Curiously related to the question asked here Monday — Who gets to decide what is bad beer? — New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov explains the problem with what he calls “wine populism.” The same points could be made about “beer populism.”
Asimov argues that that a critic’s job is not to validate the choices of consumers. “If anything, it’s to make them question their assumptions,” he writes. “You may drink a wine without ever wondering what it is you like about it. Such uncritical drinking is fine; nobody is obliged to give wine a second thought. But if a negative assessment of that style of wine actually causes you to consider all the things you like about it, your experience of that wine may be broader and deeper.”
What struck me in the Businessweek story about how well Corona sells despite the fact it is a “bad beer” was how reporter Kyle Stock leaned on populism, citing online ratings. So the story was “a lot of people don’t like Corona, but a lot of people buy it” and why. Wouldn’t it have been more compelling to have a critic explain why Corona is fundamentally flawed (or do it himself) and why people still buy it?
This relates directly to the “Does American craft brewing have a quality problem?” discussion. Because, let’s be honest, quality challenged beers from breweries smaller than the behemoth occupying 142 acres in St. Louis ain’t exactly new. That some beers are flawed just happens to be discussed a bit more. People still buy them. People like them.
There are a lot of ways to make bad beer. You can make a lousy beer that includes no dimethyl sulfide (DMS), no diacetyl, is not oxidized, astringent or light-struck (smells skunky unless you shove a lime in the neck of the bottle). In other words, without flaws a laboratory would flag. So it was refreshing to see this posted Monday in the Phoenix New Times: “Bad Water Brewing and Craft Beer’s Real Quality Problem.”
I won’t want to spoil it for you, but here’s a snippet: “Some display metallic flavors, or floating particles of coagulated protein and dead yeast. But more than that, Bad Water’s beers are insipid. The flavors are weak; the bodies are thin. They bring nothing to the table, add nothing to the conversation. They are uninteresting, mundane, and sterile.”
This is particularly disappointing because in trying to learn more about the brewery (which apparently is not a brewery at all, but an enterprise selling beer) I discovered: “Bad Water Brewing produces high quality beer dedicated to sharing a distinct beverage brand for influential individuals whose loyalty never forego quality, character, originality and taste. Bad Water has added a new age splash to an ancient Belgian tradition, developed with an equal blend of art and science. An individualized clientele approach to branding is based on the exchange of product with a next level experience for our brand ambassadors.”
I had such high hopes.