Monday, March 3, 2014

What I learned from 30 days of macro beer reviews

Macro Lagers

For the month of February I decided to challenge myself to review nothing but macro beers for my beer review blog. I’ve always tried to review one macro brew per month, but I’ve never reviewed so many fizzy yellow beers in such close proximity. I’m not entirely sure why I thought it would be fun to undertake this challenge, though I definitely learned a lot from the experience. So that’s the subject of this week’s blog: a list of observations and inferences I gathered from this experience.

NOTE: This experiment was conducted and this blog was written before the Brewers Association updated their membership guidelines. Yuengling is now considered to be craft beer –>

Adjunct lagers really do taste the same
It’s a cliché we craft beer enthusiasts repeat ad nauseam, but it’s totally true. And never has it been more true for me than after this month. I found myself using the same adjectives over and over when trying to describe the beer. “Corny” seemed to be the most oft-repeated of these descriptors. Sure, the amount of corn flavor varies between brews, and some can even use it rather well, but it’s a familiar flavor. Notice that macro breweries never list the specific malts and hops they use to make their lagers. I imagine these recipes are eerily similar.

Macro breweries don’t seem to care about brewing flaws
I’m currently working towards earning a BJCP certification and one of the most important part of the curriculum involves knowing your brewing flaws. Acetaldehyde (green apple), diacetyl (butter), and dimethyl sulfide (cooked corn/vegetal) are the three biggest flaws commonly found in these types of beers. They’re all easily correctable, so why are they so common? Budweiser, and any beer with the word “ice” in the name, tend to reek of acetaldehyde and they’ve been like that for years. Is this flaw so associated with these beers that they’re actually part of the intended palette?

“Crafty” beers taste like amateur homebrews
During my 30-day experiment I did try a few “crafty” beers from the Blue Moon and Shock Top  brands that reminded me of homebrews. Their recipes were interesting, but the actual beer was mild and bland. For example, Blue Moon’s “Short Straw Farmhouse Red Ale” purports to be a cross between a saison and a Flanders Red. Yet the final product is closer to a generic amber ale. I think if I were to attempt such a style on my own without any research or assistance from anyone, then my homebrew would probably turn out like this. In fact, it’s actually kind of impressive that a beer with a relatively complex recipe and brewing method could turn out so mild. I’m actually considering making my own homebrew based on the recipe listed for that particular beer. You know what they say: the best way to criticize something is to do it better yourself.

It’s amazing how cheap these beers are
I always break down the price I pay for beer to a dollar-per-ounce ratio. Most regular craft beers tend to average $0.25 to $0.33 per ounce, which isn’t too bad. Even some high gravity brews get pretty expensive at around $0.40 to $0.50 per ounce. When I started doing the math on the macro lagers I was amazed to see just how economically-priced some of these beers were, for example:
Natty Daddy and Keystone Light: $0.04 per ounce
Genesee Cream Ale: $0.05 per ounce
Budweiser and Coors Light: $0.07 per ounce
The Blue Moon beers: $0.10 per ounce

What’s funny is the fact the imported macros are almost double the price of domestic macros at the price-per-ounce level, but in the end they’re still pretty darn cheap:
Heineken: $0.11 per ounce
Corona: $0.12 per ounce
Guinness: $0.13 per ounce
To be able to buy beer so inexpensively is quite bewildering when you consider the thousands of pounds of malt and hops used for ingredients, as well as the labor in brewing the beer, plus the cost of packaging, transporting, and marketing the beer. And yet after all this, the breweries are still able to sell it for literally pennies per ounce and still make huge profits. Wow.

These beers aren’t so much “bad” as they are bland and boring
I know a lot of craft beer drinkers have reached a point where they cannot even stomach the taste of macro adjunct lagers anymore. I understand where they’re coming from, but I do not empathize with them. While I do not genuinely enjoy the taste of these types of beers, it’s rare that I’m physically repulsed by them. Like I said in the beginning – they really do taste the same. So once you build up a tolerance to the style, you can tolerate various incarnations of more or less the same beer by different breweries.

