Trouble brewing for beer aficionados on a budget

Forget gasoline prices, people. We’ve got a REAL crisis on our hands!

According to my husband – aka The King of Beer (due respect to Adolphus Busch, former holder of the title) – there’s a worldwide shortage of hops, a grain vital to the brewing process. It is, in his mind, an unmitigated disaster, and it hit home hard this week.

“It just cost me fifty dollars to fill the Highlander,” I complained bitterly as I stormed through the door one day after work. “The numbers on the pump kept clicking and climbing, higher and higher. My stomach was in a knot. Seriously, I thought I would throw up! The guy next to me was crying all over his Grand Cherokee …”

My spouse just stood there, unmoved.

“Do you see what I’m holding in my hand?” he asked, in an oddly accusatory tone.

“A beer. So what?” I replied.

“This isn’t just any beer,” he huffed. “This is a Hamm’s. And it’s not even in a bottle. I am drinking a CAN of Hamm’s.”

His demeanor read “dead serious” which, of course, made me giggle uncontrollably. I conjured up a jingle from childhood, pounded on the breakfast bar like a tom-tom, and started to sing: “Hamm’s, the beer refreshing. Hamm’s, the beer refreshing … Hammmmmm’s.”

“This is NOT funny,” he mumbled between sips.

“So, if you don’t like Hamm’s, why’d you buy it?” I challenged him.

“Because for your information, my regular beer – my favorite microbrew – is over nine bucks a six-pack now. You can get 12 Hamms for $4.99!” he snapped. (He was clearly in need of another beer.)

“That’s too bad, dear,” I said, summoning all the sympathy I could muster. “I’m going to miss seeing all those fancy beers in the garage fridge. The labels are so pretty.”

“You just don’t get it, do you?” he asked, pausing a moment to swill. “Beer prices are at an all-time high. Summer is coming. It’s the perfect storm.”

“You’re being a tad dramatic, don’t you think?” I asked, now only mildly amused.

“Dramatic? DRAMATIC?!! And just what am I supposed to drink after mowing the lawn on a blistering hot day? Answer me that one, Little Miss Chardonnay. And forget about me. What about all those poor boaters? What are THEY supposed to do – head out for an afternoon of fishing with a cooler full of Diet Coke? And have you considered the implications for Major League Baseball? You think people want to drink milk at the ballpark with their peanuts and Crackerjack? I don’t think so.”

I hadn’t seen him this upset since the Yankees beat the Royals in the ’77 playoffs.

“We need an investigation. Congressional hearings!” he ranted on. “Summon the CEOs of major beer companies to Washington. Drill them about their salaries. Ask ’em why they’ve cornered the hops market so the little guys can’t get it. Craft brewers are the backbone of the economy. They’re hardworking, American entrepreneurs, and they’re suffering!!”

He was actually choking up, until he took another sip.

“Tut-tut. C’mon now,” I said, patting his belly gingerly. “Remember when we were young and really poor? It was fun searching for the cheapest beer we could find. White Label, Buckhorn … and, oh, PBR! You still like PBR with barbecue, right?”

But he was lost in the mist of bittersweet nostalgia:

“Remember when a draw was 25 cents? And dollar pitchers. Remember, dollar pitchers, honey? Those were the days …”

Then, I said something I instantly regretted. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to cut back.”

You could have heard a pin drop. He stood, motionless, as if he’d just been told he had three weeks to live. Finally, he turned toward me, his face drained of color.

“Are you saying – I can’t … even … utter the words – cut back on beer?”

One look at him and I knew I had crossed the line.

“No, no!” I perked up. “Cut back on OTHER stuff – you know, like movies and shoes. And blood pressure medicine! I can do my own pedicures. We’ll be OK, really! We’ve weathered storms before. We can weather this one.”

The ruddiness returned to his face. His grip relaxed around the empty can of Hamm’s. The King of Beer shuffled to the garage for a second brewski.

I heaved a sigh of relief. Another crisis averted. That is, until chardonnay prices go through the roof.