Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

July 1, 2009

Beer Diary:

Perfectly Good Beer

Although your local brew pub might not be the next great Midwest brewery, remember that it’s locally made and far better than industrial swill.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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Even when it comes to good things, it’s possible to take them too far.

Take, for instance, beer. (What did you think I was going to say? Jessica Alba?) On the site here, we fall over ourselves trying to heap praise on groundbreaking breweries like your Bells’, your New Glaruses, your Surlies, your Dark Horses. Just look at our 2009 Midwest Brewery Power Rankings, for Christ’s sake. But in our zeal for promoting breweries kicking out double IPAs, funky Belgian brews, and massive stouts, we don’t pay a lot of attention to your average, ordinary, run-of-the-mill brewery or local brew pub.

(But, mind you, just being able to utter the phrase “run-of-the-mill local brewery” says a lot about how far the American beer scene has come in the last 20 or 30 years.)

I think you probably have an idea of what kind of breweries I’m talking about. Chances are the brew pub down the road from your house or two towns over isn’t the next Founders or Three Floyds waiting to be discovered by the rest of the craft beer world (unless the brew pub down the road is Three Floyds or Founders, in which case, I assume you’re reading this on your laptop or phone or print out while sitting in the tap room enjoying some amazingly great beer). More likely, the craft brewery closest to you is one of those with a mostly static line up of beers that you would expect virtually every brewery to have: a light-ish lager or blonde/golden ale; an “all malt” amber; a Cascade-heavy pale ale; a brown ale; a slightly hoppy IPA; and a wheat brew in the summer and a stout in the winter.

Just being able to utter the phrase “run-of-the-mill local brewery” says a lot about how far the American beer scene has come in the last 20 or 30 years.
And sometimes, this seeming ignorance (i.e. the act of ignoring) on our part of these breweries and brew pubs may seem like we’re poo-pooing them by omission. Which, of course, is not at all what we’re trying to do. Because, frankly, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this beer. It’s what I like to call Perfectly Good Beer. Sure, none of it pushes boundary styles like a New Glarus Alt or challenges your palette the way a Founders Kentucky Breakfast Stout does. But it is locally made and in all likelihood far more flavorful and enjoyable than the industrial swill AB InBev and MillerCoors inflict on society.

Of course, this isn’t to say that all craft beer is good beer. I’ve had plenty of frickin’ awful beer at brew pubs. And I’m not saying you should drink skunk beer just because the brewery closest to you makes it. Bad beer is bad beer, locally made or not, and supporting the production of bad beer is just … well … stupid.

Plus, even though your closest brew pub might be making Perfectly Good Beer, it still might not come from the same aesthetic place as Dark Horse or Three Floyds or Surly, breweries—like a lot of the best Midwest craft breweries—that start with the concept of making freakishly good, wildly creative beer first and a profit second. Many a brew pub uses craft beer as nothing more than a gimmick to differentiate themselves from competing bars and restaurants. This includes chains like Granite City, Gordon Birsch, and, to a slightly lesser extent, Rock Bottom (which does let its brewmasters get quite creative at times).

Many a brew pub uses craft beer as nothing more than a gimmick to differentiate themselves from competing bars and restaurants.
While supporting places like this isn’t the Beer Dork ideal—especially the chains, whose absentee landlord bean counting has absolutely nothing to do with the making of quality beer—it is, again, Perfectly Good Beer, and better than a homogeneous landscape of tasteless light lagers and alcopops whose sole uniqueness is defined by their ad campaigns. And by turning our noses up at Perfectly Good Beer, not only would we be perpetuating an advanced form of snobbery that I’m not at all cool with, but we’d also be taking for granted the corner the beer culture in this country has turned.

The dream is—promise not to laugh—that the local brew pub of the future won’t be a gimmick to drum up business, but a rule of thumb. Every bar and restaurant in your neighborhood or town or township would have its own beer line up, the vast majority of them unchanging except for one or two seasonals, but each unique in its own way: maybe one place has a holiday bock made with locally tapped maple syrup, another place has a Trappist-like anniversary ale, yet another has a constantly barrel-aging stout that they add to the top and draw out from the bottom (which is such an insanely great idea that I sorely wish I had come up with it). And maybe the way to realize that dream—unless, of course, you think it’s equivalent to a cheesy-ass brain fart—would be to put that double IPA back in the beer fridge just for tonight and instead go out to the local brew pub down the street or the craft brewery two towns over whose selection, admittedly, never really blew your mind, and have a pint or two of Perfectly Good Beer.

Today is the feast day of St. Arnold, patron saint of beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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