Thursday, January 2, 2014

Top 10 Worst Beers of 2013

As much as I dislike drinking bad beer, I do get a little bit of joy in compiling a “worst of” list. The late film critic Gene Siskel used to refer to his annual worst movies of the year list as “The Critic’s Revenge!”

I agree.

The same rules apply to my worst-of list as my best-of list: only beers that I reviewed for the first time in 2013 are eligible to make this list. It doesn’t matter if the beer has been around for years or is brand new. Re-reviews don’t count. Additionally, I’m not grading them on any kind of “objective” standard or on technical merit or BJCP style guidelines. In fact, most of the beers on this list probably meet some of the strictest quality control standards.

You’ll notice there’s plenty of craft beers on this list. It just goes to show that just because it’s a craft beer doesn’t make it good. Though I’ll bet a lot of them made this list for the simple fact the bottles I drank were old, but the brewery didn’t put a freshness date on their bottle. If I know I’m drinking expired beer and it tastes bad I won’t review it. However, if there’s no way to know how fresh the bottle is, I’d say it’s fair game to review. No freshness dates are my #1 pet peeve of the beer industry!
Lastly, as I said before, you can’t argue taste. If you enjoy any of these beers, that’s fine. Please don’t take my opinion as an insult (it cracks me up how people are insulted when other people dislike things they enjoy). Different strokes for different folks and all that.

Captain Lawrence Freshchester Pale Ale#10 Captain Lawrence Freshchester Pale Ale

It sucks starting off a list like this with not only a craft beer, but a craft beer from New York State. I’ve found the quality of Captain Lawrence’s beers has been declining and I’m not sure if I’m going to bother reviewing any of their brews in 2014.

This beer claims to be a pale ale but has a palette akin to an amber ale. The hops are quite mild and the maltiness is too twangy for the style. It almost reminds me of a sorghum-based brew as there’s a touch of sourness right on the finish. The label description mentions West Coast influence, but there’s none of that here. No citrus, no flowers; instead just a general earthy character of tree bark and light resin.

Cigar City White Oak Jai Alai IPA#9 Cigar City White Oak Jai Alai IPA

I appreciate the originality of aging an IPA on white oak, however, this is just a bad-tasting beer. The hop character has significantly faded, and the palette is overrun by a distracting taste of herbs and ashes. The flavor I was most reminded of was pickle juice as it’s not so much bitter as it is salty. The white oak imparts the taste of a hot southern swamp in July. If I pay attention, I can detect some malty sweetness, but it doesn’t make up for the damage done. I’m not sure what the brewers’ intentions were with this, and I certainly don’t understand the rave reviews. I doubt it’s an old bottle, I just don’t think this beer is for me.

Hangar 24 Orange Wheat#8 Hangar 24 Orange Wheat

Beer geeks like me tend to mock the “crafty” fruity wheat beers like Shock Top and Blue Moon for tasting too fake and dirty. Hangar 24 Orange Wheat is the real deal, yet it’s not any better. Brewed with oranges to capitalize on the natural citrusy flavors often found in these types of beers gives it a sweet, candy-like flavor. However, it fall apart quickly as there’s a prominent sourness throughout the palate (and not in that good brettanomyces/lactobacillus kind of way).

Immediate sourness as soon as it hits the tongue. Reminds me exactly of expired orange juice. A bit more authentic wheat beer character through the middle, but finishes with even more sourness on the end. I don’t think I got a bad bottle, I think this is how this beer is supposed to taste. It doesn’t appear to be made with Bavarian yeast so it’s lacking the banana and clove components that make beers like this manageable. I could see some people finding this refreshing if drank on a hot summer day, but in the dead of winter it’s just barely tolerable.

Uinta Punk'n 005#7 Uinta Punk’n

Uinta is a brewery I’ve enjoyed exploring over the last year or two, and I’ve liked all of their beers that I’ve had. That is until I tried the Punk’n. This is not your average pumpkin beer – if it were, it’d be much better. This beer has an unusual spice palette that opts for sheer rusticness over sweetness or familiar pie flavor.

It’s actually a bit difficult to describe what’s going on here. The spices are most likely nutmeg and cinnamon, but they don’t have the familiar sweet combination you get in most other brews of the style. It’s like liquefied potpourri – bitter, astringent and earthy. The label indicates the beer is made with organic pumpkin, and it’s possible that what I’m tasting actually is the pumpkin itself rather than sweetened puree used in so many other beers. That’s fine, but the result is a bad-tasting beer. These flavors just don’t work together. I even get a salty, almost bile-like flavor on the finish, which is quite off-putting to say the least. Finishing the serving was a challenge.

Wachusett Pumpkan 002#6 Wachusett Pumpkan

When I smelled and tasted Wachusett Pumpkan, I was surprised by how mediocre the beer was. The can appeared to be fresh and my glass was clean – yet it reeked and tasted quite lousy.Was this a bad can from a bad batch, or is this is how it’s supposed to taste?

