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Why is American Beer so Insipid

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Kephren

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The following is quoted verbatim from "Why Things Are" by Joel Achenbach:

"Why is American Beer so Insipid?"
"We ask this question at some personal resk. Americans have a scary intensity when it comes to brand loyalties. There's the classic scene in the movie Blue Velvet when evil Frank asks the young, yuppacious hero what his favorite beer is. 'Heineken,' the hero answers timidly. Frank explodes:'Heineken? (gross expletive) that (gross expletive)! Pabst Blue Ribbon!' Frank and his psychotic pals torment the poor boy the rest of the night.
" In Germany, the serious beer drinker's paradise, the law requires that brewers use only four ingredients in their beer: barley malt, water, yeast, and hops. The malt gives the beer its fullness; the hops adds the crucial bitterness. But American breweries cut the malt with rice and corn and use much less hops. They also use more carbonation. Some breweries may even add preservatives and artificial coloring.
" Why would American brewers do this to us? Why would they dare to make something like Schlitz?
" Because we want it. The free market is rational, usually. Price is only a small factor: We drink a lot of beer and want something cheap. But the truth is, your average Joe likes the taste of Schlitz. Despite the proliferation of imported beers in supermarkets and pubs, American beer still accounts for 95 percent of domestic consumption. 'Over a long period of time Americans have developed a taste for beer that's very light and very carbonated,' said Jeff Mendel, assistant director of the Institute for Brewing Studies in Boulder, Colorado.
" Okay, so why is that? Why do we like carbonated water with a little yeast action thrown in? Why do Europeans view beer as a fine spirit that should be carefully selected to go along with a particular dish, while Americans view it as something to chug by the kegful at frat parties?
" Because we've been trained by Big Busiesss to like our beer weak and chuggable.
" In Europe even small towns are likely to boast a local brewery, or maybe even more than one. But America, more than any other country, has seen a consolidation of industry since WWII into larger and larger companies. Before Prohibition there were hundresds of breweries in America. But the big companies drove the smaller regional competition out of business. In recent years, only six giants - Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Pabst, G. Heileman, and Miller - controlled about 4/5 of the market. That number went to five in 1989 when Coors bought Stroh's. Miller, by the way, is owned by an even bigger company, Philip Morris Companies, Inc.
" To maximeze profits, beer companies need to maximize market share, shoot for the center of the bell curve, seize the middle ground. To sell a lot of beer, you need beer with great 'drinkability.' The substance in nature with the highest drinkability is probably water. The lowest is probably Guinness Stout. It's mud.
" Beer companies the need to train sixteen year olds to drink their product aren't going to make it all the harder by producing a full-bodied ale or a Russian imperial stout.
" Being quick-minded, you're now thinking: Why doesn't Anheuser-Busch, for example, make one token full-bodied heavily hopped beer to compete with Heineken? Because the demand is too small, and these are mass-market companies. ' You can't build a Rolls-Royse on an assembly line,' said Joseph Owades, director of the Center for Brewing Studies in San Francisco (there are a lot of these institutes and centers: it beats breaking rocks for a living).
" Yet, on the contrary, American beers are getting lighter even as the demand for heavier foreign beers has increased. During the 70s, as Americans became more heath and weight conscious, breweries gradually weakened their flagship brands. A 1970 Budweiser was markedly harsher and heavier than a 1980 Budweiser. The recent success of 'lite' brands has eased the pressure to make flagship brands weaker still.
" We're bracing ourselves for the day when Miller comes out with a new product: Lite Light."

Sorry for such a long quote. Thought it was an interesting article. Discuss.
 

brewhead

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i often find is facinating that the "small guys" always rail against what is perceived as "the big guys". it happens in linux vs windows vs mac - and on and on - each group stanch in their visions.

american beer iis developed to be served to americans. if it were as bad as claimed - they would soon go out of business. so the facts are evident that while AB or the like are not producing lagers and stouts that compete with the microbrewery vision - certainly they know their market and deliver the goods.

when you go to homedepot or lowes the chances of you finding watch repar/jewlers tools are slim to none. that's a speciality item that 99.9% of the consuming public aren't interested in.

same with big brewers.
 

tnlandsailor

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We were just discussing this in the General Techniques section under "What's the hardest style to brew". I was admiring the megabrewery's ability to consistently produce a product so light and free of flaws (and any other distinguishing characteristic).

