Crack open a can of Founders Solid Gold and dig into this foie-topped luxeburger of a beer review.Somewhere around the time when craft beer began its ascendance — not coincidentally around the same time the economy had a teensy little recession — chefs also began to take hamburgers away from the fast food, diner world and begin to transform them into something new.
Burgers stopped being a no-frills $8 option at your neighborhood joint or casual tavern. It became more than something that you requested get Super Sized. Hamburgers became de rigeur at top tier restaurants and chefs began to experiment with toppings like foie gras and black truffle. Foodies quickly became conversant in percentages of fat content and debated the merits of short rib vs. chuck.
The current state of burgers after a decade of innovation is, I think, general burger fatigue — oh, wow, you’re putting an entire rijsttafl on a burger, tres creative — and sadly, we’re resigned to paying more for less. Nowadays, most urban dwellers (similar to myself, a north-side-Chicagoan) don’t blink at seeing a $15 basic, entry-level burger on a menu. In the past 8-10 years, burgers have gotten more interesting, more expressive, more creative — and now we’ve got to the point where they’re mostly just more expensive.
Hamburgers, like cans of beer, were and are a small, affordable luxury. Cheap joy. Simple pleasures that didn’t receive a ton of thought. Pretty much the same everywhere — some ketchup and mustard, LTOP — and that’s it. And for most of us, that was perfectly fine.
Many people today continue to enjoy the very simple version — but elevating things made “for the peasants” has its own siren song.
Founders “Solid Gold” is an $18 cheeseburger.
I want to be very clear — there is nothing wrong with spending $18 on a cheeseburger. This is not a value judgement.
Liking an $18 cheeseburger doesn’t make you better or worse than someone who is cool with a Dave’s Single from Wendy’s, but we should acknowledge the difference. I have enjoyed a few cans of Solid Gold. It’s an okay beer. Nothing wrong with it. Is it great? A game changer? A bold gambit to meet macro where it lives? Naah.
It does what it promises — low ABV with a clean semi-sweet, lightly lemony flavor, nice and crisp with a dry finish. It’s an elevated version of something simple. This concludes the tasting-notes portion of this piece.
I have also enjoyed many burgers between the prices of $12-$20. My current favorite in Chicago is the Elvis’ Last Supper at Bad Apple. It’s served with peanut butter and bacon on it. And it’s great! But it’s not my favorite burger in the world — that honor belongs to Fred’s Parkview in Burlington, Wisconsin, where the average burger runs you about $7, is made by what I believe to be an army of local teenagers and is perfection in its simplicity. Bun. Meat. Cheese. Maybe some onions. The end.
Sometimes simple things are better.
It’s not just dad-lager that’s currently suffering. Like hamburgers, beer across the board has gone from craft-crazy to — and let’s be honest here — mostly average but pricey. How many run-of-the-mill IPAs have you tried that ran you $7-$8 a pint at your local beer bar or taproom?
Based on retail pricing, a can of Solid Gold is 40% more expensive than a can of Old Style purchased from my local grocery store (based on a 24-pack price). Did I enjoy my can of Solid Gold 40% more than an Old Style? Not quite. I only reached about 15-20%, probably, but I suppose it’s possible to hit that 40% — maybe as the first beer on a hot summer afternoon.
As soon as times get a bit more tough, I don’t see many of us springing the extra few bucks for Designer Label Lite.
My fear is that come the next financial downturn, all these fancy-simple things get washed out in a wave of recognition that spending extra money on something that was perfectly fine in its cheap form is more than a little ridiculous. But that’s a concern for roughly 2 years from now, by my estimation. We have many American lagers from all different price points to drink before then.
I was recently tasked with the responsibility of buying some beer for a baby shower, to be attended by a wide spectrum of ages and beer preferences, and my purchases included a few cans of Founders Solid Gold. At the end of the event I overheard one guest talking to another about it. She raised the can to eye level, gave it a good solid look, and then proclaimed:
“Well…it’s no Bud Light.”
It certainly is not. Is that good or bad? Actually, that’s hard to say.