The first half of the palette is rather mild. Nothing in the way of the standard pumpkin beer spices. The flavor is so mild that it seems like the beer is stale and old. It doesn’t improve any throughout the swig, in fact, it actually worsens. There’s a sour off-taste on the finish. Similar to canned green beans. It’s possible this is dimethyl sulfide (DMS). Whatever it may be, the usual pumpkin flavors just aren’t here. Well, I can detect them if I pay close attention, but otherwise the beer just seems old. If this is the taste the brewery intended I find it an extremely odd choice since there’s so little flavor to found here. It’s one of the worst pumpkin beers I’ve ever had.

Miller High Life
#5 Miller High Life

As hard as I try, I really can’t find any genuine flavors to Miller High Life. It’s a beer that’s much more bland and flavorless than it is offensive. But simply being inoffensive does not a good beer make.
I think I’d actually prefer the overt rice flavor of Budweiser or the corn flavor of a malt liquor since they give your mouth something to concentrate on. In the case of this beer it’s just a cold liquid with a faint sweetness and a clean finish. Perhaps there’s some canned corn water taste, but there’s definitely nothing in the way of malts or hops. It’s not particularly high in alcohol like an “ice” beer, so what purpose does this beer serve?

Bud Light Platinum#4 Bud Light Platinum

I’m often amazed by how some low ABV beers can have so much flavor. Well, the complete opposite is true of Bud Light Platinum. Seriously, how can a beer of 6% ABV have next to no genuine flavor? In a weird way it’s actually a feat or achievement in brewing. But at the end of the day it’s still a bad beer.

There’s a slightly sharp, metallic flavor through the middle and a hint of lemon at the apex. The finish is awful, though, as a wave of astringency, boiled corn, tinfoil and a mélange of off-flavors come whooshing in to kill what is otherwise a fairly tolerable palette. It’s a struggle to finish even a single serving. I don’t think this product will last very long.

#3 Natural Ice

Natural IceI’ve been saying for a while now that I’ve been building up a tolerance to “economy” adjunct macro lagers. I figured Natural Ice was a good test to see just how strong my palate’s defenses against bad beer are. I’m happy to report my tongue seems to have passed the test. I could taste this beer in all its cheap glory, and while it wasn’t aggressively off-putting, there certainly weren’t any redeeming qualities.

There is definitely a corn-forward flavor, followed by a significant starchy taste and a metallic finish. It reminds me of sucking on a very old ice cube from the back of the freezer. After a while, the off-flavors seem to homogenize, then fade – which means this beer actually tastes a little better the more you drink it. There’s perhaps a hint of sweetness from the corn, but it’s nothing special and certainly not enough to save Natural Ice from itself.

Beck's#2 Beck’s

I didn’t realize it until I was halfway through, but Beck’s is now brewed in America by Anheuser-Busch (aka Budweiser). I’d like to think the authentic German version would be a little bit better than “just barely tolerable.” While I’ve had several fizzy yellow beers that are much worse than Beck’s, I have to say I’m genuinely disappointed by how bad this beer is. The flavor is virtually non-existent (which is nice, actually), but it’s the awful finish that ruins it. If it tasted like generic macro lager it would be an improvement. Honestly, there’s just nothing for my taste buds to latch on to. Though, the backside of each swig brings with it an astringent, foul taste of something akin to saltwater or maybe even bile. I’m not sure what’s accounting for this, but I definitely don’t like it. I don’t see how anyone could.

#1 Genesee Ice
Genesee Ice
Beers like Genesee Ice make me wonder what the point of their existence is. If you want to get drunk cheap, there are stronger beers for the same price. And despite the ludicrous marketing hyperbole, there really is nothing “premium” about cheap “ice” brews. It’s an adjunct macro lager as cheap as they come with the taste to match.

The palette starts off surprisingly weak and watery. Nothing but cliché fizzy yellow lager flavor, but weaker than most. Next to no bitterness anywhere in the taste here, which is fine, frankly. I actually do detect a subtle caramel sweetness on the finish, but it’s quickly obscured by a foul taste of cheap, dry graininess akin to drinking dirty dishwater. And yes, it’s just as gross as that sounds.

Fun fact: Stewart’s “Mountain Brew Beer Ice” was simply Genny Ice repackaged. Though the rights have since been sold to Miller, so it’s a different recipe now.

Dishonorable mentions:
The Beer Diviner Very! Brown Ale
Blue Moon Vintage Blonde Ale 2012
Caldera IPA
Goose Island Sixth Day
Hurricane High Gravity Malt Liquor
Iron City Beer
Karl Strauss Red Trolley Ale
Narragansett Cream Ale
Narragansett Lager
Prism ParTea Pale Ale
Rogue Honey Kolsch
Rooster Fish Hop Warrior Imperial IPA
Saranac Session Ale
Stone Pale Ale
Three Heads Loopy Oatmeal Red Ale
Tommyknocker Small Patch Pumpkin Harvest Ale

ICYMI
Top 10 Worst Beers of 2012
Top 10 Worst Beers of 2011
Top 10 Worst Beers of 2010
Top 10 Worst Beers of 2009