Friday, 29 September 2017 11:41

Sultans of Swill: West Michigan craft brewers taste 20 macro beers — for science

Written by  Joe Boomgaard
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Top, from left: Eric Hoffman (Unruly), Seth Rivard (Rockford), Mitch Ermatinger (Speciation), Nick Manes, Joe Boomgaard, Josh Veal, Scott Schultz (Creston) Top, from left: Eric Hoffman (Unruly), Seth Rivard (Rockford), Mitch Ermatinger (Speciation), Nick Manes, Joe Boomgaard, Josh Veal, Scott Schultz (Creston) Katy Batdorff

In 2016, the Toyota Camry sold better than any other passenger car in the country. 

More than 388,000 people went into a dealership and willingly signed on the dotted line for a shiny new automotive equivalent of a white T-shirt. 

You see, a Camry is inoffensive to a fault, a mass-marketed vehicle built for the generic American family who likes to go to Applebee’s on Fridays to order an over-salted, well-done steak with a side of limp, overcooked vegetables. 

And, more likely than not, they’re probably going to wash down that flavorless plateful of American mediocrity with none other than a Bud Light. 

That’s because Bud Light — or any macro-produced American lager or light lager, really — is to the beer world what the Camry is to the automotive industry: safe, predictable, mass-produced and cost-engineered. 

And it explains why craft beer enthusiasts deride the mass-produced American lager style as fizzy yellow beer, macro swill or lawnmower beer. In a word, they’re boring.

But even boring beer sells. Bud Light, the best-selling beer in these United States of America, moved 35 million barrels last year, according to industry estimates. To put that in perspective, the collective in-state sales for all Michigan craft breweries last year reached about 549,000 barrels, or around 1.6 percent of just Bud Light sales nationwide.

If you are going to reach for a macro lager, you might as well know which ones taste the best. To help in that decision-making process, Revue conducted a blind tasting of 20 beers using a panel of expert tasters from four West Michigan craft breweries: 

  • Mitch Ermatinger, Speciation Artisan Ales (Comstock Park)
  • Eric Hoffman, Unruly Brewing Co. (Muskegon)
  • Seth Rivard, Rockford Brewing Co. (Rockford)
  • Scott Schultz, Creston Brewery (Grand Rapids)

 

As this was a blind tasting, the panel did not know which beers they were trying. We asked the panel to rank the beers, which were presented in a random order, based on the following criteria: 

  • 5 points: “Tasty.” I would drink this regularly and stock it in my fridge. 
  • 4 points: “Decent.” It’s not my first choice, but it’s beer. I’d drink it at a concert or at the beach.
  • 3 points: “Just OK.” This passes as beer, but just barely. It might work for the style, but it’s not my thing.
  • 2 points: “Ugh.” It doesn’t taste very good, and I’m starting to question my life choices.
  • 1 point: “Nope!” This is terrible and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

 

Here’s how they stacked up, from worst to first. (Scores listed are an average.)

 

20. Michelob Ultra: 1 

Surprisingly, this beer was skunked — you could smell it across the room — and also very watery. 

 

18. (tie) Genesee Beer: 1.25

“Smells like a wet, eggy fart.”

 

18. (tie) Bud Light: 1.25

“Feet aroma,” watery and "tastes like a cheap, light beer knock-off.''

 

17. Genesee Cream Ale: 1.75

Tastes of “corn and Band-Aids,” leaving one taster “personally offended.”

 

15. (tie) Milwaukee’s Best: 2.125

Totally neutral and unenjoyable. Tastes like “air and yeast.” 

 

15. Busch Beer: 2.125

Not horrible for carbonated water; some green apple off-flavors.

 

14. Stroh’s Lager: 2.7

Super light with not much flavor, except for sulphur on the nose. “Shocking” head retention.

 

13. Miller Lite: 2.875

Very light and neutral without much flavor. Heavily carbonated and dry. 

 

12. Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer: 3.125

Slightly more aroma and flavor than some, although still bland. Reminiscent of a Euro lager. 

 

11. Coors Light: 3.2075

Interesting aroma. Tastes more like an ale, with fruity, estery notes. Crushable. 

 

10. Miller High Life: 3.225

Seems like a generic light beer. Tastes of “corporate nothingness.”

 

8. (tie) Old Style: 3.625

Little to no aroma. So neutral it’s hard to describe. Finishes with nothing. 

 

8. (tie) Miller Genuine Draft: 3.625

A clean beer with good head retention. Flavors include some corn-derived sweetness.

 

7. Icehouse: 3.8

Actually has hop bitterness of the mineral variety and some body. Balanced. Moderate sweetness. 

 

6. Rolling Rock Extra Pale Lager: 3.875

Tastes like an ale, with light fruity notes. A very drinkable beer with some body.

 

4. (tie) Schlitz: 4

More hops than most, although vegetal in nature. Nice body. “It actually tastes like something.”

 

4. (tie) Budweiser, a.k.a. America: 4

Nice aroma. Super clean, fruit-forward, with some corn notes. “Tastes like a lawnmower beer.”

 

2. (tie) Hamm’s Beer: 4.5

Nothing unlikable. Nice aroma with generic hops. Corn-forward flavor, with perceivable bitterness. 

 

2. (tie) Coors Banquet: 4.5

“Super good” balance of malty and corn toastiness. Tastes familiar.  “I’d crush some of this.”

 

1. Stroh’s Bohemian-style Pilsner: 4.875

Tastes fresh with pilsner malts and Saaz hop coming through really well. “Way different” than anything in the tasting. 

 

ANALYSIS: 

Even in a completely blind tasting, four Michigan brewers picked the Michigan-made beer as their favorite. Brew Detroit, a contract brewery in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, produces Bohemian-style Pilsner for Stroh Brewery Co., a brand owned by Milwaukee-based Pabst Brewing Co. 

Stroh’s started brewing in Detroit in 1850 and operated in the city until 1985. Its original Bohemian-style Pilsner, which inspired the recipe for the current beer, won numerous awards, including at the World’s Fair in 1893. The company revived the name last year in partnership with Brew Detroit, declaring on the label that it’s “proudly brewed in Detroit, Michigan.”

According to Brewmaster Greg Deuhs, the 5.5 percent ABV beer is made with Saaz and Magnum hops and Vienna malt for “a crisp, balanced pilsner with a floral aroma, subtle hop spice, and a rich, bready maltiness.” 

 

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