“I find American beer a bit like having sex in a canoe. It’s fucking close to water.”
~ Oscar Wilde on American Beer
So, apparently the great Oscar Wilde was not as far off base as we thought. A lawsuit was recently filed alleging that Anheuser-Busch has watered down the alcohol content of several of their products including Michelob and Budweiser. The point was to increase profits by selling a watered down product. I have several problems with this article not including my own caddy use of an old joke:
- The main ingredient of beer is actually water; please choose a better phrase.
- The methods of calculating the alcohol by volume vary between the gravity scale and the Plato scale. Both of which require access to the beer before and after fermentation. While some former employees may have told these “Beer Lovers” (Insert vomit) information…unless they have hydrometer readings, I’m going to remain skeptical about their claim.
- Lastly, what did you think you were paying for?
The last point really encapsulizes why I write this blog and try to get people interested in craft beer. You probably don’t want to be paying for these products, and, as cheap as it is, big beer (watered down or not) is not worth your money. I do understand the sentiment…Who wants to spend more money just because? I think it would actually be easier to convince my friends to let me yank out their molars with rusty pliars than to get them to spend 7 dollars on a beer during 3 dollar beer night. But much like sausage making, I think that having some understanding about what you’re drinking will also contribute to better drinking.
Consider what you’re paying for when you purchase a beer made by a local brewery. You are paying for ingredients (malt, hops, specialty ingredients, etc.). Malting is the process by which barley is allowed to germenate so the sugar inside the grain can be extracted. At the point that germination begins, the barley is roasted to stop the process and, depending on how dark you roast it, caramelize the sugars for flavor. This is a process done separately from the brewery because most brewers are too small and can’t afford to do the process themselves. So, yes, you are partially paying for the brewery to buy grain. However, you are also paying for the quality of ingredients and having them crafted by someone who wants to give you a fun drinking experience You are also paying for great hops and sometimes for your beer to take a rest in bourbon barrels. All parts of this process take skill, time and cost money.
Let’s look at what we think about when you think of a macrobrewery. Commercials, sponsored events (concerts, sporting events, etc.), bar specials, logos. These companies pay a lot of money to get the exclusive rights to these forms of exposure, and have done so at great expense because they have been fighting among themselves to win those contracts. What are you paying for? Marketing. What’s left for beer? Good question. Let me answer that with a story. If and/or when you start brewing on your own, you will find that your first batches of beer will be on the weaker side. Usually this is due to the trial and error method of understanding how to extract the right amount of sugar from your grains. When I was starting out, I wanted to make a beer over 3% alcohol so I asked the keeper of the homebrew shop if I could simply dump pounds of regular sugar into my beer to increase the alcohol by volume. He said, sure, if I wanted the worst hangover of my life.
Refined sugars have a lot of impurities created by the refining process and these impurities in beverages cause those wicked head splitting hangovers. Sugar in general is bad for a hangover. Wine headaches, fruity drinks, and macro beer have a lot of sugar and or impurities that can cause those hangovers. One could argue that watering down the beer was actually a measure to improve it by introducing more water into the drinkers system. Craft beer, while being created by malt sugars, is derived from natural sugar which is much less likely to give you a hangover. I will never say drinking craft beer will prevent a hangover, but it will lessen the blow. Macrobeers are, for the most part, composed of cheaper forms of sugar such as corn, cane sugar, rice and generally sources that are cheap to buy in mass quantities. They also offer no flavor to the beer, so some attempt is made to boost it with lesser ingredients.
You can see through the smoke and mirrors of the brewing process of big beer by the way they market. They really do a good job and they pick their words very carefully. We have all heard the phrase that one certain beer has “More Taste.” Taste is one of our basic senses and in no way describes any other characteristic. I’m sure the steaming pile of you know what that dogs leave on the street have a lot of taste too, but I’d prefer something that actually tastes good. “We add hops three times throughout the process for that triple hop taste.” Well there’s that T word again. Most beers that are not hoppy will go through at least a 2 step hopping process. Hops are added once during the boiling stage of the beer for flavor and at the end for smell (aroma). Almost any beer worth drinking follows this process. A beer looking for a strong hop flavor will require adding hops at least three times and many times after the beer has fermented. This process is called dry hopping because dry hops are added to the beer at different stages after the boil. Some breweries have a device called a hop back that allows the beer to be filtered through hops to add even more flavor. The number of times hops are added really doesn’t tell you anything. By that logic, DogFish Head 120 Minute IPA would be the tastiest beer ever because they add hops continually throughout a 120 minute boil. Actually some people might agree with that.
But at the Super Bowl, big beer revealed its biggest con job to take a stab at the craft beer market. Budweiser Black Crown, an amber lager brewed with caramel malt. Which is really a nice selling point if it weren’t for that fact that the beer could not be called an amber lager if it didn’t include some portion of caramel malt. That gives the beer the amber color. This just draws back to my main point. You are paying for advertising with most of the macro brewers. All that money on advertising leaves little remaining for the beer. Most of these faux craft beers are used to try to get people to pay more money for beer but in reality it costs more to make because they actually have to pay for quality ingredients. The rest of the consumer market is paying 5 dollars for a six pack but are really just getting water and a lot of commercials. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather just have a good beer. So, please take a chance and pay that extra couple dollars for a nicer beer. We only have so many drinks left before we aren’t allowed to have any more, better to use them on good beers.
Anyway, get out and support your local brewery.