Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The chilling truth about Stewart’s “Mountain Brew Ice”

I've been reviewing beer for about eight years now. I've tried a vast swath of brews from across the country and around the planet. I've also gotten pretty big into homebrewing, so I know a little about how the science of zymurgy works (but nowhere near as much as a pro brewer). It amazes me when I drink a beer that is awful for reasons other than brewing flaws (e.g. diacetyl; acetaldehyde; dimethal sulfide; lactobacillus and other bacterial infections; light, oxygen and heat damage, etc.). In other words, when a brewery deliberates makes a bad-tasting beer, it just blows my mind because I don't understand A) how they managed to brew it like that in first place, and B) who would want to drink it.

Mountain Brew Ice 002  
If the beer has the word "ice" in the name, you're allowed to drink it out of a frosted mug. That's a rule.

Say what you want about Bud, Miller and Coors and their respective "light" versions, but they're practically champagne-like in quality when compared to some of the truly awful "economy" beers and malt liquors out there. And it just so happens that here in Upstate New York, our beloved Stewart's Shops chain of convenience stores not only has their own house brand of beer known as Mountain Brew Ice and Mountain Brew Light, but they are two of the worst beers I've ever had in my life. I can't believe they exist.

Mountain Brew Light 001  

Also, if the beer has the words "Mountain Brew" in the name, you're allowed (obligated, really) to drink it out of a frosted mug.

Stewart's launched their original "Mountain Brew Beer Ice" back in 2010. In fact, my friend Henry and I reviewed it at the time:

mountain brew beer
The old "Mountain Brew Beer Ice" label when it was made by Genesee.
RateBeer, Untappd and that other website do not have much of any information about either products, nor are there that many user reviews. Since these aren't beers made by a brewery with the brewery's name on it, there's a lot of unofficial listings and misinformation about them on those sites. I decided to do some investigative reporting and went straight to Stewart's Public Relations Specialist Maria D'Amelia for the facts. Here's what I found out:
    Mountain Brew Beer 003
  • Mountain Brew Beer Ice was originally brewed by Genesee Brewing Company out of Rochester, New York. In fact, the beer was literally "Genny Ice" inside the can. It was 5.5% ABV. There was no original recipe concocted for this brand.
  • In 2013 the contract went to "Associated Brewing Company" which is apparently some kind of holding company for the infamous City Brewing Company out of Lacrosse, Wisconsin. If you read my last blog, you know this is the brewery responsible for Not Your Father's Root Beer, Mike's Hard Lemonade and Four Loko.
  • Once the contract went to City Brewing, the name was changed to simply "Mountain Brew Ice" and the label was redesigned from blank silver with writing on it to a slightly more colorful blue label (though the stick figure icons along the bottom were carried over). The alcohol by volume increased to 5.9%.
  • In July of 2013, "Mountain Brew Light" debuted. It has more or less the same label as the "Ice" brand, but with a lighter blue color. It is only 3.9% ABV. Whether is it simply the "Ice" brew watered-down or an entirely different recipe, I'm not sure (I'd guess it's different).
  • These beers are only available for purchase at Stewart's Shops and only in canned form (yeah, I can't believe they're not on draught, either).
  • The Ice is available in 16oz cans. A single is $0.99. A six-pack is $3.99. A case is $14.99.
  • The Light is available in 12oz cans. A single is $0.75. A six-pack is $2.99 (or two for $5). A case is $11.49
  • One of the reasons these beers are so cheap is due to the fact Stewart's Shops has their own beer warehouse license. So they are in essence their own distributor. Seeing as how they're also the only retailer selling these products, it's not surprising they're self-distributed.
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times: taste is subjective, so if you like either of these beers I cannot tell you you're wrong (and vice versa). However, I've yet to meet anyone who would consider them anything better than simply "tolerable." I'd imagine Stewart's is aware of this reputation by now, so why do they keep trying to market these beers as being on par with the major macros? Check out these promotional videos I found on their website:


Mountain Brew from Stewart's Shops Corp on Vimeo.


Stewart's Mountain Brew Beer from Stewart's Shops Corp on Vimeo.


My impression after watching these videos is that Stewart's is saying "All beer tastes the same, so you might as well buy ours because it's cheaper!" Now, I'm sure there are plenty of people who probably can't taste the difference between Mountain Brew and any of the major macro adjunct lagers. But since this is a beer blog, you're probably something of a beer enthusiast and have developed a relatively refined palate by now, so I'll bet you would be able to taste the difference. In fact, I would love to arrange a blind taste test among people who aren't craft beer drinkers to see if they can differentiate between Bud, Miller, Coors and Stewart's beers. I would bet most, if not all of the participants would be able to taste the difference and find the Mountain Brews' flavor pretty sub-par. So who exactly are these beers intended for? Average middle class people like "Mary" in the above videos? I think it might be someone else.
I think Mountain Brew might be so bad that it's starting to develop a cult following. Not from people that want to drink it ironically (not even hipsters could stomach this on a regular basis), but of people that want to mock it. For example, check out this brilliant parody commercial for it:


There's even a parody Twitter account @VeryCoolBrew which has been around since May of 2012! (probably NSFW).

Here's a few choice tweets:
https://twitter.com/VeryCoolBrew/status/587260718967349248
https://twitter.com/VeryCoolBrew/status/568203023249477632
https://twitter.com/VeryCoolBrew/status/433392136994959360

Here's my buddy Jay's review from back in 2011:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VYx2aFSlJT8

And here's my review of both the Ice and the Light from last weekend:
https://youtu.be/ECc0fmq8Mr4