A few nights ago, I went to a beer tasting here in town. The tasting was kind of sponsored by the local Anheuser-Busch distributor, and George Reisch, who is a brewmaster and director of brewmaster outreach for A-B, was the speaker/guide for the tasting. I expected, going in, to taste a few beers made by A-B and maybe hear a little about how they’re made. However, the tasting was much more interesting.
Not only did we get to taste some A-B beers (i.e., Budweiser, Bud Light, Shock Top), but we got to taste them next to their competition (i.e., Miller Lite, Blue Moon). Now, it doesn’t sound interesting. A tasting (sponsored by A-B) that compares Bud Light to Miller Lite will likely end with the conclusion that Bud Light is superior to Miller Lite. This doesn’t require Matlock-esque deduction skills. And the tasting, predictably, leaned towards the A-B beers being superior to their various competitions.
What was interesting is how most of the A-B beers actually did taste better than the competition. Or at least they were described by Mr. Reisch in a way that was easily verifiable and seemed more positive than the other beers. I never thought I’d be convinced that the taste of Bud Light was good, but it actually wasn’t bad. Similarly, I was surprised that Shock Top (A-B’s version of Blue Moon) tasted pretty good.
Mr. Reisch definitely knows his beer. His family history is steeped in beer brewing. (You can read an interview with him here.) And so it was obvious that he cared a good deal about beer and knew how to talk about it and explain it to a general audience in a way that was equally entertaining and informative. This is no small feat by any measure and not something I take lightly. It was great to see/hear someone talk about respecting beer with regard to the type of glass it should be served in or how it should be poured.
But there was a certain amount of disconnect between what Mr. Reisch said and what seemed easily inferrable to me, and I imagine others, too.
While I am an admitted and documented fan of Budweiser and other big domestics (I’m pretty sure I understand why they exist, what they do, and what they’re made for), I also have no illusions that they are what I’d call ‘good beers.’
*The following is entirely subjective and also probably not that interesting*
Budweiser is not a beer I drink if I want to drink a good beer. Neither is High Life or PBR (both beers that I’m, again, a documented and admitted fan of). These beers are what we’ll call lawnmower beers. You can drink a handful of them because they’re easy and relatively cost-effective. Support: Mr. Reisch, more than once, referenced a brewing calculus that basically boils down to ‘if you couldn’t see yourself drinking three of these [beers] in a sitting, then it [the beer] doesn’t pass the test. (For a number of reasons, this seems particularly telling.) When I think of good beer, say a Double IPA or a homebrew, I don’t think of having more than three at a time, or usually even three. I imagine most of you feel similarly. With a good beer, I want it to last a little while. A friend of mine, and fellow brewer, summed it pretty good when he said (I’m paraphrasing) ‘I’ll drink Budweiser when I’m out to get hammered, and the homebrew is the beer I plan to quaff slowly’ (Woody Conwill). So my measure of a good beer is not that I can drink three of them. Although often I could see myself doing so.
Here’s the problem that it’s taken me so long to get to:
At the beer tasting, it was heavily implied, all but stated, that the goodness of Budweiser (and other A-B beers) was a result of the difficulty of the brewing process. This is akin to saying that someone who’s particularly good at a musical instrument is necessarily a treat to listen to. Anyone who’s been subjected to a band like Widespread Panic–with guitar soloes, and goddamned drum soloes–can, I imagine, aver that this ability does not a good tune make.
So even though they spend more money on rice for the Budweiser than they would grain, it doesn’t mean it’s a better beer. Even though it might be, I’d be inclined to agree, much harder for A-B to make Budweiser than it is for Dogfish Head to make its 60 min. IPA, it doesn’t make it better. To be sure, a lot of the hardness in the brewing of Budweiser is due to the fact that it must be consistent. Consistent to an insane, McDonald’s engineered hamburger degree. You like a McDonald’s hamburger? Cause I don’t. These are products that are so successful because of their ability to appeal widely to the lowest common denominator. They have the particular ability not to offend. They do not make noise. They are not to write home about. And that’s fine with me–as long as they don’t pretend to be such.
So to try and wrap this up in under 1000 words, which is where I’m quickly headed and beyond, part of the tasting was informative and enjoyable. Part of the tasting felt like (was) a sales pitch.
I certainly do not regret going to the tasting. It was not a waste of time by any means, but it was a little disheartening to realize that a good amount of the night was slanted towards convincing me that A-B beers were superior to others. (I mean, I already buy that shit all the time.) Being told (or suggested) which beer (art, tool, method, etc.) is superior to another is a much different thing than simply being given the information to decide for yourself. End lecture/tirade/bitch session.
Came in right at 981 words. Awesome.