitutional earlier this year by His Honour Judge Sparks, because it failed to display the word 'ale' anywhere on its label, having an ABV of 8%, but I'm hoping that Bear Republic will resubmit the label to the TABC under the new rules.
Michael Jackson has been known to express a degree of annoyance and frustration when asked what his favourite beer was, and being in his position that must have happened all too often. He tasted countless beers during his lifetime and I imagine it would have been nigh-on impossible for him to pick even a top ten, but it is known that he favoured the beers of Belgium. I reckon that if, when asked, you say that your favourite kind of beer is that belonging to an entire country you can hardly be said to be narrow minded, particularly when that country is Belgium, and if anyone tries to say that about the Beer Hunter they're going to have to go through me and just about every other beer geek and nerd.