Has this ever happened to you? You’re having a lovely discussion about beer, getting all excited and sharing which beers you’ve tried and which you’ve yet to track down, when your conversational partner asks what your favourite beer is. Even more excited now, you tell them…only to be met with a wrinkled brow, a slightly curled lip, and an incredulous, “Why that? Don’t you know that’s a bad beer?”
And then there’s the awkward silence and maybe the conversation eventually gets back on track, or maybe it doesn’t, but either way, you don’t feel so good.
It’s okay. I’m here to tell you a little secret. Well, it’s not really a secret, because all four of us (Ed, Blythe, Doug, and myself) say it all the time in the brewery, but regardless:
There is no such thing as a bad beer.
And I can hear the howls now. “What?” some corners of the internet scream. “There are plenty of bad beers! Why, I had one just last week; it was a drain-pour!”
“Traitor!” others are shrieking. “You drink craft beer! How can you say that there are no bad beers, when you compare independent microbreweries to the impersonal macro conglomerates? The macrobreweries use corn syrup and adjuncts! How can you say that there are no bad beers, when I’ve had beer that tastes like fizzy yellow water?”
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Slow down, Sparky. This is the thing about beer.
It is entirely subjective.
Are there beers that we dislike, down here in the brewery? Absolutely, because beer is entirely subjective. Take the Apricot Ale we did in May; Blythe loves it, I can’t drink it. Same beer, different opinions. But guess what?
I don’t like apricots. Stands to reason, then, that I wouldn’t like the Apricot Ale. So, is it a bad beer?
Nope. It’s just not a good beer for me.
We often draw a comparison with food. You expect people to like different foods; we all have that one unusual thing that we crave and can’t get enough of (three words: Mince. On. Toast.). It’s the same with beer. Actually, the analogy does break down, because you can have bad food. I think we can all agree that “pink slime” is worse for our bodies than organic meat. Similarly, I can imagine people saying that beer made with corn syrup and adjuncts is worse than beer made with organic barley, hops, water, and yeast.
Except…pals, it’s not the nineteenth century. We don’t drink beer for nutritional reasons anymore. Plus, since our bodies consider alcohol a poison anyway, it seems kind of silly to me to argue about which poison is better for us.
Now, sure, there are beers that are made with less attention and care. And that is a shame, because brewing is just as much an art as it is a craft. But if people like those beers, I’m not going to judge them. If someone likes a mass-produced beer, than that beer is good for at least one person.
“But that demeans and devalues the work that hardworking indie microbrewers do!”
Okay, yes, I see the logic in that argument. And believe me, I feel the emotion behind it, I really do. I will take this opportunity to be completely honest and say that I infinitely prefer craft beer. For me, personally, beer from macrobreweries just doesn’t work. I value the time and effort indie and microbrewers put into their product. For me, it is a noticeable difference and one I immensely appreciate.
Again, though, our thesis is that beer is an entirely subjective field. Some people really value the artisanal qualities of a beer; for others, it’s less important. For the people who do value care, attention, and detail in brewing, the work of microbreweries is certainly recognized. Some people read classical literature; other people read drugstore romance novels. Do we judge?
Maybe, but we shouldn’t. Our unique tastes are part of who we are. I think the most important thing is to keep an open mind. By all means, admit to disliking this beer or that one – since it’s a matter of personal taste, we should recognize that there is no offense meant. And of course, it’s a good general rule not to knock something until you’ve tried it!