Waynesville’s Go Grocery Outlet isn’t the kind of regional business you’ll see profiled in the glossy pages of WNC Magazine. Appalachian Chic, this place is not. Tucked in a dying strip mall off Route 276, The Go is a descendant of the mid-century supermarket, a ragged intersection of fluorescent track lighting, scuffed white linoleum and flat-top freezers that must be as old as Hall and Oates. On the windows hang garish posters advertising brands that wrote the book on American mass consumption: Cambell’s, Heinz, Kraft.
This is where blue-collar Appalachia comes to purchase bargain-rate bulk goods hosed down in high-fructose corn syrup: monolithic boxes of cereal, school-lunch hamburger patties in unmarked cases, frozen sacks of crinkle-cut French fries and so on. Though a rack of ice-cream sheet cakes does tempt me to amend my grocery list, I’ve made the trek from Asheville for one thing and one thing only: suds. Last week my pal Scott told me this Go Grocery (our area is home to three others) sports a sweet selection.
You read correctly. A man capable of ordering artisan bottles of Belgian beer from Bruisin’ Ales is also a man willing to drive 30 minutes for cheap supermarket beer. But not just any cheap supermarket beer. Ever since Uncle Al bequeathed a good portion of his domestic beer-can collection to me in the late ’80s, I’ve held a fascination with America’s older regional breweries and failed mainstream concoctions. It’s at discount outlets like The Go, which hawks more than its fair share of obscure food products, that such oddball booty can be found. A lot of it tastes like shit, of course. But flavor isn’t the point.
These beers are a part of pop culture. They’re Americana.
I’m not the only dork who engages in this pastime. Interest in these types of beers has grown in recent years. The hipster-fueled resurgence of Pabst Blue Ribbon has opened-up a retro/nostalgia market for vintage working-man brews. As a result, brands such as Yuengling, Genesee, Straub and Narragansett have cleverly re-framed themselves as delicacies from our country’s industrial golden age.
The Go’s cooler is, indeed, interesting. Sloppy, too. Tidiness isn’t a high priority around here, it seems. The border at which the beer and dairy meet is a zigzag of unintentional cross-merchandising. About two feet to the right, a bag of salad mix and several stray pudding cups have been deposited atop a 12-pack of SouthPaw Light (a member of Miller’s Plank Road Brewery Family).
I grip two items almost immediately: a $3.99 sixer of Utica Club (“First beer sold in the United States after prohibition,” proclaims the label) and a $6.69 half-case of Game Day Light. Much like Yuengling, which has quite the following in Asheville, the former is a proletarian American lager first brewed in 1888. It’s owned by New York’s F.X. Matt Brewing Company. They also produce Saranac, a premium line good enough to have been featured on The Thirsty Monk’s weekly pint night in February of this year. Writer William Orten Carlton once described Utica Club as a quality “lawnmower beer.”
Game Day Light, in contrast, can’t boast U.C.’s heritage. Yet it’s a real curio, nonetheless. Along with Game Day Ice, it constitutes 7-Eleven’s recent venture into private-label beer. But despite the convenience store’s near omnipresence on the American landscape, G.D.L. isn’t easy to track down, a queer factoid that makes buying it only that much more necessary.
Before calling it a day, I also spy six-packs of Highland’s Gaelic Ale and bottles of New Belgium Brewing’s Fat Tire amber ale. These stick out for sure. Just a decade ago they, nor anything approaching their caliber, wouldn’t have been found in a place like this.
Upon reaching the check-out I ask my clerk, a well-tanned woman bespectacled in gold, what their most popular beers are. Expecting her to rattle off a list of Bud and Miller products, she surprises me. “That’s all people used to buy, because that’s all there was,” she drawls. “But now there’s more variety. People like the German beers. And the exotic ones, too. And what’s that one? Fat Tire? People love that.”
“So let met get this straight,” I think to myself as I head back to the car. “While suburban-bred hipster types are busy guzzling the working-class beers of yore, the present-day working class of this country is gradually developing a taste for craft beer?”
Oh, the irony.