But we shouldn't fret at the popularity of beer like this. Beer lovers have more choices than ever these days, at least at the store. If you live in the South, like me, it's slim pickings in most of the mainstream restaurants with "Light" at the end of every beer name on the menu. But most of the grocery stores have excellent beer selections, and there are some pubs and brewpubs that have 20 or even 30 taps dispensing just about anything you desire. As far as "American Beer" goes, I prefer the American microbrew to anything imported, although it's hard to actually classify someone like Sierra Nevada as a microbrewery. Other lesser known breweries like Avery, Highland, Rogue, Pyramid, and others, I think, make better beer than anything coming out of Europe or anywhere else for that matter, but that's just my taste buds talking. I don't want to debate who makes better beer, I'm just pointing out that American microbrews can compete with anyone in the world on a taste scale, and there are more of them popping up all the time. It will take a long time for beers like this to make serious inroads into the beer market as a whole, but it's bigger right now than it ever has been, so I think things are looking up.

Prosit,
 

andre the giant

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While I can't say I like the taste of AB or Miller products, (there is no taste really) I can say that I've had my share of their products. Wedding receptions, parties, barbques all seem to have the standard issue keg or party ball of "cheap" beer. Unfortunately, all I seem to get from drinking it is a mild hangover.

The way I look at it, if there was a university of beers, the major brands would be Beer-101. It's basic, its very "easy drinking" it appeals to the broadest part of the market. Many people will just hang out there for a while, then drop out. Other more adventurous souls will take a few other "classes" of beer. And still others will take the entire course catalog of beers to get a Bachelor's degree in "Beer Appreciation." A fraction of those will move on to get a Masters of Beer and brew their own! (that's us!!!!) And very few will move on to their doctorate, and become brewmaster at a small brewery.

As a person who has progressed to the beer sciences "grad program", I try to share my love of beer with others. Last week, I brought homebrew to a luncheon at work, and several of my female coworkers raved about the Belgian Wit Grand Cru. They said that they really don't like beer, "but this is really good!" Others, like my Coors guzzling coworker Bruce, insist that my darker beers are like tar, but the lighter Pilsners and Pale Ales are great. There are only a few people I've met that will not try homebrew, mainly because of some nasty experience they may have had in the past. "I tried so-and-so's homebrew one time, it tasted like dirty dishwater," is the response I got one time. But on more than one occasion, I've had people ask me if they can get something like what I made at the local grocery store or liquor store. "Sure... Here's what you need to get...." Likewise, at the local microbrewery, people who were strictly Bud Light drinkers are discovering Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, Pilsner, and other varietys really appeal to them.

I think the trend will grow, much in the same way cable TV has fragmented TV content. Years ago, the big three networks were it. Now, we have hundreds of channels, (but unlike beer, where there's always something good, TV still sucks.) Microbreweries will continue to appear and thrive, and eventually, a big company like AB will buy a bunch of them up in a consolidation move. Regardless, a lot of GOOD beer will be consumed in the mean time.
 

brewhead

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i take my brew to functions every chance i get - share with friends - and i am trying to get some to actually do their own brew - we could exchange beer types....but it makes one nervous at first when you crack open your own stuff on an unknowing crowd. but when they come back for seconds - it makes ya proud
 

DeRoux's Broux

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well put big'un. in my little part of Texas, the beer landscape has changed big time in the last 4-5 years. many of the restaurants and bars now have a decent variety of micro's and imports on DRAFT! that itself is amazing for where i live!!! a lot of it i think (in Texas anyway), had to do with Spoetzel Brewery in Shiner, TX. they brew a bock (which compared to a real bock is quite lighter in body and ABV) that was darker, heavier, maltier than AB, Miller, Coors. it is one of the most popular beers in Texas now and is available everywhere in the state, and in many other states. now, AB in Houstn brews a Zeigen Bock to compete w/ Shiner Bock. it's just funny that AB had to brew a beer to compete with a little independent micro brewery in a little Texas town w/ 1 red light. time's they are a change'n........
Viva La Craft Brew!!!!!!

