Why Charles Bukowski Had A Love-Hate Relationship With American Beer

In his quasi-autobiographical novel "Ham on Rye," the first drinks that young Charles Bukowski (written as his oft-alter ego "Henry Chinaski," who inspired a bar in Glasgow) ever enjoyed were wine and whiskey. These are the two libations to which Bukowski mentions returning to throughout the bulk of his written works. Still, while Bukowski has earned a famous reputation as a drinker, he is not famed for being a discerning drinker. The poet was a self-proclaimed American beer fan as often as he was a self-proclaimed American beer hater — visiting the best breweries across the U.S. may have swayed him.

Bukowski argued that the quality of American beer had declined since World War II, which placed a larger focus on American breweries as a nationalist sentiment spread across the country; it's reasonable that quality might have decreased as production volume increased. In general, the American appetite for beer has faltered heavily in recent years — and Bukowski low-key saw it coming decades ago.

Still, when he did slum it and swig the swill, Miller, Schlitz, and Heineken were his go-tos. An outspoken fan of the local dive bar, Bukowski was a known barfly fixture at Hank's on Grand Avenue and The Frolic Room on Hollywood Boulevard in his hometown of LA. A beer and a shot of whisky were thought to be his regular order (Boilermaker fans, rise up) and his preferred whisky was Cutty Sark.

A familiar fixture, but not necessarily a welcome one

Even if Bukowski was a wine and whiskey man, beer makes more than a few appearances in his writing. In the poem, "2 p.m. beer," Bukowski writes, "Nothing matters/but flopping on a mattress/with cheap dreams and a beer/as the leaves die and the horses die/and the landladies stare in the halls." He's quoted another time (via Goodreads) prophesying, "We are here to drink beer. We are here to kill war. We are here to laugh at the odds and live our lives so well that Death will tremble to take us."

Bukowski even has a more vulnerable poem simply titled "beer," which sighs, "I don't know how many bottles of beer/I have consumed while waiting for things/to get better./I don't know how much wine and whisky/and beer/mostly beer/I have consumed after/splits with women/waiting for the phone to ring." His unflinching, non-glamorous accounts of lifelong alcoholism earned him his nickname as the "laureate of American lowlife," even inspiring the posthumous collection of his spirit-related works titled "On Drinking." His ferociously self-destructive authorial voice was less of an antidote than an acknowledgment of the searing ennui of everyday monotony. (How about a Schlitz, anyone?)