“Industrial beer” is a term used by Randy Mosher in his book Tasting Beer to describe beers produced on a large scale:
Whatever the reason, the new hoppy brown beer was a huge craze aided by new technologies fuelling the largest breweries the world had ever known… combined, London porter breweries brewed 1,200,000 barrels in 1810. At that time it took more money to finance a brewery than any other business except a bank. This new industrial scale is important, because it increased the pressure on brewers to find efficiencies that had been insignificant in a smaller setting. In a competitive market, businesses live and die by these efficiencies, but as breweries strive to get the most for the least, the customer doesn’t always benefit.
Sometimes we might call them “macro” or “mainstream” beers. The craft beer enthusiast strawman knows them intimately: they’re less brewed and more designed; they’re about mass appeal and marketing than taste or craftsmanship; and they’re best consumed cold because there’s no flavour to be found once it warms up.
Last year, the week before Melbourne’s Good Beer Week was declared Bad Beer Week (#badbeerweek) by James from beer bar band. The idea is that you will appreciate good beers more if you remind yourself why you don’t drink mass produced fermenter scrapings. As it’s been a while since I suckled the mainstream teat, I thought it would be a good time to see what makes these beers tick and if they’re as bad as some beer nerds claim.
Today’s edition will look at North American industrial beers. They’re all lagers cut from a similar Germanic, megalomaniacal cloth. While I don’t have time to recount the full history of the American brewing fraternity (an interesting story for another time), I recommend turning to Beer Blast by Philip van Munching for one particular view.
Pabst Blue Ribbon
- Brewed by Pabst Brewing Co in the States and distributed by McLaren Vale, although this can comes care of Universal Drinks
- The classic ironic beer of choice for hipsters. Also the less ironic choice of rednecks
- Fluffy white head with small bubbles sitting atop a clear, piss yellow beer
- What aroma?
- Mild wheaty or ricey sweet maltiness, light bitterness but mostly thin and watery
- Minimal aftertaste, more sweet than anything
- Dreck but in a kind of fun, sessionable way
- 4.5% and an old bottle
- Brewed by Grupo Modelo in America’s heartland of Mexico but imported and distributed locally by Lion
- This Mexican soda may make you might appreciate why this is North American (I also couldn’t find any Molson)
- Bugger all head and retention
- Light yellow colour and clear
- Contrary to popular belief, Corona does not smell skunky (in the light strike sense) but it is offering malted corn with a touch of acetone
- Little to no taste, maybe a light corny malt without a particularly dry finish
- If I had lime or lemon, I don’t think the citrus would cover anything but just add to the spritz
- Brewed in Colorado by Coors Brewing Co and distributed locally by Coca Cola Amatil
- Light colour and clear (where have I heard that before?)
- I’d comment on the aroma but I don’t think it’s there
- Surprisingly, it tastes like there might be some actual barley and hops in this
- Carbonation is tangible with an actual head appearing and lacing!
- Definitely a sweet finish
- Slightly classier, more palatable version of PBR and probably the closest to something I would drink regularly
- 4.9% and this is the highest strength of the five
- Brewed and packaged in St Louis by AB-Inbev (formerly Anheuser Busch) and imported and distributed by Lion
- Sweet aroma
- Pale yellow colour
- Minimal head, strong carbonation (small bubbles)
- Sweet corn flavour and I would believe it’s only 11 IBUs
- Objectively appears to be the worst of the bunch despite being the “King of Beers”
Miller Genuine Draft
- Brewed “under supervision” of Miller by Carlton & United
- Better head retention, slightly darker colour than Bud
- Toasted aroma
- Burnt rice taste, guessing there’s a lot of sugar used to brew this
- No bitterness – none
- Actually has something approaching a dry finish
It’s not that these beers are bad in a technical sense. Indeed, the brewing prowess behind each bottle of Budweiser is greater than any smaller scale brewer. However, I’m so bored drinking these beers that I nearly fell asleep.
When you tally them up, it’s not hard to see why. They’re all pale yellow to yellow colour; ABV between 4% and 5%; minimal head retention; moderate carbonation with small bubbles; thin body; watery; very low maltiness, typically smelling and tasting of corn and rice as much as barley; low bitterness; sweet; occasionally presenting a dry finish. That barely qualifies as beer, let alone tasty beer.
While these beers serve a purpose, it’s not hard to see why American consumers are quickly moving away from these brands. There are subtle differences between each but they’re about as easy to distinguish from each other as a racist stereotype of Asian people. Even though Coors might be the “best” and Pabst might be my “favourite”, I’d be hard pressed to pick it out of a line-up and if these beers were criminals, they’d be guilty of stealing candy from a corner shop, not complex characters with a prodigious resumes like Read, Escobar and Blankfein.
American industrial beer might be great for re-hydrating and/or getting loaded without bloating but the proverb that American beers are like making love in a canoe still rings true.