DeRoux's Broux
 

andre the giant

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Hell yeah... Shiner bock is a great beer. I occasionally pick up a 6 pack of SB at the grocery store right down the street. The same could be said of breweries like Yuengling, Leinenkugels and many others.

There's a brewery in St. Louis... No, not AB. It's called St. Louis Brewing Company, or Schlafley and they brew exceptional beers. Due to whacky laws in Missouri (designed to protect AB from intrastate competition) and strong arm tactics from AB, Schlafley had to open their own "tap room" bar and restraunt back in the late 80's just so they could sell their beer. AB basically told bars and restraunts in the area that if they carried another St. Louis based beer, they would NOT be allowed to carry AB products. (That was like a kiss of death in St. Louis.) Now, Schlafley has a bottling plant in St.Louis and sells within about 120 miles of the metro area. Dozens and dozens (probably hundreds) of bars now serve their beer and I think it's even available at Busch Stadium. (Good irony, eh?)

I love it when the little guy with the better product kicks some butt. Maybe that's why I use a MAC...

Ooops, did I say that out loud? :)
 

Swervo Maneuver

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brewhead said:
american beer iis developed to be served to americans. if it were as bad as claimed - they would soon go out of business. so the facts are evident that while AB or the like are not producing lagers and stouts that compete with the microbrewery vision - certainly they know their market and deliver the goods.
no no no no no.

The big guys don't sell beer. They use their marketing machine to move the blandest, most unoffensive product they can engineer. It happens to be beer.

They make the cheapest tolerable beer that the most people can drink. They advertise it as 'good' so people believe it's good.

Give a Bud drinker a craft brew that he really enjoys and see him hesitate next time he orders a Bud. He'll still order the Bud cause hey, those lizards were funny, but he'll know.

Chrissakes, they spend more on advertising then they do on ingredients.
 

sudsmonkey

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I've had some of my Natural Light-drinking friends try my homebrewed stout. I've been told everything from the polite" That's a little strong for me " to "That tastes like ****!" . This is from guys who've never had a Guinness or maybe anything darker than the occasional Dos Equis at the local Mexican restaurant. To me, it's flavorful, enjoyable, and satisfying. Am I missing something here? Should i find someone with a more cultured palate? Should I hold my buddies down and make them try some of the pilsner I just bottled? Should I feel bad? Maybe I'll just comfort my bruised ego with the fact that the local Food Lion will sell them all the commercial swill they want while I'm enjoying my own brew at a fraction of the price. Oh well. Another homebrew, anyone?
 

DeRoux's Broux

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ah, don't sweat it. i always try to explain to my non-good-beer drinking family and friends what they will tatse, a little history behind the style, etc. kinda build some anticipation for the sampling :^) if that doesn't work, SCREW-EM! more for you :~)

DeRoux's Broux
 

andre the giant

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Yeah, I really enjoy sharing homebrew with my friends and family, but there's a sick sense of enjoyment, superiority, selfishness that comes over me when someone tries one of my brews, then grabs a commercial brew on the next pass by the cooler. More for me. And I won't have a hangover when the morning rolls around.

And oddly enough, a friend of mine who's a self proclaimed, "backwards a$$ country f***" loves my homebrew. When given a choice on Saturday night, he headed straight for the Oatmeal stout! No wussy Mick Ultra for him, he want's a MAN's drink. (and went back for more.)
 

tnlandsailor

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We shouldn't begrudge our lite beer drinking friends. They just might come around eventually. The thing to do is keep trying. I had a friend who liked an American Wheat I brewed (a devout Coors Light afficianado), but turned his nose up at my Cream Ale. He actually said the Cream Ale was "too heavy". No biggie, I'll keep trying, he's a good friend. Maybe I'll have him drinking a British Ordinary by Christmas.

