May 11th, 2010

The First Sip: Slayeth the Beer Monsters

The First Sip is a virtual beer flight written by Brian Royo, the brewer out at No Label Brewing Company. He will select a beer style, pick a few craft or micro brews that he’s been sampling, and discuss what he likes about them. For the beer connoisseurs, it’ll be a unique chance to hear a local brewer’s thoughts on what makes these beers great. For the novices and aspiring beer knurds, he’ll walk you through what you should be looking for in a good beer and offer some suggestions on quality suds for you palette.

Tastes great, Less Filling! Superior Drinkability! Cold as the Rocky Mountains! Triple Hops Brewed! The Great American Lager (light lager that is!). Today we discuss Miller Light, Bud Lite and Coors Light. Great beers or great advertising?

These beers are detested by beer nerds and loved by the majority of the American public. Why? I think for beer nerds it represents a bastardized version of the ales and lagers that we hold so dearly to our hearts. Beer is supposed to have flavor, substance, a soul to it. Something the big three do not include in their beers. To the rest of the American public, it’s advertised as the highest quality beer available and if the TV says it’s true then it must be. It doesn’t hurt that the commercials are funny and sexy. We are bombarded by these advertisements from the day we are brought into this world till the day we die.

The American Light Lager is a very light beer designed to be easily drinkable. There is little to no hop aroma. The color is an extremely clear pale yellow or pale straw. Flavor is dry, crisp and balanced between hops and malt. Neither hops nor malt should be significantly present in the flavor. The alcohol content can range between 2.5% to 4.5% ABV. Carbonation is extremely high giving it a little bite. Rice and corn can be added as adjuncts to boost the alcohol content and deplete the flavor. This beer is to be refreshing and thirst quenching.

“Bud Lite is nasty!” “ I can’t stand the taste Miller Light.” “This is a Coors household!” “Our family only drinks Bud Lite.” Does this sound familiar? I think we’ve all heard family and friends say statements like these. I know I do, which got me thinking: is there really a difference between these beers? If given to people without the packaging and marketing, would people be able to tell the difference? In my humble opinion, they wouldn’t be able to. I think people are more wrapped around the marketing of the beer than the beer itself. So, I put this theory to test.

I did two blind tastings to see if my theory was correct. Bud Lite, Miller Light and Coors Lite were chosen as the beers to taste because these are the top three American Light Lagers in the USA. There are other American Lagers but you don’t ever hear about them. We will get into those in a future article.

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For the first tasting, I poured each beer into a numbered red plastic cup. I chose red cups on purpose so that they could not see the color of the beer. Clear cups were given later. The beers were given to each of the testers (4 total testers) one beer at a time. Each was asked to smell and taste the beer and write down which beer it was. They were all extremely certain that they could tell the difference. Here is a sampling of the comments:

Beer #1. Not much of a smell. Taste, not great but ok. This is Bud Lite! Miller Lite! Maybe Coors? No Bud Lite! Is this beer?

Beer #2. Smells like #1. Kind of taste like #1. Hmmm. This is Miller Lite! I don’t like this one! This is definitely Coors Lite! Miller Lite for sure! This is nasty… got to be Miller Lite.

Beer #3. Smells like #2 and #1. Taste similar to #1 and #2. Now I’m confused. Can I change my answers? This is Coors Lite! I want to change beer #1 to Bud Lite, this is Miller Lite.

The correct sequence was Coors Lite, Bud Lite, Miller Light and not one person got it right. A little silence fell over the room after I told them what the beers were. They were all so certain that they could tell the difference. Then they said if they could see the color they would be able to tell. So, I poured the beer into clear glasses and showed them. They were surprised to see that each beer had the same color. Coors Lite was a tiny bit lighter, but barely noticeable.

I was asked by one my friends, let’s call him Joe, “what is the point?” The point is there really isn’t a difference between the big three. When it gets down to it, they are all the same beer, just in a different package. Then he asked, “well what about microbrewers. The same can be said for them.” AHHA! No, you can’t say the same for them. You may not be able to tell me the name of the brewer but you will be able to tell me the difference between the beers.

We are inundated with commercials and advertising for the big three beers that the majority of people don’t know about real craft beers. They are lead to believe that these beers are the finest crafted beers in the world. That would be like saying McDonalds makes the best burgers in the world. As we all know, they don’t. There is nothing wrong with eating one, but it is definitely not the best. These beers are made for mass consumption, period.

“Well, not everyone can afford craft beer,” he says. I don’t completely agree with this statement. Yes, craft beer is more expensive but at the same time you are getting a higher quality, higher alcohol product. You don’t need to buy as much. Craft beer is meant to be enjoyed not to be drunk in mass consumption like the others. So, instead of buying that 12 pack or case of the big three, buy a 6 pack of some craft beer. You will enjoy it more and you won’t have to drink as much.

The next blind tasting was done at the No Label Brewing Co tasting this past Saturday. The three beers were poured into clear numbered cups. They were brought out to everyone, one number at a time. Each person was asked to smell, taste and guess the beer. After all three beers were handed out the sequences of the beers were given. About ¾ of the people got it wrong. Many in the crowed thought for sure they could guess the beers correctly. Many sipped, gurgled and twirled the beers as if it were a wine; to no avail. They still got it wrong.

So, as Joe asked, “What’s the point?” Well, I would like think that I’ve effectively proven my theory that the vast majority of people cannot tell the difference between the three beers. Why does it matter that people can’t tell the difference between the beers? It shows that the only difference between them is the marketing scheme and the label on the can. Why can’t they drink the beers they want without being criticized about it? Let me say that there is nothing wrong with drinking these beers and I’ve been known to drink them when I know I am going to be drinking all day, like at a bbq or floating the river. If that’s the beer you choose to drink, then more power to you.

The point is that there is better beer out there, guaranteed. That better beer can be found in a brewery in your own neighborhood, city or state. It’s locally owned and operated. Its handmade with the finest ingredients, the greatest care and the never ending desire to produce great beer not a bottom line. So, the next time you are in a bar, ask for the local brew. Don’t order that lite/light beer. You might actually like what you try. Because once you try craft you will never go back.

Support your local brewery!

Cheers,

Brian Royo
No Label Brewing Co.

— Brian Royo

Comments

Jeff Rocheleau — Wednesday, May 12, 2010 10:14 am

When someone says to me, “I don’t like craft beer”, I tell them, “You just haven’t found the one you like, yet.” Not all craft beer is for everyone. If you tried an IPA once and thought, “That tastes like drinking dirty feet”, try stepping down. Blonde ales are a great starting point (like No Label’s Silo Ale) or a nice wheat beer (a la the El Hefe).

That being said, though I’m a hardcore beer nerd, I do enjoy a nice cold Coors Light after a long day of working in the yard.

Side note and personal beef: Big beer marketing is funny, if you think about it. Frost brewed means nothing. All beer is brewed at boiling temperatures. Cold filtered? Pretty much all beer is cooled, then filtered. Beechwood aged? Beechwood has zero flavor impact… it’s used solely to help clarify the beer. The list goes on…

Michael — Thursday, May 13, 2010 11:18 am

Great Blog Brian just as tkirk said it was. I’m a regular reader from here on.

We had a great time at the NL tasting this past weekend. You and Jennifer put on quite a nice little get-together. Your Big three taste test was dead on…No taste!

educational grants — Friday, May 14, 2010 4:16 am

I’ve recently started a blog, the information you provide on this site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work.

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