We’ve regularly covered the ongoing controversy of “faux craft beers” and the “craft vs. crafty” debate that was recently stoked by the Brewers Associations updated guidelines defining craft beer. Although we’re definitely fans of craft beer around here, we don’t want to be unfair over labels of what is and is not “real” beer.
While this may seem an odd statement, coming from this site, the truth is: American light lager is incredibly difficult to make.
Anyone who’s brewed knows this to be true. If you think about it for a moment, it does make sense. If you have an 8 ounce glass of water and a cup of coffee…and an eyedropper with lemon juice..and you place a couple drops in either vessel…which one will you taste the lemon? Of course, you’ll note it in the water first because the strong flavor and aromas of the coffee will cover up the lemon drops.
The same is true with beer. The money and resources from large, high-gravity adjunct brewers go into making incredibly clean and consistent product -often produced from multiple locations – using (mostly) natural ingredients that may vary from season to season and climate to climate. It’s not easy, but those beers are not brewed to be flavorful, despite such flavorful sounding processes like “beechwood aging,” “fire brewed,” or “cold filtered.” They’re made to be consistent, cold, wet and (most importantly) non-offensive – think of other HUGE brands, like McDonald’s, Chef Boyardee, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. They’re all relatively bland intentionally. Anyone can eat any of these foods or drink one of these light beers (even if it leaves the drinker wanting for “more”) because it’s unlikely to result in a “yuck.” And every light lager brand you drink should taste like every other one of the same brand, whether it’s brewed in St. Louis, Columbus or London. The science and effort behind such low taste consistency is truly remarkable.
It’s also no coincedence that early craft brewers were most successful with big, heavy dark beers such as stouts or porters and generously hopped IPAs and pale ales. They were typically infusion mash ales, which were faster (and cheaper because they take up less fermentation/cellar space) to create, required simpler equipment (primarily in terms of heating source) and were easier to make big, bold flavors. For some, the strong flavors often covered up the unintended flavors or variances found in inconsistent production methods. It also presented an extreme difference from “normal” beer that Americans consumed for nearly a century. Craft beer is produced for flavor, not necessarily for consistency or to be non-offensive. Honestly, every single beer is not for everyone. In fact, I’m sure you’ve had some craft beers you liked and some you did not – and that’s o.k., because that’s the point. If we all preferred the same beer, we’d all still be drinking the same brand.
As we’ve stated in the past, our issue with the large brewers is the dishonesty of their marketing practices and the strong-arming of distribution and retail outlets, not in the products itself. The big guys are truly the best in the world at making their product, but those market strengths shouldn’t prevent others from being able to just as easily enjoy products that are produced for different reasons, such as flavor or local pride.