How many red wine drinkers do you know that started out drinking White Zinfandel? I'll admit that I cut my wine drinking teeth on the "Zima" of wines, but over time, I got bolder and now the only Zinfandel that passes these lips is the real thing: dark, red, and flavorful. If we keep trying, we might bring around maybe 30 - 40% of the beer crowd. But that's pretty good when you think about it. Just keep trying. It can't hurt.

Prosit,
 

homebrewer_99

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I've actually added another gallon of water to several of my beers for my "light" friends to try to get them to come over to the White-side (wheat-side).

It lowered the gravity a bit. Now if I can only get it to carbonate like seltzer water they might like it better.....
 

Zeno-25

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I've had some of my Natural Light-drinking friends try my homebrewed stout. I've been told everything from the polite" That's a little strong for me " to "That tastes like ****!" . This is from guys who've never had a Guinness or maybe anything darker than the occasional Dos Equis at the local Mexican restaurant. To me, it's flavorful, enjoyable, and satisfying. Am I missing something here? Should i find someone with a more cultured palate? Should I hold my buddies down and make them try some of the pilsner I just bottled? Should I feel bad? Maybe I'll just comfort my bruised ego with the fact that the local Food Lion will sell them all the commercial swill they want while I'm enjoying my own brew at a fraction of the price. Oh well. Another homebrew, anyone?
Eh, don't let it bother you. Due to a combination of multinational conglomerates brewing p*sswater according to the rules of laissez-faire mass-market capitalism and them being the only American breweries to survive Prohibition for the most part, the vast majority of our unaware American neighbors are completely retarded as far as good beer goes. The hell with 'em (cracks open third Aventinus for of the night). :tank:

Be satisfied that you are in the upper 95th percent of elite beer drinkers with an aware pallet and share the good stuff with those whom you deem worthy. You can only open the door...
 

rico567

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The answer to this question has nothing specifically to do with beer. Mass produce anything for a huge market, and there's going to be a very, very large "lowest common denominator" factor. In the case of such a BMC beer, it's not that it must appeal to the largest number of people. Advertising / marketing does that, and it works. It just can't be anything that's likely to turn people off. One word in the thread title sums it up: insipid.
 

harrydrez

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People could make a career studying BMC, they are proof you can sell anything with aggressive marketing.They have completely indoctrinated at least two generations of Americans as to what beer is supposed to be.
 

davesrose

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People could make a career studying BMC, they are proof you can sell anything with aggressive marketing.They have completely indoctrinated at least two generations of Americans as to what beer is supposed to be.
I think they have to keep to strict marketing campaigns since their beer filled that void from prohibition to the craft beer craze. Back when it only was BMC, it is pretty amazing to see how sales shifted drastically from Bud to Miller Highlife to Bud Lite....all due to marketing. Where in the 70s, the beer companies had huge ad campaigns showing how light beer can be "manly". I don't completely poo-poo BMC as swill: I'm sure there is a science to making light *crisp* *subtle* beer that's not COMPLETELY tasteless....but I prefer full bodied ales, so I'm not the BMC demographic. In this day and age with craft brewers nipping at the overall beer market...BMC is faced with smaller sales and has to evaluate either spending a lot of money in ad campaigns to keep sales level, or they can try to introduce new products to see if they grow in sales. Basic business marketing.....but from what Bud has produced, it doesn't seem like they're really going out on a limb with new product development. Bud Ale or Bud Lime are not approaching a craft beer...but maybe they keep enough BMC drinkers from venturing into craft beer.
 

justinh85

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Davesrose, seeing as how you are in the Atlanta area...would I be correct in guessing that your intro to craft brew was Taco Mac? Either that or Brickstore...I know it sure as hell was mine, and I love 'em every day for it. :)
 

davesrose

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Davesrose, seeing as how you are in the Atlanta area...would I be correct in guessing that your intro to craft brew was Taco Mac?
Oh, well here in ATL, Taco Mac is my stand by:D I'm close to Brickstore and The Porter, so they're my main pubs. And when I want to dine an out of towner, I take them to 5 Seasons. But I'm actually from NC...Asheville to be exact. Even when I was a teenager, my dad would let me try his beers and I'd like Guinness extra stout. Before I settled in Atlanta, Barley's in Asheville was probably my first beer place to try real microbrews (plus they've got the best pizza ever)! Now when I visit my folks in Asheville, they like to try my beers...then we go and try some brews at Greenman (Jack of the Wood), Wedge, or French Broad. I can't get over how they've got 8 breweries bordering on 10. But my parents still like my brews the best :mug:
 

