Thursday, March 28, 2013

Beer - Good or Bad?

Makes me thirsty just looking at it.
Despite the title, this is not a philosophical piece on the inherent moral goodness of beer.  That is a foregone conclusion.

The topic of interest to me is "good" beer versus "bad" beer and I would posit that there is only one definition of "bad" beer: beer that has flavors that were not intended by the brewer to be there.  These flavors can be from errors or problems with the brewing process, fermentation, contamination or many other places, but under this definition "bad" beer stands out easily and agreeably for everyone.  Like a bottle of wine that is "corked"; it is spoiled by exposure to air which causes the wine to taste vinegary.  It is obvious and apparent.

But what about beer you don't like?  I would suggest that is, exactly as the question states, beer that you don't like.

I had a conversation with someone recently who told me with great confidence that the beer from another local brewery was "bad".  I asked about the experience with the beer to find out if there was a contamination issue, off flavors or whatever.  It turns out they they just didn't like the beer.  I'm okay with that, but that doesn't make the beer "bad."

I have, I think without exaggeration, tried hundreds of beers.  Several hundred.  I have been drinking beer regularly and with intentional variety for more than a quarter century.  I have often stood at diverse beer cases in grocery stores looking for anything that I haven't tried before.  I have had beer from almost every area of the globe (very light on Antarctic beers, so far).  I will scan any tap list in a bar or restaurant to find things that sound interesting and/or that I haven't tried.  I am interested in beers of all varieties and I am interested in trends in beers.  That said, I don't like every beer that I try.  And, to my way of thinking, that is the way it should be.

One of the great things about the re-awakening of beer in America is that we aren't looking to behemoth breweries to market-test a new style every few years.  Instead, we are greeted in towns small and large (at least in our part of the country) with dozens of breweries making their own version of popular styles and their own versions of styles they are inventing with abandon.  The craft drinking public is embracing everything by the pint and willing to actively support the journey.  That is exactly the creativity and diversity that makes the "craft" part of craft beer.

Along with this, however, come styles, types, flavors or experiments that don't work as well as others, or, at least, aren't as appealing to "me".  And if that weren't true, then the breweries wouldn't be trying enough things or I would be indiscriminate in my own tastes.  The bigger point being, you will find me trying beers of all kinds, but you won't hear me saying that any one of them is, absent off/spoiled/contaminated flavors, a "bad" beer.  I may not like it, I may not praise it, I may not order it again, and, if I see multiple styles of beer from one brewery with a distinctive style running through it that I don't like, you won't me see trying their beer regularly, but that doesn't make it bad, it just makes it something I don't like.

I looked for, but couldn't find, a quote I recall from Michael Jackson, aka The Beer Hunter, one of the foremost authorities on beer while he was alive.  That quote was basically that he liked all beer and that every style and type had a place.  I would agree.  I don't have a favorite, even of our own beers.  What I want to drink varies by day, time of day, weather, prior activity, food pairing, venue, whatever.  There isn't one beer to go with all situations, although there is a beer to go with all situations.   

As we embrace beer diversity and drinking locally, I think we should endeavor to respect what everyone else is doing.  Let's drink the beer, discuss the beer, like or not like the beer, but let's appreciate the effort and work and good intention that all of us are putting into contributing to the craft.  There is something I will gladly drink to.  Cheers!

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