“I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer.”
This is what Homer Simpson murmured to himself during a Tupperware party thrown by his loathsome sisters-in-law, Patty and Selma. Normally, Homer would have made it through such an occasion by drowning himself in some Duff, but this particular party took place just after he failed a breathalyzer test and vowed to Marge he wouldn’t drink for a month. And so, he was forced to sit through the party entirely sober, which nearly pushed him over the edge.
But what, exactly, was Homer depriving himself of?
Being just The Simpsons version of Budweiser, I’ve always had the impression that Duff was kind of a crappy, low-alcohol, beer — hardly enough to warrant such desperation. For that matter, all cartoon beers — like King of the Hill’s Alamo and Family Guy’s Pawtucket Patriot — seemed like lame dad beers to me, as opposed to the more interesting craft beers I’m a fan of.
Maybe I’m wrong though. Maybe there’s more to Duff and Alamo than meets the eye. Thus, in an effort to understand the most iconic cartoon beers a little better, I’ve enlisted the help of a master brewer to rank them by their ABV. First up is Duff beer itself…
Estimated ABV: 5 percent
Cartoon: The Simpsons
Brew Analysis: To determine the ABV of Duff, I thought that it might be helpful to look at actual Duff beer, which is a real thing at the Springfield USA areas of the Universal Studios theme parks. So I turned to David Butler, founder of Florida Beer Blog, who reviewed Duff when it arrived at Universal Studios, Florida. Butler tells me that the Duff he had at Universal Studios was “an American Pale Ale that was a bit on the hoppy side, with an ABV of 4.8 percent.” While that sounds good to me, it doesn’t really sound like the Duff we know and love from The Simpsons.
Its Wikipedia page describes it as “a parody of stereotypical mass-market American lager: cheap, poor-quality and heavily marketed everywhere.” The name “Duff” even has that one-syllable sound like “Bud,” and the mascot “Duffman” is a direct parody of the old school Budweiser mascot Bud Man.
Brewer Matt Wiley — who holds a diploma in fermentation development from Brewlab in the U.K. — also notes that Duff looks like Budweiser too. “Unlike smaller breweries, which would likely use just malt in their beer, a lot of those national light lagers, like Budweiser, use a high percentage of corn and rice, which are both light in color.” That’s why beers like Bud are that clear, amber hue, which is generally how Duff is depicted in The Simpsons (though the color can vary from episode to episode).
Given all of this, Wiley feels that it makes the most sense to give Duff the same ABV as Budweiser, or five percent.
2) Pawtucket Patriot Ale
Estimated ABV: 5 percent
Cartoon: Family Guy
Brew Analysis: If Duff is Budweiser, Family Guy’s Pawtucket Patriot Ale should be Sam Adams’ Boston Lager. Not only does the colonial-looking guy on the bottle resemble Sam Adams, but the beer also has a slightly hazier look to it, just like Boston Lager. Some online have claimed that, because of the color, Pawtucket Patriot is an English bitter beer, but Wiley disagrees, saying that Pawtucket Patriot is “far too light to be a bitter.”
But Boston Lager is a, well, lager, while Pawtucket Patriot Ale has “ale” right in the title, and there is, indeed, a difference between the two. “Ales and lagers are made with two different types of yeast,” Wiley explains. “Lagers are made with a yeast that performs well in cool temperatures, while the yeast in ales performs better in warmer temperatures.” As for flavor, Wiley says that the yeast in lagers “creates less volatile tastes” while the yeast in ales can give a wider array of flavors. None of that matters though because despite its name, Pawtucket Patriot Ale is not an ale at all — it’s a lager and we know this because of a landmark episode of Family Guy.
In Season Thirteen, the Griffins visit Springfield in a crossover with The Simpsons. In the episode, it’s discovered that Pawtucket Patriot Ale is actually just Duff beer with a different label glued on the front. It’s meant to be something of a metaphor for how Family Guy copied many elements of The Simpsons, but the events of the episode are indeed “canon,” as it doesn’t take place in a dream or in some alternate reality. Basically then, Pawtucket Patriot Ale is just Duff, which makes it another lager with a five percent ABV.
Estimated ABV: 4.72 percent
Cartoon: King of the Hill
Brew Analysis: There is a real Alamo Brewery, but unlike Duff beer at Universal, it’s not a licensed property based on the TV show. “I filed the trademark for the name ‘Alamo’ in 1994, but it took until about 1997 to have my first product,” Alamo Brewery founder Eugene Simor tells me. “I first became aware of King of the Hill when I was watching the Super Bowl in 1997 and, during a commercial, there was Hank Hill buying a six-pack of Alamo beer. I thought, ‘Oh shit, I hope all my trademark stuff is in.’ Later, my lawyer told me I was fine. So I didn’t worry after that.”
In fact, these days, Simor embraces the comparison to King of the Hill, sharing that he’s a fan of the show. The description of Alamo’s “Golden Ale” even mentions cutting grass, Hank Hill’s favorite pastime.
That said, Alamo beer in King of the Hill is very much based on Lone Star beer, which calls itself “The National Beer of Texas.” Not only is Alamo similarly Texan, but the Alamo and Lone Star beer cans look similar. Most convincingly though, Lone Star was originally brewed by the original Alamo Brewing Company beginning back in 1884, a decade before Anheuser-Busch bought them in 1895.
Since Alamo is meant to be Lone Star, Wiley says that it makes sense just to use Lone Star’s attributes, which is a lager with a 4.72 percent ABV.
Estimated ABV: 4 percent
Brew Analysis: In the 59th episode of Futurama, Leela and Fry decide to brew some beer inside of Bender. Throughout the episode, Bender acts as though he’s pregnant, and when it comes to the subject of naming the beer, he says, “I was thinking BendërBrau if it’s an ale, Botweiser if it’s a lager.” At the end of the episode, Fry shouts “It’s an ale!” when Bender is giving birth to the brew.
The tough thing about determining the ABV of this beer is that it has no mainstream counterpart like Duff or Alamo. Also, it only appears in one episode of Futurama, so there’s not a lot to go on. Wiley says that the label here is the most telling evidence, as it reads, “Cold Fusion Steam Beer.” Historically, steam beer was a beer made with lager yeast but at ale temperatures, so it’s seen as something of a hybrid between the two, but it’s, technically, just a lager. There’s also a modern company named Anchor Brewing that makes a beer called Steam Beer, but that’s also a lager. Yet, because we know BendërBrau is an ale, I’m going to say “Cold Fusion Steam Beer” is just some bullshit thing Fry and Bender put on the label.
To determine the ABV of BendërBrau, I turned to a home brewer in New Zealand named Simon Jansen who, back in 2007, actually built a life-size Bender specifically to brew beer in. Constructed from steel, copper pipes, pool noodles and lots of other stuff, Jansen’s Bender replica was impeccable and once it was done, he brewed beer inside Bender’s torso, just like in the show.
Jansen’s beer was also brewed warm, meaning it was, indeed, an ale. From the pictures, it also looks fairly dark, which is also true to the beer from the cartoon. For these reasons, I’m going to use Jansen’s ABV, which he reports to be at about four percent.
Sadly, Jansen tells me that he no longer owns his beautiful Bender creation, having thrown it away a few years ago. Unfortunately, that’s just one of several disappointments when it comes to this deep dive. Not only is the fermenting Bender no more, but the three most famous cartoon beers are nothing more than mainstream, mass-produced, boring lagers.
Sorry Hank, Homer and Peter, but I’ll stick with my craft brews any day over Alamo, Duff and Pawtucket Patriot (or should I say Duff?).