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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Do Try This at Home

Our Northern correspondent Geoff Kaiser had an article in yesterday's Post-Intelligencer wherein he matched faux craft macros against well-known micros of the same style. It's a fascinating read, and I will go ahead and quote liberally from it. First, the set-up.
We recently held a blind tasting of craft-style beers and included several beers from the large brewers, as well as beers from more traditional craft brewers. The participants included casual beers drinkers who usually reach for a light lager, as well as typical craft-beer drinkers who enjoy a variety of styles from various brewers. The beers were judged on a 10-point scale.
He conducted three flights: Bud's American Ale v. Alaskan Amber; Michelob Pale v. Full Sail Pale; and three wits, Michelob Shock Top, Blue Moon, and New Belgium Mothership Wit. The good news? Micros won. But there's some concern here--except for the Michelob Wit, the macros held their own.

Amber Ale
Looking at both of these beers in their glasses, it's impossible to tell which is the macro and which is the craft. Overall, the Alaskan Amber came out ahead in the tasting, but not by much [raters scored it a 7/10]. The American Ale held its own with a lightly sweet malt backing and a definite taste of citrus from the dry-hopping process [6/10]. But several tasters thought the sample was "watery" and just too thin for the style.
Comment: It's a little surprising they went with Alaskan, which is actually an alt. The Bud is a pretty straightforward American amber, so I would have matched it up against Full Sail Amber or MacTarnahan's.


Pale Ale
Michelob Pale Ale was released in September, but it was tough to find in the Seattle market. Once again, the A-B product held its own and surprised with an ample hop aroma [5/10]. But there was an overbearing bitter astringency in the taste that several of us noticed. In contrast, the Full Sail Pale Ale [7/10] was more balanced, offering some caramel malts and mild hop flavor without the bitter astringency.
Comment: Geoff concludes with this observation: "With so many great pale ales in the Northwest, the Michelob could be a tough sell." Actually, I imagine it's not intended for the Northwest, which is why it was hard to find in Seattle. What's odd is that it was more aggressive than the gentle Full Sail, which I found in a blind tasting to be very similar to other pales (Mirror Pond, Caldera). Maybe the macros should take a page from the Beervana playbook--saleable pales are gentle and Cascade-citrusy.


Belgian Wit
Molson Coors has been brewing Blue Moon Belgian White since 1995 and has been successful in marketing the beer across the U.S. A-B followed suit with Shock Top in 2006 and has a lot of ground to make up. We all agreed the Blue Moon was pleasant and refreshing, but it also was a little bland [6/10]. The Shock Top was disappointing and offered very little character from the wheat [4/10]. One taster noted it was "as bad as Husky football," and another stated, "It tastes closer to lemonade than it does beer." Ouch. Neither of these macro-craft beers lived up to the full, yet still refreshing, taste of the Mothership Wit from well-known craft brewer New Belgium Brewing in Colorado [9/10].
Comment: I'm surprised that Belgian wits have become so popular. Back in the early 90s, I would have considered that a pretty big long-shot. I have always regarded Blue Moon as an adequate version of the style, particularly from a macro. It would have been nice if they had used Hoegaarden instead of Mothership Wit--it's both the standard and easier to find up in these parts.

It's a cool experiment, and worth repeating. Report back if you do, will you?

2 comments:

Jon said...

"there's some concern here"...

Why concern? If a macrobrewer can produce a beer that's generally as good as a similar micro, I'm good with that. Good beer is good beer, after all.

Jeff Alworth said...

I agree that beer should be measured on its own merit. But if macros want to, they can put a lot of micros out of business--and ultimately, that would mean less good beer. So it's a concern.

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