The craft beer “revolution” has given us the ability to get drunk while pretending we’re doing something more high-minded. Throw enough flavors or cultural references at a beer, and it’s basically a meal.
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At the same time, fast food has been making a sincere effort for some years to place novelty above flavor: KFC’s Double-Down, the Doritos Loco Taco. For the same reason people hatewatch movies to talk shit about them later, it’s hard to avoid the temptation of these foods because of how brazen they are in their appeal to gluttonous mediocrity.
Enter Catawba (which I initially read as Chewbacca) Brewery’s worthy attempt to marry these two trends, forcibly consummate that marriage, and birth a beer that aspires to previously unattainable levels of novelty. Peanut Butter Jelly Time is a light brown ale that mimics the sense memory of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. “Think back to when your mom packed a PB&J in your lunchbox,” the back of the can reads. “By lunch time the jelly had always melted into the bread—Remember that goodness?”
“Remember when beer was beer?” said a very disappointed, purely hypothetical old man, gazing upon the selection of ridiculously named and flavored beers available in even the most pedestrian of liquor stores these days. And that old guy I totally made up totally has a point! Peanut Butter Jelly Time is not very good as a beer!
The peanut smell elicits memories not of childhood lunches, but of college parties gone awry: the spilled Coors cans mixing with unkempt carpet, and the vomit that so often follows. Although it’s brewed with raspberries, the jelly flavor more closely resembled the medicinal grape taste of Dimetapp. After a few sips, something strange happens: you’re forced to enjoy Peanut Butter Jelly Time on its own terms.
Divest yourself of the notion that what you’re drinking is a beer and the experience becomes much, much better. The light brown ale starts to taste like Wonder Bread. The peanut notes are taste-accurate, even if they still smell like the puke of a guy who’s been eating nothing but puke all day. The raspberry notes never totally materialize, but honestly, who uses raspberry jam on a PB&J anyway?
As humans we’re hopelessly susceptible to our own curiosity, and in earnestly creating something that should be disgusting, Catawba Brewing have reached what is maybe the current pinnacle of novelty brewing. I’ve drank two of them already, and I still can’t decide what that says about me, my taste, or a world that would allow this monstrosity to exist. It’s not necessarily good or bad. It’s more of a liquid sandwich than a beer.
Why would anyone drink a canned sandwich? The answer—as food and booze culture seems to be telling us—is why not?