So much is written about the latest craft (that silly word again) brewed creations, from an upstart brewery. Understandably in their zeal to indent their brand presence in the very competitive market, they sometimes appear to have reinvented the wheel, at least to themselves and their devoted followers. But very little is written about that marketing tier that distributors call value beers, or to put it more bluntly, beers for people who do not have much money.
This is one of the blessings and curses of the beer world extending its reach through the Internet. A kind of consumerist tribalism has broken out that completely ignores the economic realities facing a significant portion of Americans who simply can not afford expensive artisan creations.
There is very little song for the common people in the beer world being created by the millennial generation. Even the expansion of market share for craft brewed creations, so highly touted, does not address the fact that those mainstream adjunct beers so demonized by their craft beer brethren have become quite expensive, in light of global consolidation. This becomes a challenge for the millions of low paid workers who are thirsty at the end of a day, and can not find comfort in quenching that thirst with those high fructose corn syrup creations known as soda pop. So in this guide to value beer, I have concentrated on the beers considered to be value beers and not such famous names as Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, or that famous American diet beer known as Miller Lite.
Genesee Cream Ale An inexpensive hybrid style that decades ago won a gold medal at the Great American Beer festival. Rochester, New York’s most famous brand.
Milwaukee’s Best Ice Affectionately referred to as “the beast” by construction workers. This is one of those boring recipes that will never go away.
Busch BeerThe budget beer from Budweiser that uses corn in the recipe. This beloved swill of millions has seen a price increase due to A-B InBev consolidation.
Miller High LifeBritish beer writer David Kenning described this as “soft, sweet, malty aromas on the nose” and “slightly creamy texture on the palate balanced with a moderate hop bitterness”. Other than the beloved television ads produced with the late Windell Middlebrooks. This once flagship brand has become almost an afterthought in SAB-Miller marketing plans.
Hudepohl Amber LagerProbably the best value at $1 a 16 ounce can. This is the only all malt recipe available in value beer. A throwback to an earlier time, producing the kind of lager that was made before adjunct grains
First to some good news on the macro beer front. Newcastle Brown Ale will no longer be brewed using caramel color. Removal of 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MEI, is Heineken Brewing’s way to address the health concerns over this chemical. So instead of a chemical enhancement, Newcastle will now be a brown ale whose color is achieved through careful roasting of malts. Fancy that.
Winter in the Midwest, like much of the United States, has been especially brutal this year. As someone who has found the comfort of malts to be most certainly in order for this time of year, I found myself in somewhat of a conflict with all the sessionable IPA making the rounds. The question is, why in the world would I want to drink bitter beer when it is already bitter cold? But that did not stop me from trying to understand.
To start things off, there is this beer that sounds like an invention of Lewis Carrol:
Smutttynose Bouncy House IPA A session IPA (at 4.4%) that is slated to be the all occasion American ale. Which I guess is true if you like hop-forward beer all the time. But at $10 for 6 bottles that session is going to be removed from the value beer category, which traditionally was what slamming a few beers was all about. Getting you to drink more beer is what all breweries have in common. Responsibly they say, but still more.
The corporate schizophrenia of global A-B InBev is a prime example. Now television sports viewers are told that Budweiser’s golden suds are “brewed the hard way”, not for fussy peach pumpkin ale drinkers, but for people who like to drink beer (the slammer, also known as, the pounder, etc.) And there is little need to detail their forays into the so-called craft arena. Of more interest to me was the introduction of Busch Signature Copper Lager to the value beer tier. Oddly, the hard core Busch drinkers, the kind who buy a suitcase (30 beers) at a time are rather indifferent to Copper Lager. The fact that it is 5.7% and actually has flavor from toasted malts does not seem to be of interest them. Oddly, Signature Copper Lager is not even mentioned on the main Busch beer website.Value beer drinkers have loyalty to their favorite brands, which brings up the point that hardly anyone discusses what value beer means in America. For the majority of Americans who work for very low wages, the idea of beer being an affordable luxury is becoming an anachronism. Just think of it: you will have to work over an hour at Walmart, just so you can buy a six pack of Bouncy House. Oh and by the way, as far as bang for the buck, Bouncy House has the same amount of alcohol as regular Busch.
On to other matters, the hop obsession continues unabated. Sierra Nevada Hop Hunter IPA is said to be the first beer using hop oil steam distilled directly in the field. This is suppose to enable the wet hop taste of harvest ales throughout the year. What I find here is a pleasant contribution to the IPA style, with plenty of floral aromatics to keep the bitterness in check.
Locally, Christian Moerlein Handle Bar Double Stout is a proper winter prescription for the beer doctor.From their limited release can series, Handle Bar is a very tasty imperial stout, with deep roasted flavors and plenty of body. Perhaps not great but quite good.
Also locally, there is Rhinegeist Mosaic Pale Ale, a tribute to the flavor complexity of a single hop. Mosaic (HBC 369) is a 21st century creation, said to be a daughter of Simcoe hops. It is wonderfully aromatic with a very long finish, full of botanical complexity. I just wish this had more malt. But that is my own personal concern.