Tasting American Beer

“Typical” American lager is not something I drink often anymore. Even at the ball park, you can usually get something a little more interesting than Bud, Miller or Coors, and I’ll usually search out something with more flavor. But, as a brewer, I appreciate the technical expertise that goes into making such a consistent beer without any big flavors to distract the consumer from any flaws that may be present. And, as my father’s son, a cold, cheap can of beer every once in a while is the epitome of refreshment.

A couple weeks ago, Ancillary Adams and his lovely fiance hosted a game night that also featured a blind tasting of what he calls “old man beers”. We received 8 samples of beer in clear plastic glasses and no way of knowing what we were tasting. I scored them on a rough 50 point scale, and here are the results, from worst to best.

8. O’Doul’s. Tasted like bad cardboard – 28.
7. Milwaukee’s Best Premium. Corn Tang – just not good – 28.
6. Miller High Life. Corn, and nothing else other than a sweet aftertaste – 34
5. Pabst Blue Ribbon. Chemical flavor, harsh – 34
4. Flying Dog Tire Biter Ale. An obvious “ringer”, this ale is a decent beer, but stood out as too big and citrusy for a tasting of American lagers – 38
3. Coors Original. Clean, basic, balanced flavor, with a touch of green apple (acetaldehyde) – 38
2. Boulevard Pilsner. Malty aroma, clean fermentation, touch of hop bitterness – 38
1. Schlitz. Some maltiness, but mostly just perfectly balanced – 42

Notice that we didn’t have any Anheuser-Busch products – as a native St. Louisan, it’s quite possible that I would have headed for the mountains of Busch beer, if offered the opportunity. The tasting showed a lot of variation in the brands, and I was genuinely impressed with the subtle grace of Schlitz and Boulevard Pilsner.

7 Responses to “Tasting American Beer”

  1. sam says:

    i can’t understand why schlitz can’t manage to put together decent distribution – i’ve found maybe three grocery stores in the new york city area that sell it (along with some other crazy northeast lawnmower beers).

    my new afterwork hang has $3 pbr tallboys and generous buybacks, so speaking from experience i’ve got to slightly dispute your ranking – try the taste test again after a dozen hours on your feet.

  2. Jim says:

    I think Sam makes a good point about the situation in which you are drinking these things. Most of these beers were not made for taste test. On the other hand, I greatly appreciate this effort. I can say with certainty that no one else at the tasting gave it this much thought!

  3. craig says:

    I have to disagree slightly. While Schlitz isn’t exactly sewer water, it isn’t any better than a Michelob or Bud Select, while Bully Pilsner is definitely better. And if I am going to drink an “old man beer” I don’t want to pay a premium beer price, which is what Schlitz is charging. Not quite the beer man that you are Dan, but being an old country boy, I think I may know more about cheap beer than you.

  4. gonemild says:

    Craig & Sam – The taste-test was limited to what it was, and my results were only my own. Others disagreed – one friend even picked O’Doul’s as his favorite (but he is the guy who puts ice in Bud Light). It would have been interesting to see how some Anheuser Busch products placed. And price was certainly not a factor in the tasting. Is Schlitz really more expensive than Boulevard Pilsner? I’d tend to buy the home-town product, even if that’s not correct.

  5. craig says:

    I bought a sixer of Schlitz just to see what it was like a few months ago and it was $7, just bought a 12 of Boulevard Pilsner for about $10 ((I think).

  6. gonemild says:

    As Sam hints, and I agree, there’s a lot more to picking a beer than how it compares to others of its kind in a single side-by-side taste test, and as you point out, price is certainly part of it. And, when you think about it, most of the time you’re drinking typical American lager, you’re not focusing on flavor nuances; the flavor is ancillary to some other experience. And, with such a mild-flavored beer, it would be wrong to ignore the accompanying food. We had this taste-test with Ancillary Adams’ awesome lentil-sausage soup; a greasy burger or a pepperoni pizza may have complemented one of the other brands better.

    If you want American lager, go for Boulevard Pilsner. It’s (at least) one of the best, and you’re supporting local brewers.

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