Friday, November 2, 2012

No, We Don't Have to Respect It

An article published in the The Atlantic's online site yesterday is making the rounds in the beer world with the provocative headline "Light Beer: You Don't Have to Like It, but Respect It."  The Atlantic's partner site mentalfloss.com published the story the day before with the less provocative and potentially more palatable headline "Scientific Reasons to Respect Light Beer."

It's a good read if you have the time and inclination, but this paragraph sets the stage rather well:
What few drinkers know, however, is that quality light beers are incredibly difficult to brew. The thin flavor means there's little to mask defects in the more than 800 chemical compounds within. As Kyler Serfass, manager of the home-brew supply shop Brooklyn Homebrew, told me, "Light beer is a brewer's beer. It may be bland, but it's really tough to do." Belgian monks and master brewers around the world marvel at how macro-breweries like Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors have perfected the process in hundreds of factories, ensuring that every pour from every brewery tastes exactly the same.
Hmm . . "every pour tastes exactly the same."  Honestly, that IS an incredibly impressive feat.  But my caffeine-free, diet Dr. Pepper tastes exactly the same everywhere, too.  And I enjoy drinking it.

For the most part, the article pushes much too far in its attempt to elevate the craft of brewing a light beer in comparison to all other varieties of beer.  Take this passage, for example:
The fermentation process is what truly separates the competition. Light beer relies on a temperamental yeast that needs to be activated, stored, and monitored at precise temperatures to yield the proper flavor. At the Newark Brewery, the lager yeast is stored at 32°F when it's not in use, slowing down the yeast's metabolism to near zero. "We basically put the yeast to sleep, so it doesn't freak out," says Tiago Darocha, the plant's general manager. When the yeast emerges from hibernation, it's given a specific mission. At all 137 Anheuser-Busch breweries around the globe, Budweiser and Bud Light undergo exactly five and a half days of primary fermentation and 21 days of lagering, all at 50°F, plus or minus one degree. Any warmer and the beer could end up thick and flabby, instead of "clean, crisp, and fresh."
Oh, right.  Because Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces, Lactobacillus and Pediococcus yeasts/lactic acid bacteria are incredibly easy to handle. Barrel aging is a breeze.  You can whip up a lambic in no time.  Mash and fermentation temperatures are irrelevant to porters, stouts, IPAs, pale ales, doppelbocks and weizens.

Anyone who has brewed a few batches of homebrew can fully appreciate the work done by commercial brewers of all shapes and sizes.  More often than not, I have nothing but respect and appreciation when I sit down to a flavorful pint.  The average beer geek also recognizes there's a consistency problem at some local breweries and others still haven't figured out how to barrel age.  Producing the exact same product that relies on crop commodities with yearly variations at 137 facilities around the globe is indeed a very impressive process. 

I can, and do, respect the process, the engineering, the science and people who have managed to design a system that creates an incredibly consistent product over millions of barrels a year.  But I don't have to respect the product itself.  Just think what all this impressive work could produce if they put their efforts toward making something like, say, an Octoberfest?  Oh yeah, the guys at Sam Adams already figured that one out . . . .

Want respect? Admit your multimillion dollar advertising campaign found success when you stopped trying to convince people the product tastes good.  Better yet, put the same effort into creating session beers with a variety of interesting flavors we can enjoy.

6 comments:

  1. While I was in Jacksonville, FL last year, I took the Brewmaster tour of the Budweiser plant. It was pretty amazing to beer production on that scale. I also go to taste Bud Light right out of the bright tank, and it was maybe half an hour old. The best way to describe it is to compare it to eating Wonder Bread fresh out of the over. Sure, it is fresh, but still artificial, manufactured and bland.

    At it looks like the situation will only get worse: http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-10-25/the-plot-to-destroy-americas-beer

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  2. That's an interesting article, John. It seems by "America's beer" they mean budweiser, and it is rather fascinating to read company officials claim they're making it the same way - while all the other evidence points otherwise.

    Doesn't look too good for Goose Island - at least not the brands AB-InBev wants to take national.

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  3. I concur, while I am amazing at the consistency of their product (note it is production, not a craft ), it is consistently of extremely low quality.

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  4. So the whole thing was stolen from that magazine article? Whatever,  Light American Lager is boring and it all tastes the same, no matter what brand you get. I bought my last macro 12 pk years before I started homebrewing. Perhaps that's the lesson here. Why the hell are they putting all that effort into making the same bland beer anyway? Oh yeah it sells......rubes on the midway my friends nothing but rubes. Make a simple pilsner home brew with saaz hops and pitch a czech yeast finish it out right and you'll see why America fell in love with that beer, its not the beer the macros make now, its awesome!  But I also don't buy Folgers coffee, or Sutter Home wine, or fruit juice from concentrate or "pasteurized process cheese food". Most people just don't care, they're happy enough to eat shit with a rubber spoon.

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  5. Clydesdale71, I'm not sure what you mean by the whole thing being stolen from the magazine article. (Though I did see a comment on reddit that suggested something like that, so perhaps that's what you're referencing.)

    You're right, it does sell and the article John references above is a very interesting insight into that. And guess, what? I drink it from time to time. Even enjoy a bud light lime while floating the river, I have to admit. Though I take craft beer most of the time.

    My post is directed far more at the tone and premise of the article I reference than the macro issue itself. Interesting to see what happens when someone pops it out on reddit.

    If there's one thing homebrewing has taught me, it is respect for commercial brewers. Including the macros. But just like I don't' respect the always consistent Folgers, I don't have to respect budweiser as an end product either. Which, depending upon whether you ask a current employee or a former employee, may or may not have seriously decreased the quality of hops in a cost cutting move. I guess I am supposed to be impressed that despite the decrease in hop quality, they were still able to make it taste exactly the same.

    Alan.

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  6. Excellent story Alan! I agree completely. By and large America has been consuming mediocre SHIT forever, be it food, entertainment, technology, etc. We inherently want what is easy. I am guilty as charged! However, isn't it great being in the minority? I love the feeling of appreciating something that only a small percentage of the population is aware of. Its hard to respect something so huge. Billions of dollars invested into manufacturing and advertising for what? So that the average man doesn't have to hesitate when making his decision.

    cheers,

    todd

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