Screwed Up Beer Week (vol 9) - Playing Nice With Bad Beer - Not This Guy!
Written By: Kevin Patterson on 03/06/2014
A diplomat walks into a bar. And by diplomat, I mean a professional craft beer brewer. While not exactly a diplomat, he was acting all diplomatic when he was talking with his customers and fans. Taking the high road when asked about the efforts of "big beer," such as Budweiser, Miller, Coors, Pabst, etc., He was happy to lament on the difficulty of their tasks, how tough it is to make beers so light, so clean, so consistent- acting like his mind has been blown at the success of such large enterprises. And though I applaud him for being the bigger man, I call bullshit!
Since when did things like "precision", "accuracy", "consistency", "light", and "clean" begin to insinuate any measure of quality? Since when did "grainy" flavor become a positive attribute to taste? Since when was wet hay flavor become acceptable to balance? Since when did the taste of seltzer water become something that should be applauded? And when did it become ok that the carbonation would be the most flavorful taste in beer? It turns out that in any other type of beer, these characteristics would all be considered significant flaws, but in American lagers they are overlooked or even worse, permissible.
So it got me thinking deeply about what "craft beer" really is, and it got me making comparisons to my past profession, architecture. Buildings have inherent systems that all make the building "work", but those systems don't make the building "wonderful". Sure, the structure has to be in place to support everything else. The lights, heating, plumbing, air conditioning and even wi-fi all need to be in place to make the building work. But with that alone, there's no real reason to go there at all. The balance to the building's engineering lies within its art. The masterful craftsmanship of the designers and builders work to soften the textures, give quality to light and contrast, and to surprise and intrigue its visitors with colors, reflection and sound to make the place comfortable and inviting.
And then I got thinking about the brewery tours that I have visited and it boggles my mind at the character and characters that decorate craft breweries. Where beards for both men and women seem to be a mandatory requisite- jeans, boots and ragged t-shirts give these places an identity and a certain type of welcomed rusticity. With Phish blaring over the speakers and the scent of patchouli and cabbage wafting about with each and every handshake, the place has character- it may be unrefined character, but it is character nonetheless. And though the room of sweaty brewers could easily be confused with a train conductor convention, I can happily sit with those guys, belly up to the bar in the taproom, buy them lunch, hear their voice and connect the the notion that "beer is people"
Did I get any of that at the Budweiser (or insert any big brewery name here) brewery on my last visit? Hell no! There were no train conductors. There were no beards, no hats, no plaid. No boots, no Phish, no patchouli or cabbage. There were no handshakes, steam or sweat. But what I got instead was the sterile sound of a lone tour guide, the smell of a recently bleached linoleum floor, a few computer engineers pushing buttons behind the glass and a lot of pocket protectors. As I completed the two hour tour, it dawned on me that I didn't see any grain going into a mill, I never saw the stir of a mash or anything being cranked, shoveled or measured by a single human being. (And I was promised to see a clydesdale, which I never did.)
And that's when I realized that no one was allowed to touch the raw materials that went into the beer. To be "perfect" any measure of human interaction with the brewing process must be erased. These beers are not well "crafted" at all! Instead, they are an "engineered!" product trotting along an assembly line. And that sterile and stripped taste is what we mistakenly applaud as refinement? Are you kidding me?
So, since when did it become acceptable to use nearly half of the grain bill in the form of rice or corn instead of the preferred barley malt? The truth is that it isn't, and it never has. And now its ok to take off those grain-tinted glasses when it comes to big beer. Stop sucking up to them. They simply have only half the stuff it takes to make great beer- they have the capability but they simply lack the kahunas. They have the armature, but they don't have the art. I'm not saying that we should fix our bayonets and charge the corner beer store, but we sure shouldn't waste any more time giving big beer any accolades that they simply don't deserve. Instead, we should promote our well crafted beers that have the art, character, structure, charm and personality that accurately reflects the fine folks who make them.
Follow the conversation with me on Twitter: @BEERchitect #ScrewedUpBeerWeek to keep things rolling.