It’s not the hand-selected, six-row barley malt. It’s not the lagering with beechwood chips, or the filtered water flown to headquarters in St. Louis, MO.
No. The real reason why Budweiser, king of beers, is also the beer of cooks is because 12-hour shifts of physically demanding, mentally obliterating work makes coasting from one Bud to another as natural as breathing.
Back-of-the-house beer preferences may seem like a paradox to industry outsiders. Anyone with any interest in food and drink should like craft beers, right? The complex flavor profiles, small-business philosophies, and craftsmanship parallel the priorities of restaurant people. But while a well-pulled pint of Rockaway ESB or a tart Cantillon Gueuze may seem like a natural fit, you’ll rarely see them post-shift. When a trail of cooks beelines to the bar after rocking the line in a busy restaurant, a knowing bartender will have popped the caps before they even say anything: Budweiser, the great American lager.
In reality, even the most refined restaurants are fueled by Buds, sweat, and tears.
There’s an obvious dissonance between what consumers see and what restaurant workers are really like. Professionals practice fine-tuned taste as a part of the job—they’re paid to be fussy, exacting gourmands for 60 hours a week. So when it comes time to unwind from work, most restaurant employees sprint for the other end of the spectrum. This leveling of tastes has team-building benefits for the restaurant as well, as well: There’s a certain camaraderie associated with cheap beer, since it creates an opportunity for every link in the hierarchy, from dishwashers to sous chefs, bussers to somms, to kick back a few cold ones together. In reality, even the most refined restaurants are fueled by Buds, sweat, and tears.
There are certainly exceptions, but most professional cooks don’t want a hoppy IPA, or a fleshy wine, or even a properly made Sazerac when it’s quitting time. They want something crisp, clean, and cold—the beer equivalent of stepping into a 40 degree walk-in refrigerator after working a summer night in a sweltering kitchen. After a Rhône Valley wine tasting, will a group of wine pros crack open their favorite bottle from the list? Maybe, but more likely, they’re heading straight to the nearest dive. The ease of Budweiser—its “underwhelming blandness,” as The Beer Bible puts it—is exactly what they’re looking for.
A Bud is the beer equivalent of stepping into a 40 degree walk-in refrigerator after working a summer night in a sweltering kitchen.
All cooks know that an icy Bud soothes the manic crush of service and mollifies the shell-shock of working the line. Imagine you are a cook working the sauté station—for every dish you make you will be checking the seasoning, sip by sip, killing your palate with endless tastes of beurre fondue and pork ragu. If you’re working the pasta station you’ll have to bite-test the garganelli three times an order, on every order, on a 12-dish pick-up, every 20 minutes, throughout a seven-hour dinner service. After the marathon of sauce, salt, and starch, a Hof Ten Dormaal Barrel Aged Dark Ale is the last thing an over-stimulated cook pines for.
No doubt, there are other beers that will do the trick. Every kitchen has its go-to brand—Modelo Especial for some, Presidente for others. Miller High Life, Hite, Coors Lite are all fine for choices for their no-nonsense drinkability. But Bud is an American tradition. And unlike the finer domestic products you can find in-house—locally-grown snap peas, upstate dairy, artisanal Hudson Valley Bourbon—Budweiser is cheap. It’s a fraction of the cost of a Brooklyn Sorachi Ace, less taxing on the boss’s wallet, and thus the option that cooks can drink the most of and get in the least amount of trouble for.
So if you feel like buying a round for the kitchen, don’t worry about splurging on anything fancy. A bucket of Buds will do just fine.
Scarlett Lindeman spent a decade cooking in kitchens in Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, and New York. She hung up her apron last year to pursue a Ph.D in Sociology.