By Pat Smith
Pittsburghers aren’t short on pride. You’ll be reminded of this ad nauseam during Super Bowl week as journalists clamor for stories tying the football team to its city and the familiar caricature portrayed of its indigenous people. As a native, I live for this type of coverage; particularly any angle that insists I’m tougher and more blue collared than I let on. It doesn’t take too many forwards in your inbox touting, “You know you’re from Pittsburgh when….” to realize that embracing tradition is something we’re fiercely loyal about. It doesn’t matter if the particular tradition is worthy (pierogies, Primanti’s and fried fish slabs the size of a frisbee) or not so much (let’s just say that Pittsburghers have a blurry view regarding the parameters of what falls into Classic Rock). For too many outsiders, the composite sketch of a Pittsburgher has become all too predictable and short-sighted. Our character would find himself in where else, but a stadium lot. He’s not just bloated on the inside, compliments of hot sausage and cold beer, but he also suffers from the bloated ego of winning an unprecedented amount of Super Bowls. Fully robed in layers of Steeler gear (NFL licensed as well as the knock-off variety lining the sidewalks of the Strip District) the word “obnoxious” will undoubtedly be used to describe the ensemble. He has a Terrible Towel in one of his numb hands, and a can of Iron City in the other (he’s also slightly pot-bellied and more than slightly belligerent if you were to press for details, which your outsider will gladly offer up.)
Okay, so that’s not a stretch by any means. Let’s clear one thing up though: if we’re drinking Iron City, it’s more for tradition and hometown pride than anything else. Think of it as a roundabout way of supporting Pittsburgh sports. After all, Iron City was the first brewery to feature local teams and players on the can. You’ve heard the expression “take one for the team” and those are my thoughts each time I have to dull the gag reflex and swig the bottom of a bottle. Yet I’ve gone as far to say that there is nothing finer than taking a long pull off an ice-cold Iron City while tailgating in December. At the same time, there is also nothing worse. When it comes down to preparing for a big game, the pride overrides the palate.
As accurate as the stereotype may seem to fit, drinking Iron City isn’t some sort of rite of passage for teens growing up in western PA. We subscribed, as most teenagers can relate, to the proverbial bang for the buck when we were lucky enough to get our hands on a case of beer. If something tasted like shit, why would we aim to drink twice as much of it to get the same intended effect? This led to a steady diet of Mickey’s, Icehouse, and Keystone. This is back when a request for Honey Brown labeled you a borderline beer snob. It would be tough to argue that Iron City products are a beer that you graduate to because even the grizzled booze-hounds around town would refer to the local swill as “Iron Shitty” and turn their nose up as they sipped from a can of Budweiser. Everything changed for me when I went away to college. There’s a direct correlation between my Iron consumption and when we would all return home for a visit. I haven’t lived back in western PA in 15 years, so I find myself completely soaked up in the culture that raised me upon these return trips. The beer is usually centered on a Steelers game and shared amongst the friends I grew up with, so how can I give an objective profile of this beer? I recall a moment of clarity or two where I expressed my disdain for the beer, usually following a piss-poor effort by the black-and-gold, and that was all we had left to drink for the day. When it comes down to it, you will not get what I get from this beer. Upon pouring, you will get a beer that is pale yellow in color with sparse suds retaining miniscule head. You will get very little evidence of hops and maybe a dash of malt character. You may or may not pick up on the subtle notes of the Monongahela River. A fellow Pittsburgher will get all the previous mentioned, but it’s slightly more tolerable when that taste symbolizes the official beverage for the City of Champions.