I was recently out at a bar where the mass light lager trend prevails. However, noted a few lone soldier independent full flavor bottles of ale sitting in a tub of ice behind the bar. Now, I’ve been at this game for a good while, and I can usually identify a bottle without having to actually read the label, but this time maybe the light was too low, maybe I had imbibed one or 4 before this establishment, or maybe I was just too lazy. I couldn’t identify every bottle in the cooler. I was forced to ask the helpful bar hand, “What good beer do you have behind that bar?” I immediately regretted my wording. What the hell is “good beer.” What does that even mean? Ugh… Here we go.
I intended my phrasing of “good beer” to mean of a craft non-mass produced rice and corn adjunct beer, maybe of a local ilk. But how was the bar tender to know that? Everyone drinks their swill of choice for a reason. To plenty of hard working, salt of the earth folk, the light lager is very good beer. To some, good beer is only that which comes out of a rare 750ml bottle. However, I have noticed a distinct trend rising among beer drinkers. To the newly initiated beer drinker, more often than not, “good beer” is high ABV beer. This is exactly what this bar tender assumed.
I asked for “good beer” so I must mean the highest ABV he can find. The bar tender slowly removed about 8 different brands of recognizable and acceptable alternatives to the mass light lagers. However, he only offered two choices. Both double IPAs in the 8% to 9% ABV range. As I previously stated, I may or may not have imbibed 2 or 4 brews before arriving at this particular moment in time. I was not prepared to engage a big beer with a substantial kick for my rear end. I was prepared to sip on a brew, maybe even the same beer for the rest of the night, but I wanted to make it the rest of the night. Not have to make the early call due to a spinning room.
I’m not sure why, but more and more, I see this occurring. From what I’m offered at a bar, to discussions on beer forums, to what’s reviewed in literature, I see that everything that is highly venerated as “good beer” is high ABV. Why can’t the average 5-6% ABV be considered note worthy? When did beer get to be a big swinging hot dog contest of extremes? I for one will always stand by a well done, low to mid ABV, Pale Ale over a huge blown out Belgian or Stout that I can only get through 4 ounces. Not that these big beers don’t have their place. I enjoy sharing and sipping on a rare 750 ml bottle smuggled into the state by a helpful friend. But I also enjoy spending an entire night with my friends sharing and talking beer, which can become a challenge if everything “GOOD”, will knock me on my ass.
Even as a brewer, I will occasionally find myself trying to push my gravities higher and even neglecting to brew the sub 1.05 SG beers. Like there is something wrong with them or they are less challenging or fun. How absurd! In my head, I know that little session beer is much more challenging to balance. I know that it is harder to brew with restraint and refinement than it is to go balls-to-the-wall. I know this, man! I just need to remind myself to respect the science and art of it all and have fun. It’s not a pissing contest.
So all I ask is that next time someone asks, “What good beer do you have?” consider the audience and that even the lowly session beer at 3% ABV can be a great beer and an evening maker. That simple Pale Ale can be great beer. All beer deserves respect if done with care and by hand. And let’s spend some time redefining our vocabulary towards beer. I, for one, am swearing off the phrase “good beer.” Beer is good and therefore good is beer… I need to start using my words better. And finally, speak about beer with the restraint it takes to brew it. Respect it. It’s not a contest, it’s a craft.