BEER MUSIC: A Taxonomy

BEER MUSIC: A Taxonomy

You hear a pop, crack, fizz. It's more sonorous than a seltzer or soda—the thick foam announces itself even if it's not spilling over the top. It's not the echoing plunk of an uncorked wine bottle or the crackling of liquor poured over ice. It is, unmistakably, beer.

Many adults abstain from beer but most have tried it. Especially in the United States of Anheuser-Busch, it's the traditional entry point to alcohol, a rite of passage for most adolescents. The emergence of smaller-scale craft breweries has transformed the landscape in the 21st Century, splintering the once-monocultural lagersphere into fiefdoms of niches and preferences, but *pumps fists above shoulders like a politician on a podium* beer remains strong.

Whether passively or actively, people listen to music when they drink beer. Booze's depressant qualities counteract our rapidly decreasing attention spans, so it's no surprise that the few surviving communal listening spaces—concerts, bars, weddings, parties, beach trips—are often strewn with beer cans.

There's no wrong music to listen to while you're drinking beer. Get a random person buzzed and they'll usually want to hear their favorite artists, whether that's Bach or Backstreet Boys. But music is the most powerful vibe-setter known to man, and can be abused or misused as such. It's subjective, sure, but no one wants to hear Chopin's funeral march at a wedding or Wagner's bridal chorus at a wake.

Everybody (not just persnickety music writers) categorizes music into moods, functions, and genres. Your '90s playlist might share zero songs with mine, but there's nothing from 2005 on either. Other distinctions are less strict.

There's a rich history of music genres defined by specific mind-altering substances. Because widespread usage of marijuana and hallucinogens coincided with the dawn of mass-distributed pop music, the most famous of these include "psychedelic rock," "stoner metal," "blunted jazz," and "acid house," among many others.

Maybe it's because the predominant categories of alcohol have remained intact amid today's diversified sub-categories, or maybe it's because alcohol consumption is too widespread to be associated with subculture, but music is rarely codified by specific types of booze.

Last weekend, I came across this photo of a beer can tweeted by writer/comedian/podcaster Patrick Monahan:

I wasn't familiar with the New Hampshire-based brewery (Stoneface) behind the 8% ABV West Coast Style IPA bearing a comically lengthy, Steely-Dan-referencing name. But having worked in and around the craft beer industry for the past seven years, and having listened to my fair share of The Dan, I formed an opinion about this beer that had nothing to do with its quality. My response was brash, but I stand by it:

A lot of people agreed with me. Some didn't. This may have been my knee-jerk reaction, but before tweeting I took a minute to confirm a few of the many non-beer lyrical references to alcohol I remembered across Steely Dan's discography. I came up with a handful that spanned the standard and the idiosyncratic, but did not include a single beer: rum and Coke, scotch whiskey, piña colada, Cuervo Gold, grapefruit wine, cherry wine, kirschwasser, zombie, retsina. My most glaring oversight was the unused jingle for Schlitz that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker recorded between their first and second albums, which was just unearthed last year.

But the underlying question remains: what constitutes my definition of beer music? Surely it can't be reduced to a dispassionate list of songs that include lyrical references to beer—that's far too small a category. Nor can it include every song that anyone (or even just me) has ever listened to while drinking beer. Where we're going we'll need way more intangibles and subjectivity.

Beer music produces the desire to run to the fridge and reach for a cold one. It's not as elevated an act as opening a wine bottle, pouring it properly, swirling around the glass, and sipping with restraint. It's not as hedonistic as swigging from a fifth of vodka. It's somewhere in between. It's an everyman pleasure that advertising execs have spent decades imbuing with a romantic working class tint.

For this reason, capital-A American genres like blues, country, and old-fashioned rock n roll have an easier path to beer music than most others. All have extreme poles that are rowdier and most chaste, respectively, but in between moonshine and religion is beer. There's an air of familiarity to each of these genres, a formula that's as tried-and-true as the Budweiser recipe—the closer the music in question is to the existing template, the more lager-y it is, and the further it strays, it gets into more craft-coded categories.

Let's look at a few '70s country songs as examples. Here's Waylon Jennings' 1973 classic "Honky Tonk Heroes."

