By Zach Weigel
Ah, summer and cheap beer by the 30 pack. That’s the Busch Light, Iowa way. In fact, according to a 2014 study that recently regained publicity from the Twitter account @IowaChill, Busch Light is definitively “Iowa’s beer.”
This comes as little surprise to anybody who grew up in Iowa or has been around a tailgate or two before an Iowa football game. Yet, for those unaware of Iowa’s distinctive proclivity for Busch Light, it raises the question, Why? Why does Iowa love Busch Light so much?
As a native Iowan and “Blue Smoothie” aficionado myself, I propose the following theory: Busch Light is Iowa’s beer because it epitomizes the unique, humble culture of Iowa.
Let me explain by first providing a little context on the aforementioned study. As part of a contribution to the edited publication The Geography of Beer: Regions, Environments, and Societies, the study analyzed tweets across the U.S. to parse out beer preferences by location. As it turns out, Busch Light is the preferred beer for the entire state of Iowa and the immediate geographic area surrounding Iowa’s boundaries, but nowhere else in the U.S. Meanwhile, Coors Light, Miller Lite, and Bud Light are the top beers in other enclaves of the U.S. Importantly, Busch Light’s home is smack dab in Iowa, while the other top beers have much larger fandoms across the U.S.
You could shrug off this study’s findings as anomalous or unreliable, but if you stop and think about it for a moment, the pairing of Busch Light and Iowa makes some sense.
Busch Light is an unassuming, no-frills, cheap beer. At nearly any convenience store or supermarket, you can find a 30-rack of Blue Lattes’ for under $20. Typically, this is a few dollars below other name-brand beers such as Bud Light, Miller Lite, or Coors Light and well below the price per beer you’d pay for a six-pack of a craft or premium lager.
Now don’t get me wrong, there’s a reason Busch Light is cheap: It’s not great, but it’s also not terrible. It’s a trusty beer that could be described as nice — after you acquire the taste.
In a similar process, just as appreciation for Busch Light is acquired, appreciation for the Iowa way of life is acquired. For instance, have you ever heard a non-native Iowan who has migrated to Iowa say something along the lines of “Hey, Iowa’s not so bad”? Or, have you ever heard people not born into Busch Light culture say something along the lines of “Hey, this isn’t such a bad beer” after they try a few Busch Lights? Respect for the Iowa way of life and respect for Busch Light are acquired. They’re acquired from an ethic of humility that thrives in Iowa.
As UI senior and western Iowa native Matt Little put it, “Busch Light is the perfect affordable beer for blue-collar, beer-loving Iowans.” Busch Light is a beer humble in character, just like the Iowans who love to drink it. Iowans are humble people, and Busch Light is the humble beer that reflects Iowans’ humility.
So, is it a coincidence that Busch Light thrives in an area known for niceness? I think not. The ethic of humility embodied in the Iowa Nice mantra is a real element of Iowa’s culture. Iowans are humble, no-frill, agreeable people. They’re OK with an all right beer in lieu of a more nationally branded beer such as Coors Light, Miller Lite, Natural Light, or Bud Light. They’re OK with settling for a nice beer and saving a few bucks.