Gut Instinct: I Love Busch

2456532576_1c4239a7bbThat's a nice hat.

Here's how I learned to love Busch Light: Weekends during high school, long after my parents were deep in sugarplum dreams, my band of suburban miscreants congregated in my backyard. There we embraced recipes as dangerous as the makeshift bombs (toilet-bowl cleaner + aluminum foil + two-liter container = BOOM!) we exploded in neighboring woods. For example: Take one hot tub cranked to 106 degrees. Add a trampoline. Mix with a 30-pack of frosty Busch Light, purchased at a lenient beer-and-wine drive-thru.

“They don’t even ask if I’m 21,” boasted dip-chewing Ryan. He was a 35-year-old trapped in a high-schooler’s frame. By 17, Ryan had six-plus surgeries performed on both knees, leaving him bowlegged. Add his bushy goatee and wavy hair combed backward and gelled until stiff enough to stop bullets, and it was understandable why he was never carded.

As moonlight bathed our pimply bodies, we climbed into my parents’ hot tub while Geoff assembled his latest invention. Geoff was an engineering whiz who, last I heard, was maintaining the navy’s nuclear submarines. His smarts and Protestant work ethic were balanced by self-destructive deviancy. During high school, that meant constructing flame-powered potato guns and colossal beer bongs.

As college freshman across the Midwest know well, a beer bong is a funnel attached to plastic tubing. Though it recalled a torture tool, we fought for the chance to insert the tube betwixt our jaws and then test our gag reflex: The foamy brew racing down our gullet felt like a dam burst. If you finished the funnel, we cheered. If you vomited, we cheered—quietly, lest my parents rustled. A decade and a half later, I’m mortified that I considered chugging three beers concurrently a fun Saturday night. But back at 17, the beer bong felt like a portal into an adult universe. We pretended to be mature by pounding Busch Light.

“Why don’t you buy Bud?” I asked Ryan one night. Back then, my fall afternoons were spent watching the Cincinnati Bengals’ and Ohio State Buckeyes’ gridiron battles. Halftime commercials trained me to crave Budweiser.

Ryan pointed to his leather wallet. “You want to pay more than $8 a case?” I shook my head like a pit bull ripping apart a squirrel; my cheap gene is innate, not learned. “Then stop complaining and drink it,” he said, opening a can of what became my favorite watery mood-adjuster. Conditioning convinced my taste buds my Busch Light was America’s best cheap beer. My belief endured through college, lasting till my arrival in New York City nine long years ago.

“Do you have any Busch Light?” I’d query the Greeks running the delis in Astoria, where I first rested my head. They’d eyeball me warily, like I’d uttered words not found in one of Queens’ 138-odd spoken languages.They’d point to Bud, Coors, Keystone Light or, if I was lucky, the odd 24-ounce Busch. However, the full-flavored brew was unpalatable; envision a dedicated Diet Coke drinker forced to swill corn syrupy Coke.

Like a heroin addict settling for methadone, I weaned myself off Busch Light with equally refreshing—and affordable—Coors Light. That was my targeted beverage last week as I strolled to Brooklyn Beer & Soda (648 Washington Ave., betw. Bergen & Dean Sts., B’klyn, 718-622-8800). I was stocking up for my annual birthday party at Coney Island, a daylong bacchanal of cheap beer and griddle-crunchy, mushroom-stuffed quesadillas from Plaza Mexico Doña Zita (Bowery St., at Henderson Walk, B’klyn).

Since opening several years back, Brooklyn Beer has been my go-to for mass brew. The wholesaler sells 36-packs of Budweiser for about $20, a price bordering on Ohio-cheap. Plus, there are growlers of local suds from Sixpoint and Brooklyn Brewery, and swell microbrews. It’s a dream for the discriminating drunkard. I was striding toward the Coors Light when my eyes swirled like peppermints: On a bottom shelf, beneath a $12.99 sign, sat a solitary 30-pack of Busch Light.

I grabbed the dusty, stained-black box and gave it a girlfriend hug. I’ve missed you for so long, I thought, as I paid and hustled home. Unable to wait till Coney, where I wore bathing trunks that barely covered my derriere and sensually applied sunscreen to my upper thighs, I grabbed a frosty cylinder. I cracked the tab, and soon the fizzy bubbles brought back warm, fuzzy memories. Though I just turned 31, I still loved how 17 tasted.