ONE OF 2013's most popular alcoholic beverages, beer (pron. "bieeer"; common vars.: "suds," "brew," "the stuff," "nanny's foamy laundry," "sluice juice [vulg.]") is currently at the peak of a renaissance that began in the 1980s. Tired of the pale, weak, yellow fluid that dominated the global beer market, bearded men in cargo pants banded together and said, in chorus, "We want our beer, but we want it darker, stronger, bitterer, with stupider names, and capable of producing incapacitating hangovers when consumed in large amounts!"
Thus the craft beer movement began, and now, in 2013, it seems that humankind has reached its outer limits. Independent artisan brewers currently produce thick, chewy beers in tiny batches and in a variety of styles, bearing titles like "Scrappy's Bodacious Brew," "Ol' Slutrag Christmastime Nog," and "Uncle Chester's Jizz Drizzle." Despite these nonsensical names, the truth is that beer has never been as delicious, or silly, as it is now.
The overriding sentiment in the current beer landscape is of one-upmanship, among both brewers and drinkers. For every crisp, crackling pale ale or mellow, roasty porter that hits the taps at the local beer-geek bar in 2013, there are twice as many ludicrous alternatives, designed to intimidate the layperson and make any potential drinker look like a tough, possibly deranged strongman.
For example, the current dominating beer-snob style is "IPA," short for "India Pale Ale"—a historic but laughably outmoded label, since none of these beers will ever be sent to or come from India. IPAs are designed to be stronger and hoppier (i.e., contain more of the hop plant) than standard beer, with many IPAs reaching heights of strength and bitterness that are capable of scouring dirty ovens and, in some cases, creating permanent etchings into materials like limestone or shale. Not content with the extremity of the existing IPA format, daredevil brewers have created super-sized IPAs called "Imperial" IPAs—they're stronger, bitterer... basically, the equivalent of seasoning a plate of bacon with creamy dollops of lard.
The misguided "Imperial" trend has taken other grotesque forms, and things like an "Imperial Wheat" or "Double Pilsner" can regularly be sighted. These are beers not intended for drinking, but are quite suitable for other uses: as a substitute for antifreeze, or for pouring on the doorstep to ward off evil spirits. Other bird-brained trends have also reared their heads, such "barrel-aging," which is the process of tainting precious, delicious beer by letting it simmer in oaky barrels for weeks on end, allowing it to acquire that buttery chardonnay flavor favored by depressed California housewives.
However, the happy byproduct of this cheeky inventiveness is a truly overwhelming supply of excellent beer, and in great variety. Portland, Oregon, is currently a stronghold of the craft beer movement, boasting more breweries than today's mathematicians are capable of counting (roughly five to six microbreweries per every individual within city limits; as I wrote that sentence, the number grew to seven). Still, some truly avid (read: deluded) beer drinkers find the need to acquire more beer from across state lines, which they do by trading through the post. Remember, futurepeople, this was back in the day when beer could not yet be dispensed from one's home computer, and physical pieces of mail were still being delivered by hand. Sending a 12-ounce bottle of beer to someone in Wisconsin—while entirely illegal—only cost 10 to 20 times what the actual bottle of beer cost itself. Heady times, indeed.
But for every highbrow beer trend, there is a corresponding lowbrow one. Fraternity men across America are rumored to engage in "butt chugging," or the process of inserting a tube with a funnel on the end (a "beer bong") into one's anus and administering the beer rectally. The result is that the effects of the beer can be felt immediately, without all that pesky mouth-opening and swallowing.
Only slightly less palatable is the current phenomenon of "Bud Light Lime" (var.: "Miller Chill"). This bizarre concoction combines Budweiser beer—the product of Anheuser-Busch, one of the world's largest, shittiest breweries—with lime-flavored syrup, resulting in something that, by all scientific reckoning, is unfit for human ingestion. Despite this, it remains disturbingly, even upsettingly popular. (It's a carefully guarded secret how Anheuser-Busch extracts the Budweiser from the Clydesdales.)
Future archaeologists can identify a beer from this era by the image that appears on the label. All beers from this time—from high-end microbrews to watery mass-produced lagers—bear the following image somewhere on the packaging, without exception: a mountain vista with a little brook running in front of it. See that image, and you will know you are holding an artifact from an ambitious, if conflicted, period in beer's evolution.