Standing in a brewery tasting room, a mine friend held his beer at arm’s length, looking about as interested in it as if someone had just cornered him with a thirty minute story of the best turkey sandwich they’d ever had. After another long, mostly disinterested look at the beer, my friend summarized, wearily: “I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it”, looking in the general direction of his glass. “It’s a clean fermentation….it just….”, his thought tailed off, ending not with words but with a shrug, a slow tilt of the head, and a look of wholehearted indifference on his face. The beer, as many can be these days, was instantly forgettable.
My friend’s point was simple. There was nothing wrong with the beer, really, in that it didn’t suffer from any off flavors from a brewing that didn’t go as planned. It hadn’t soured, it wasn’t oxidized, and it wasn’t ailing from any other weakness as a result of how it was made. From an overall standpoint, the beer was simply unremarkable. Any effort to break it down to specifics, if the beer had inspired such a crusade, would’ve probably boiled down to simply calling it a mess, taste wise. It is an experience that many would say happens far, far too often these days. Individual favorites, situational beers, and even the mildest cases of homer-ism aside, the glut of beers out there being created by the multitude of breweries that have jumped on the craft beer bus has resulted in an ocean full of one dimensional beers which have hardly anything to truly hang their hat on.
There are many who would try to toss this argument out on the technicality of personal preference. One person’s favorite IPA is another’s too bitter drain pour, live and let live, on and on. I’d counter by asking for a dose of honesty and a look in the mirror. Yes, there are beers we all drink but also will readily admit aren’t top shelf because they are easy to acquire, or they remind us of a certain time or place, whatever. But chances are, these preferential beers are are still solid offerings, in that maybe they do just the one thing, but they do that one thing very well. So I’m not talking – necessarily – about personal favorites. I’m talking about beers that offer hardly any redeeming quality, and are less than simple. Forget nuance, they seem to lack the care or concern to truly champion even one characteristic, and none of it really stands out or much less works all that well together. All it likely does is make you think about – and want – a better beer.
Unfortunately, you might not recognize the bar such beers set if you haven’t actually had them. Experience in tasting some of the better beers out there plays so much of a part in all this, and while at worst that can seem a bit snobbish, and the least simply unfortunate, I can’t think of a better way to put it. Hopefully, you’ll take the time to seek out beers that set a high standard. Something better is always out there, truly, either from nationally distributed breweries, or if you’re fortunate, from the breweries located in your own backyard.
Oh, and about that. Hopefully, your local breweries really know what they’re doing. But at least from a standpoint of their overall selection, they may not, so while we’re talking honestly about wholly unremarkable beers, let’s also mention the crime in blindly carrying the flag for the local breweries that may be making them, simply because they’re located down the street. When I first got into “craft” beer, the “Support Your Local Brewery” idea seemed so incredibly virtuous. To a degree, it still is. But if the beers aren’t good, they aren’t good. No one should be let off the hook for making some aimless mess of an IPA just because they share the same zip code with you. So ditch the empty homer love for the brewery around the corner if the beer isn’t up to par.
Is every brewery out there is going to nail every beer in terms of making them memorable? Of course not. But out of a handful of beers – whether it’s the brewery’s initial line up, current line up, or what have you, you’d hope for one that you wouldn’t mind having again. I also get that not every good beer is a monster of flavor, so let’s not go there. Well made beer ranges from low key sorts of characters that succeed by walking along razor thin edges where one slip would’ve meant being too this or too that, to those complex, palate numbing beasts that many of us know and love.
Either way, we should all expect nothing less than good, memorable beer.