Got Beer? Bad Beers

Most of the time, I write about beers that I find interesting, tasty, strange or unique. But what about the bad beers?

I generally don’t talk about the bad ones, but today I’d like to talk about what exactly makes a bad beer bad. Without naming any names, I recently sought out, purchased and sampled a beer that I thought would be the focus of this very article. In fact, I was so sure I didn’t even find a backup beer. I didn’t think I would need it, since the history of the particular line of beer from this one brewery has never failed to give me something to talk about.

Well, it did now. What struck me the most about this beer was its complete and utter lack of character. It was sweet and malty, and that’s about it. No discernible hop subtlety, no balance, no unique caramel or chocolate flavors, no crisp perkiness, no surprise on the finish and no progression of complex flavors as the beer washed over my palate.

My only thought that I could muster was this: bland.

While bland is not the worst adjective I could use to describe a beer, it does leave me without a single bloody thing to talk about.

So as I stared at the flavorless beverage, baffled at how such a thing could be made in the 21st century, I had a sort of epiphany. I don’t talk about bad beers. But maybe I can talk about what makes a beer bad.

There are numerous technical and style guidelines, but all of that aside, the biggest questions for me when determining a good beer from a bad, are the following:

  1. Is this clearly made with care? The piece missing from a lot of big macros is the care. It’s hard to give batches personal attention when everything can run on massive automated machines in batch sizes that eclipse what all of the RI brewers put together could make in a good week. But the smaller breweries make a better quality of beer because they care about the product that they are making, and want to create something interesting, tasty and unique. Sometimes this doesn’t work; everyone makes mistakes. But the effort is usually detectable even in beers that come out a little off, or sub-par. Even with sours, which I personally can’t stand, I can at least respect the work that went into the brew and the innovative spirit behind it.
  2. Is it unique or interesting? Most craft beers are completely unique, even when making the same style of beer. One person’s red ale will be totally different from another’s. Different grain bills, hop profiles, even different yeast and water ph can affect how a beer turns out in the end. So almost every craft beer is unique. However, sometimes you’ll find those craft beers that seem to lack inspiration. Much like the glass of bland I enjoyed, some beers just have flat, boring, simple flavor profiles that come out to either be inoffensive or genuinely sub-par.
  3. Does it need accessories? This one is fun to mention because it has always been a point of contention with me when a bartender drops a slice of lemon into a perfectly good hefeweizen. If the beer needs citrus fruit to taste good, it’s not a good beer. If the citrus fruit helps bring out a unique and interesting flavor, that’s fine. But I’ve never found an orange peel to make Belgian whites more palatable, and I shudder at those who insist upon it. Similarly, if a cinnamon-sugar rim is necessary to make me choke down one of those syrupy pumpkin ales, then I’m not tasting the beer anymore, am I? So what exactly is the point?
  4. Do I enjoy drinking it? This one seems simple to answer, but sometimes I can go through an entire pint of a specialty beer and still be unsure if I like it or not. It’s not necessary that I really like it for it to be a good beer, but generally if I don’t enjoy drinking it, then I’m far less inclined to order another. It seem obvious, but consider this: There are only a handful of beer styles I don’t like. Even those styles, I will give a fair chance to impress me. But at the end of the day, if I’m not enjoying a beer — if I’m simply sipping, analyzing and then choking it down — then I’m not enjoying myself. I’m tolerating something, like listening to a ranting conservative or patiently waiting for my coffee while someone demands a calorie count on a bacon donut. That’s not what I’m looking for in my beer. Generally, that’s the kind of thing that makes me want a beer.

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