Now, the album cover shows Waylon and his boys pounding brews and ripping darts, but that doesn't make the song a shoo-in. "Honky Tonk Heroes" starts as a relaxed amble—very beer-friendly—but soon ramps up into a more raucous groove. Combine that with lyrics about rough-and-tumble Southern bars and Jennings' unruly personal life, and I think this comes out closer to whiskey than beer in the grand scheme of things.

Obviously this is cocaine country.

Okay, now this is beer music. "Take this job and shove it" is exactly the type of phrase you fantasize about over after-work longnecks with coworkers, and the song's strut isn't quite cocaine-pristine nor liquor-unhinged. By all accounts, Johnny Paycheck was rowdier and more reprehensible than either Jennings or Campbell (which is saying something), but that does nothing to change his biggest hit's distinctly beer music vibe.

When you move away from the Red White and Blue of it all (note: heartland rock might be the subgenre with the highest beer music hit rate), beer music gets rarer. Let me do a quick rundown of a few genres.


Lest we forget, arguably the most American genre. For some reason though, the idea of beer and jazz just doesn't vibe for me. Jazz is too melodically and rhythmically sophisticated for such a simple beverage. This might be the most important factor in my opinion of the jazz-obsessed Steely Dan as Not Beer Music.

Hip Hop

Without a doubt the genre with the most lyrics about how only peasants drink beer. "Got an endorsement with GTV, y'all n****s drinkin' beer," Young Thug disdainfully rapped in 2014, holding up Birdman's disconcertingly cheap vodka brand as the preferable alternative. While most modern mainstream rappers would like you to believe that the only intoxicant they drink is lean, there's a broad spectrum here, from dirtbag rappers like Afroman and Ol' Dirty Bastard drinking 40s to Run The Jewels' hazy double IPA raps.


Unless we're talking about the part of "Born Slippy .NUXX" where the guy goes "LAGER LAGER LAGER LAGER," then nope, very little beer music to be found here.


A few years ago, I played a small role in a blog by writer/musician Ian Cory about "brewer metal," a term playing on stoner metal that describes a specific subset that appeals to tattooed craft beer bros. So yeah, that stuff is IPA music, thrash metal is liquor music, and anything else with riffs that make you crave suds is beer music.

"German Beer-Drinking Music"

Why yes, this is beer music, but it's also some of the worst music ever composed by humans. I worked at a German restaurant/catering company for five years, so I might be biased, but this Oom-pah bullshit will make you never want to drink again. Definitive proof that all beer music is by no means good music.


By now, you've probably realized that this is all an elaborate joke that I've taken way too far. Drink what you want to drink while you listen to what you want to listen to, I don't care.

But goddamn it, Steely Dan isn't beer music!

BOI (Best Of Inbox) #34

Cornelius - "Bara To Yaju" (Haruomi Hosono cover)

Location: Tokyo // Genre: psychedelic pop // RIYL: Shugo Tokumaru, more the laidback cool moments of Hosono's discography // From: untitled upcoming Haruomi Hosono that also includes Mac DeMarco

Fcukers - "Homie Don't Shake"

Location: NYC // Genre: zoomer bloghaus // RIYL: sleaze, the previous Fcukers track I posted in May // From: the Baggy$$ EP, out 9/6

Hakushi Hasegawa - "Boy's Texture"

Location: Japan // Genre: tranquil hyperpop // RIYL: South Park samples, yeule, MIDI strings // From: Mah​ō​gakkō, out 7/24

Midwife - "Rock N Roll Never Forgets"

Location: Colorado // Genre: minimalist dream pop // RIYL: David Lynch, an ambient take on Neil Young's "Hey Hey, My My" (Into The Black)" // From: No Depression in Heaven, out 9/6

Nubya Garcia - "Clarity"

Location: London // Genre: pastoral jazz // RIYL: sweeping strings, orchestral jazz in general // From: Odyssey, out 9/20

toe - "風と記憶"

Location: Tokyo // Genre: Japanese take on Midwest Emo // RIYL: The Album Leaf, any of the great albums toe have put out over the last two decades (if you don't know those, get on it!) // From: NOW I SEE THE LIGHT, out now

All Inbox Infinity picks are available in playlist form via Apple Music and Spotify.

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Jamie Larson