Did John Steinbeck invent the beer milkshake?

Did John Steinbeck invent the beer milkshake?

Back in the day when my house had two VCR’s, one beta and one vhs, we had that amazing shelf full of video tapes stacked like library books with handwritten titles scrawled sideways on each tape.  One tape that got viewed more than others contained a recording of “Cannery Row,” the movie version of the John Steinbeck classic.

The film inspired me to read my first true masterpiece by an American literary master.  The book is fantastic, but it was chapter 17 that changed me.  It was here that Steinbeck writes of Doc and how he is haunted by the thought of a beer milkshake. He can’t escape it:

In Monterey before he even started, he felt hungry and stopped at Herman’s for a hamburger and beer. While he ate his sandwich and sipped his beer, a bit of conversation came back to him. Blaisedell, the poet, had said to him, “You love beer so much. I’ll bet some day you’ll go in and order a beer milk shake.” It was a simple piece of foolery but it had bothered Doc ever since. He wondered what a beer milk shake would taste like. The idea gagged him a bit but he couldn’t let it alone. It cropped up every time he had a glass of beer. Would it curdle like milk? Would you add sugar? It was like a shrimp ice cream. Once the thing got into your head you couldn’t forget it.  He finished his sandwich and paid Herman. He purposely didn’t look at the milk shake machines lined up so shiny against the back wall. If a man ordered a beer milk shake, he thought, he’d better do it in a town where he wasn’t known. But then, a man with a beard, ordering a beer milk shake in a town where he wasn’t known — they might call the police.
But like much in Doc’s life, the beer milkshake followed him and would not let him go.  Later on the chapter, after a fight with Suzy DeSoto, Doc goes face to face with the beer-shake.

Doc walked angrily to the counter of the stand.

The waitress, a blond beauty with just the hint of a goiter, smiled at him. “What’ll it be?”

“Beer milk shake,” said Doc.


Well here it was and what the hell. Might just as well get it over with now as some time later.

The blond asked, “Are you kidding?”

Doc knew wearily that he couldn’t explain, couldn’t tell the truth. “I’ve got a bladder complaint,” he said. “Bipalychaetorsonechtomy the doctors call it. I’m supposed to drink a beer milk shake. Doctor’s orders.”

The blonde smiled reassuringly. “Oh! I thought you were kidding,” she said archly. “You tell me how to make it. I didn’t know you was sick.”

“Very sick,” said Doc, “and due to be sicker. Put in some milk, and add half a bottle of beer. Give me the other half in a glass — no sugar in the milk shake.” When she served it, he tasted it wryly. And it wasn’t so bad — it just tasted like stale beer and milk.

“It sounds awful,” said the blonde.

“It’s not so bad when you get used to it,” said Doc. “I’ve been drinking it for seventeen years.”

In the film Nick Nolte, in his leading man best, stars along with Debra Winger as Suzy DeSoto in the East Coast town, hit hard by the depression and struggling to survive.  I’m sure there were dozens of life lessons and deep meanings filling each film frame and book page, but my take-away even at the age of 13 was:  Beer + Ice Cream = Beer Milkshake.The image of Nolte ordering a Budweiser milkshake and then finally trying it near the end of the movie stuck with me.  I wanted to grow up and do that, and look as cool as Nolte doing it.

The first legal drink I consumed was a Michelob Dry (figure out when that came out folks) and vanilla ice cream shake prepared by myself at work behind the bar in Tucson.  Heaven.

Since then, my beer milkshakes consumption has been few and far between.  But the explosion of small local brewing is bringing back the love of the beer-shake and beer-floats.

Just announced, St. Louis’ Alpha Brewing Company will celebrate their anniversary with a beer-float party.

“This year we are partnering with Clementines Creamery to bring two beer floats with our two anniversary ales,” said Alpha’s Head Brewer Derrick Langeneckert.

The party is April 9th, 2016 starting at 1pm at Alpha Brewing Co and will feature:
  • The Sagwa Imperial IPA, 10% 120 IBUs with Double Chocolate Ice Cream Float
  • Rouge Baer Raspberry Sour Ale Aged in Red Wine Barrels with Raspberry Sorbet Float
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