Sometimes I need to remind myself why I enjoy beer so much. I need to reset my palate by taking a break from my beer indulgence. Alternatively, I need to find a contrast to the lovely lush and potent beers that I regularly drink. Often I just need to recapture the fun of why I became a craft beer fan in the first place.
It can be very easy to fall deep into the beer geek gambit of hailing the beer market’s dominate section as inferior and unworthy of any consideration. Can I reason my dismissal of mainstream beer? Maybe I should regain some perspective.
This coming Saturday, 18th May 2013, Good Beer Week beings. Melbourne will once again soak Australia’s brewers, beer sellers and beer lovers in a week long festival of the stuff that makes beer good. The food, the culture, the people, the fun and the flavour.
As far as generalisations go, “good beer” tends to align with craft beer. Good beer means flavoursome, characterful and artisan beers, embodied by a passion for the art and science of brewing alongside the social enjoyment it brings.
The term “good beer” leans towards beers often made in small batches by traditional brewing methods with little help from any other ingredient besides water, malt, hops and yeast (plus the occasional edible accompaniment to influence flavour).
So, if there’s a category of “good beer”, surely by the laws of physics (let’s be silly and call it Newton’s Third Law) that means there is “bad beer”. Therefore, what is bad beer?
Naturally, beer is often labeled “bad” due to an off-taste. This generally means that faults are present in the beer due to poor brewing technique, recipe design or the development of a yeast infection. However, in beer geek speak, “bad beer” is more often directed to the commercialism of beer.
“Bad beer” tends to be macro swill.
Ok, so that description is just as bad as “bad beer”.
For many (at least in Australia and the USA), bad beer is simply beer made by very large companies that put more perceived effort into their marketing and advertising than their beers. Maybe once upon a time, these successful big breweries may have focused on the beer first, but in this modern day of commercialism, their sole purpose now is to simply make money. Hence, they generally make beers that are highly processed for the sake of production speed and extended shelf life. These beers are manufactured in massive amounts, using refined processes to reduce cost, cutting many of the corners that can give beer real character. The taste and stability of such beers are controlled by the use of ingredient extracts, syrups, adjuncts and additives that often encourage continued and repetitive drinking and also lead to shocking hangovers.
The packaging of bad beers tend to be covered in beer marketing weasel words like “premium”, “finest quality”, “full flavour” and the ever evil “low carb”.
That beer market section is by far the majority market section in any country – the big name brands and the mass-produced generic beers of bland flavour. All in all, the more you drink, the more money they make. End of story.
In Australia, the most common type of beer in this category is the adjunct lager. Years ago each State had its own regional brand. Today, beers like Carlton Draught, Tooheys, XXXX and VB dominate the “bad beer” label. Some of these beers are winners of major awards and have scored very well in judging competitions. Yet craft beer punters will quickly shoot them down as shit. And hey, I’m guilty, your honour.
Is bad beer deserved? And why do I like good beer? But which is what?!?
I’m actually a firm believe that (almost) any beer can have its time and place. However, as a craft beer lover/geek/nerd, I naturally gravitate to beers produced by microbreweries and my purchases are dominated by styles that are not pale lagers.
But why are those mass produced lagers bad? Am I just a wishful punk for anti-establishment or can I really justify why good beer is good?
So, to realise the full joy of good beer next week, I should remind myself of what is at the other end of the scale. Perspective is very important in life.
Ergo, I have declared this week, the week before Good Beer Week, to be Bad Beer Week.
It was inspired by the social media reaction to Jenn and I drinking VB at the Something For Kate gig last Friday (there really is nothing better at the Ferntree Gully Hotel, which makes me cry a little). Even though we drink a fair bit of macro swill at such gigs, the action always seems to incite a rise from other beer geeks when we check-in our mainstream lagers on Untappd or post them on Instagram.
Anyway, Bad Beer Week is just a bit of fun. Something I can do…because I can. I like testing different beers (…and sure, you’ve got me, I’ll be racking up easy unique check-ins on Untappd too. haha!)
For Bad Beer Week, each day I will drink at least one beer that I consider to be “bad beer”, with the secondary condition that it’s a beer I have never tasted before (at least as far as my memory can recall and my Untappd history can tell me).
At some stage in my drinking life I have consumed almost all of the big local brands. Hence, I have turned my Bad Beer Week gaze to those lesser known names of local lagers that somewhat mysteriously line retails shelves (because you rarely see them in pubs and bars). These beers often make me wonder “who buys those?” and “why do they exist?”
Mostly, these beers are all made by the same big companies with diverse portfolios: CUB (SABMiller), Lion (Kirin), Coles (Wesfarmers) and Woolworths. Yet many are sold under the pretense of smaller brands/companies. A big question mark hangs over whether there is actually any variation in the recipe and production of these beers. They’re all just bland lagers made in the same big breweries as the well known brands, aren’t they?
So this week I will buy those beers and try them. I will use my own subjective taste and reasoning for their existence to determine if they are good or bad beer.
I look forward to being surprised by beer. Unfortunately though, three days in, I haven’t been so far…
Bad Beer Week started on Saturday. I kicked it off with a can of Toohey’s Red Bitter, made by Lion Co. It tasted similar to CUB’s Melbourne Bitter (a beer that I’ll happily drink at rock gigs due to my history with the beer). Mostly, it just reminded me of a stale pub smell. It was drinkable but not at all rewarding or refreshing.
Sunday night I had Hammer’n’Tongs Draught, made by Coles under the Freeman & Songs Brewing Co pseudonym. I did not enjoy it at all. I perceived the beer as musty sweet with zero hop presence. It reminded me of homebrew made from a basic extract kit with little care for the process or for refining the beer. It was too thick and a struggle to finish.
The worst beer experience I can recall from my life is drinking Hahn Ice. When I was younger I bought a block (30 cans) of Hahn Ice purely because it was the cheapest option. I think I was barely able to drink 5 of the 30 cans. The end result was…very bad. More on that another time.
Last night it was MX Dry 3.5, brewed by New Zealand’s Independent Breweries and imported and sold by Coles. Tasteless stuff. Not sure who buys it or why. I pour beers into a glass before drinking to best experience the flavour. In this case, I should have had it straight from the bottle to avoid opening up the beer’s body. Who buys this beer?!? Honestly? Who? With so much of it being made, someone must be buying it…?
Maybe this good/bad beer thing has nothing to do with the beer itself. Maybe it’s ultimately about the experience you have around the beer…?
Tell me…what makes beer bad in your eyes/mouth?