Laughing_Gnome_Invisible

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Nothing like digging up a 4 year old thread.
I enjoyed it!! After reading this thread I can see how much HBT has changed in those four years. It was a good discussion. Evan's law was not even around then, it seems. I got a chance to see how civilised HBT could be in the years before I joined.

Oh! oops! Wait! Let me try to rephrase that!........Darn, I can't! :(
 

petep1980

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Basic rule of thumb if you're coming to my house and you don't like the home brew, then maybe you'll like the homemade wine. Their choices are water, milk, diet coke, or orange juice.

SWMBO won't drink my dark stuff. Other than that, most people will try it, and if they don't like it, they don't get anymore beer.

I do find I need to serve the porters a little more carbed and colder than the style calls for, but hey, I'm an American too.
 

TexasSpartan

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" Being quick-minded, you're now thinking: Why doesn't Anheuser-Busch, for example, make one token full-bodied heavily hopped beer to compete with Heineken? Because the demand is too small, and these are mass-market companies. ' You can't build a Rolls-Royse on an assembly line,' said Joseph Owades, director of the Center for Brewing Studies in San Francisco (there are a lot of these institutes and centers: it beats breaking rocks for a living).
If I wanted to brew a beer to compete with Heineken, it wouldn't be a full bodied, hoppy beer. I'd brew a Bud clone and then skunk it.
 

usurpers26

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Watch Beer Wars, excellent documentary.

When you think about it though, it's pretty sad...the level of ignorance that permeates society. So many sheep... I don't care if you like "my" beer but at least have an open mind.
 

Dwain

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I've read about and seen some documentaries that offer another school of thought. During WW II, the availability of ingredients changed and, a tremendous number of women entered the work force. All of the breweries started courting this market. After the war, when the availability of the ingredients changed and the men returned to the U.S., they didn't care nearly so much about the taste or body of beer and started drinking it up.
I personally think that each of the scenarios played into what the big beer companies do. If you're a stock holder or employee, don't you want the company to dominate? Americans are all sheep. Our demand to give up personal freedom to enjoy the protection of our benevolent government proves that*.
On a final note, I tried for several years to brew a beer my best friend could drink. No matter what I brewed, he didn't like it. I was doing mostly extract with a hint of PG, I realized (back then) that I could buy or he could bring him a couple of sixes of Lite for 5 bucks and he could sit and BS with me while I brewed. It's all good. - Dwain

* free editorial comment
 

Homercidal

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There is much debate about what caused the lightening of American beers over the years. Some claim it was prohibition, some say wars. Who knows. All over Europe, beer tastes have changed over decades. Once it was Porter was the big thing, then it was Lager, and Pilsner.

I have friends who drink MBC stuff and don't care for my homebrew. I don't know if it's actually bad tasting to them, or if they believe that I can't make beer as good as the big guys, or if they simply believe that beer is SUPPOSED to taste like Labatt's or Heiney.

To that I answer, "What taste?"

People are just used to the light taste. Like the Greasers of the 50s, and the Hippies of the 70's, the Punk and Grunge of the 80s and 90s, younger people will rebel against the accepted status quo, and recently this has been happening in beer, with them taking some older people with them.

I do know that if the MBC beers of today were to be replaced with beers of more significance, the price for bottle would have to go way up. More malts, less cheaper adjuncts, more hops, more time to condition.

I think the realization that American beer can be just as good as any beer in the world is hitting a lot of people. Maybe it isn't the vast quantity of beer sold, but there is a world-class brewery within driving distance of most of us, and nearly everyone can buy other styles of beer than American Light Lager at a store close to them.
 
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