The Meaning of Pure Beer

I recently ruffled some feathers over at Beer Advocate when I invoked class warfare by stating that anyone who spent $44 for a 22 ounce bottle of Goose Island Bourbon Stout was a fool. What the hell do I know? other than having a working class appreciation of this ancient beverage, I know nothing about matching cigars with beer. Cigars? Nicotine poison combined with liquid bread? Thanks but no thanks. Whether it is some successful business type cleverly able to manipulate the money supply, so they can live out La Dolce Vita, or Brooklyn brew master Garrett Oliver; if you think cigars and beer belong together, you are being an elitist snob, whether you care to admit it or not.
Beer Advocate as a web site has plenty of folks with all kinds of opinions, but to be honest, I really don’t belong there. What do I have in common with someone discussing the merits of purchasing a $100 bottle of twelve ounces of beer? Absolutely nothing. Despite the level headed approach employed by the two brothers who created the site, too often the members wander off into yuppie drivel, totally unconnected from beer’s historic implications. Their rational usually proceeds along these lines:
1. Craft beer good. Giant (macro) beer bad.
Never mind that there are plenty of so-called craft brewed beers that are actually lousy. I will not bother to name brands because a beer seeker can find this out themselves. What is important to this line of thinking is that beers that the craft beer crowd doesn’t care for, like adjunct grain pale lagers, are not only reviled but actually hated. What is even more strange is the people who complain about corn in beer, have no problem seeking out rare stouts stored in bourbon barrels. If I remember correctly, bourbon, is made of at least 51% corn.

Which leads me to being asked recently what is pure beer? Pure beer, in the Bavarian Purity Law sense, is beer made with four ingredients: barley malt, hops, yeast and water. A rigid criteria to be sure, and one that was all but abandoned when new world all grain versions of golden pilsener became the American standard, until folks like Fritz Maytag noticed that flavorful beer was almost completely lost, at least on the national front. Of course what followed was the so-called craft beer revolution, where emphasis was placed on the purity of the recipe, such as Samuel Adams lager being allowed to be sold in Germany as beer.
Well one thing led to another and pretty soon all kinds of styles were being given new world treatment: from India Pale Ale, to Russian Imperial Stout, to wassails brewed with nutmeg, cinnamon, and pumpkins. But the true meaning of pure beer remains the same, no matter what experimental brewers like Dogfish Head Brewery create.
Which is why I am surprised when a pure beer recipe is offered, is not often acknowledged, nor very well received. A case in point is Budweiser American Ale, the giant brewer’s pure beer take on American ale. A well made beer that has been given a short leash just because it is made by Anheuser-Busch. The very same indifference applied to when their Michelob brand reverted back to an all malt recipe. Remember: craft beer good, big beer bad.
Here in Southwest Ohio, the arrival of Hudepohl Amber Lager is hardly even acknowledged. A tribute to the non golden, non all grain beer made for the German immigrant population in the middle of the 19th century. It is straight forward, direct and good. The kind of beer made before golden lager took over the world. Modestly priced, the only elite factor is whether you know about it enough to seek it out. It certainly won’t increase your cachet with the crowd over on Beer Advocate.

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2 thoughts on “The Meaning of Pure Beer”

  1. Well written and direct…that will really get you thrown off the craft beer bandwagon. 🙂 I suppose I should try some American Ale from AB – though I don’t hold out high hopes…not because it is isn’t craft-brewed but mostly because the only thing I have ever liked from AB (short of Mich Light and Mich) is Landshark…everything else they have ever done and I have tried leaves me with the feeling of…I just spent $3 for that bottle of swill?

    Of course, this all begs the question – what happens when Boston Brewery hits that magic 2 million barrels mark and is no longer considered micro-brew/craft beer…do they get tossed under the bus?

  2. Well written. Although I may not entirely agree with you on “adjuncts.” Most Belgian beers are brewed with adjuncts. Historically, all beers were brewed with whatever you could find to make alcohol that would taste alright. Primarily, beer at this stage of its evolution is made for the enjoyment of life. If you like a giant bourbon aged beer with a cigar, that’s great (if you legitimately enjoy it.) Personally, I would rather have that bourbon beer with a well picked food item. I wouldn’t want the cigar smoke to ruin the flavor of my beer. And I’ve been guilty of complaining about corn in my lager, but only because I don’t care for the “twangy” taste. That’s not to say that I don’t like a nice, ice cold Miller High Life after I’ve had several tasty craft beers. Sometimes I just want a light, fizzy palette cleaner of a beer. So I prefer the rice adjunct lagers: Rainier and High Life. Like you, I tend to avoid the rating sites. My goal is to find new beers and give an honest impression without affixing a number to them. I think it’s time to put down my thoughts on adjuncts…post time!

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