Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

September 17, 2012

Beer Diary:

We’ve Got The Power

Devotees of small, independent breweries can help shape the quality of craft beer.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
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So I made a dumb mistake the other day.

It all started when I was bombing around the countryside and stopped at a semi-new brewpub about an hour or so from my home of record. (The Gremlin, by the way, has sadly passed on to that great parking lot in the sky. Now I’m forced to drive my cousin’s old conversion van with a peeling, sun-faded Boris Vallejo fantasy painting on the side. There’s a lot more room for beer in the back but the gas mileage sucks and random passing motorists give me the finger for no apparent reason, other than the fact that I’m driving a conversion van with a dragon and half-naked woman painted on the side.) I’d been there once or twice before and the beer list was constantly rotating, spanning a spectrum of styles, and I thought I’d check in to see what was new.

It was late on a Friday night and the crowd was fairly sparse. I scanned the rather large brew list and was leaning toward something light, it being late and me being full from dinner. I opted for their ESB and settled into a stool toward the end of the bar with my pint. I must have been distracted, because I don’t remember giving the beer a good sniff, which I almost always, maybe even subconsciously, do. So that first sip hit me from out of left field. It tasted like someone had filled the glass half full with apple juice before topping it off with beer. This was not what an ESB—or any well-brewed beer, for that matter—should taste like.

I inherently feel bad sending back a beer at a new, presumably still struggling, brewery.
In fact, notes of green apple in beer are a distinct and usually obvious flaw. The culprit is acetyldehyde, a chemical normally produced during the brewing process and which usually converts out in the latter stages of fermentation. However, if you have poor/unhealthy yeast, serve the beer too “young” (not letting the fermentation process fully complete, usually in high alcohol beers), or have certain types of bacterial infection, that off flavor will make it into the finished product. Lord knows I’ve detected it in my home brew on more than one occasion. But this was beyond anything I’d tasted before. It wasn’t just flawed. It was downright undrinkable.

Now I’m getting to my dumb mistake: I didn’t say anything to my server. Part of my reasoning was my server, who appeared to be the only one working at that time of night, looked like she was about fourteen years old and probably didn’t have a strong knowledge of the beers they served. (I could’ve been wrong. Maybe she knew her stuff. Another ramification of my mistake.) Also, I inherently feel bad sending back a beer at a new, presumably still struggling, brewery. I want them to succeed, which is tough if they’re comping patrons beers to make up for a bad batch.

I’ve been told by more than a few bartenders that I don’t know what the Hell I’m talking about …
But, it was a major mistake on my part nonetheless. Not because I got stuck paying good money for a bad beer. I’ve said before that suffering through a skunked beer once in a great while is a sacrifice I’m willing to make in order to enjoy a variety of craft beer. No, I should have spoken up because of the folks that might be coming into the brewpub the next couple of nights. As craft beer becomes more popular, consumers without a beer dork background are sampling these new beers in larger numbers, and most of them aren’t going to know what an ESB is supposed to taste like. So if they came across an extremely flawed beer like I did, they’re going to come away thinking either craft beer tastes awful or that an ESB is supposed to taste like crab apples.

So from now on I’m going to politely and quietly point out an egregious flaw in a beer when I encounter it, whether I’m at a fledgling brewpub or an established, well known brewery. It may very well not have any effect—I’ve been told by more than a few bartenders that I don’t know what the Hell I’m talking about—but it’s our responsibility as beer dorks to cajole and encourage craft brewers to make quality, flavorful, and creative beer—the stuff we want to drink. And as fans of small, independent breweries, we have that power.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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