Because there are a lot of ways to make bad beer

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.

10 Responses to Because there are a lot of ways to make bad beer

  1. Peter April 23, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    That company description reads like the useless instructions that came with the last printer I bought.

    • Stan Hieronymus April 23, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

      True, Peter. It looks like something translated (maybe with Google translate) from English to another language, then back again.

  2. Patrick Ryan April 23, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    With Corona, as with any cheap lager, you have an entire generation conditioned to think that Bud was great with food (Chinese food in my case), at the game, or in any part of life. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that; they just don’t know anything better.

    Some people don’t want to think or taste the hops in their beer, just as some people like their Keurig coffee over all others.

  3. Oliver Gray April 24, 2014 at 9:04 am #

    The Corona thing, to me, comes down to people wanting something to drink that’s refreshing, not as cloyingly sweet as soda, relatively cheap, and has a added bonus of getting you drunk.

    I might even argue that a lot of the people I know who buy tons Corona don’t really like beer as a drink, and Corona gives them an option for alcohol that isn’t quite beer, but also isn’t spirits or wine. Sort of like loosely beer-flavored alco-pop.

    I fear I’m rambling now.

  4. Jerry April 24, 2014 at 11:00 am #

    As I read the article, I was thinking that Bad Water Brewing had to be a pseudonym for a company that Paul Gatza didn’t want to name. Why would anyone think that was a good name?

  5. Nate O. April 24, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    I remember listening to an interview with Charlie Bamforth (I could listen to his dulcet Hullish accent all day), he described a period while working for Bass, when he was tasked with fixing a DMS problem in one of their breweries. After solving the problem, a lot of customers returned the beer because they grew accustomed to the flawed beer, and the new beer tasted “off.”

    Re: Bad Water’s description, it sounds like a mad-lib of all the marketing buzzwords and jargon I hate.

    • Stan Hieronymus April 24, 2014 at 11:54 am #

      Nate – I’ve heard Bamforth say “If you are going to have a flaw, make sure you have it all the time.” Consistency trumps all.

  6. Steve April 24, 2014 at 12:21 pm #

    I too had high hopes for Bad Water when I went to the main page. My hope was that drinking this beer would give me added sex appeal. But alas, I have yet to find an article where this is confirmed.

    Back to hoping I guess!

  7. Bill April 24, 2014 at 1:07 pm #

    We’re fudging two categories here, though — there’s a difference between “bad beer” as Bad Water apparently is making and “bad beer” as defined by “Corona” or “American adjunct lagers.” The former is poorly-made beer. The latter is someone’s opinion, based mostly on their saying “I don’t like it.” Perhaps there’s shadings of large-company hostility, or snobbery, or something else contributing, but mostly it’s someone saying “I don’t like it.” But that doesn’t make Corona “bad” beyond said person’s opinion. Corona isn’t measurably bad beer the way the product of a brewery with quality-control issues is measurably bad beer.

    A lot of people buy Corona because a lot of people like Corona. If they like something better, or stop liking Corona, they’ll buy less Corona. But enough people’s opinions of Corona are that Corona is good beer, because they enjoy it and it tastes good to them. And for the life of me, I’ve never understood why the folks who rate on RB and BA by and large seem to forget that when their opinions and the opinions of the larger beer-drinking world don’t match up, it doesn’t therefore demonstrate that one group is more objectively right. They’re discussing matters of opinion, not measurements of quality.

  8. Gray Gillman April 24, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

    I agree with Bill. There are two types of bad beer: 1) beer that has a fault, 2) beer that doesn’t have a technical fault but doesn’t taste that good. E.g. I had Coors Banquet twice recently and it had no faults but had a corn starch-like twangy taste I found offputting, with virtually no hop aroma (some bitterness but I couldn’t get any aroma).

    Most craft ales today don’t have faults on the technical side, at least where the brewery is in business for some time. But either you like what each does, or not, on the taste merits that is.

    Corona is well-made IMO when fresh and not light-struck, I buy it from cans that are as new as possible. It has a light but pleasant flavour, not something I would choose willingly, usually, but I think it has a better taste to countless craft beers. It tastes like a light Munich helles, basically. I assume it does use some adjunct but if so the taste is well-blended into the malt and the beer in general has a natural beery taste IMO.

    Gary