I use to gage my take on beer and have adapted my own 1-10 scale from their 0.5-5.0 scale. I noticed a lot of the beers scoring a 2 or 3 I was mostly shrugging at, but they weren’t what I would consider “God awful.” In my entire life, only a select few beers have been so bad that I couldn’t stand more than a swig (Budweiser & Clamato Chelada, for example). I was surprised I was able to finish 24oz servings of beers I scored a 2 out of 10.

People take it personally when you don’t like their brand
By virtue of the fact you’re reading this blog, chances are pretty good you’re aware of the online craft beer community. However, did you know there’s also a community of macro beer drinkers on the internet? Malt liquor enthusiasts are probably the most hardcore of them all, and they do not take kindly to dissension and criticism. You should see some of the vitriolic comments left on my YouTube videos of my negative reviews of the economy lagers and malt liquors. I’m not sure how seriously I’m supposed to take some of these people, though. They’re clearly not interested in debating or discussing beer, they just want me to know that they vehemently disagree with me and that I’m a bad person for even having the taste in beer that I do have. It’s hard to believe that in 2014 there are still living breathing stereotypes who base their manliness on how much cheap beer they can pound and how quickly they can hurl obscenities.

That’s not to say all macro beer drinkers are of that ilk. There are plenty of regular people who love their brand of choice and swear that they can differentiate between theirs and the other guy’s brew. It cracks me up when I read comments along the lines of “I never liked Budweiser, but Coors Light is really good.” I would love to get some of these people to take a blind taste test and see if their palates are as refined as they claim. I’m quite convinced that macro drinkers’ brand loyalty is rooted mostly in nostalgia and routine and not actual taste preference.

Craft beer drinkers can be jerks, too
I fully expected to receive negative comments on my reviews and videos from “macro beer enthusiasts.” However, I’m receiving as much negativity from the craft beer community as well. Some of it is mockery of the challenge along the lines of “Glad you’re doing it, because I never could,” or “Well of course it was a bad beer, what’d you expect?” But then there are the people who troll criticize me for even thinking about putting macro lager to my lips. They have a completely snobbish attitude when it comes to beer, and scoff at those who dare drink anything other than Hill Farmstead or whatever the must-have brewery of the month is. It’s great that people are enthusiastic about the craft beer revolution as it were, but being a condescending, judgmental, hostile, vulgar, holier-than-thou prick is not the way to represent for good beer. These people are just as bad as the buffoonish malt liquor swillers. In fact, they might even be worse because they should know better. It is the epitome of irony that craft beer was born out of non-conformity to the mainstream status quo, only to be replaced with it own internal status quo where deviation from the consensus is blasphemy. And the worst part is these people don’t even realize how hypocritical they’re being.

There are a few good macro beers
The majority of what I reviewed throughout February (and the first few days of March) were pretty much the same: pale adjunct lagers. The gravity varied between them, but as far as tastes and drinkability go, they’re essentially the same. However, there are three exceptions to the rule, two of which I can honestly say I like and the third is okay:

Genny Bock: You might remember back in September when I wrote about “The Great Macro Lager Showdown of 2013.” This beer not only placed first, but did so by a huge margin. Drinking it again fresh I found it to be even better. It’s remarkably sweet, a little complex, it looks great and smells pretty good, too. As far as I can tell it’s an all-malt brew, which probably explains why it tends to be a guilty pleasure for most craft beer drinkers I know. Genesee should brew this year-round.

Yuengling Traditional Lager: To me this is basically “Budweiser done right.” Sure it’s an adjunct lager, but it has a little more substance than most of the genre. Even the light version is pretty decent.

Guinness Draught Stout: Lest we forget, Guinness is indeed a macro beer. I’ll bet this is the best-selling ale in the world. Seems like most people tend to love it or loathe it, but to me it’s alright. It’s a go-to beer if you’re somewhere with no other alternatives.

The Top 10 WORST Beers I reviewed for this project:
1. Foster’s Lager
2. Rolling Rock
3. Bud Light
4. Keystone Light
5. Utica Club Light
6. Bud Light Platinum
7. Milwaukee’s Best Ice
8. Natty Daddy
9. Coors Light
10. Blue Moon Rounder Belgian-style Pale Ale

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