Good Beer Bad Beer
Good beer and Bad Beer ....... Somewhat subjective ?
Let me start by saying "If you like it drink it and if you don't don't"
Just because you don't like a beer doesn't mean its not a good beer, it just means you don't like it, and conversely just because you do doesn't make it a good beer. It's a matter of your personal taste and where would the world be if we all liked the same thing. This little rant isn't about what I like or what you like but what makes a beer a beer good or bad and its all about quality.
First up consistency. Let me begin by saying consistency, repeatedly delivering the same thing is good and many people like to know that the beer they bought last week still tastes the same. But it's not the be all and end all.
For the small brewer, brewing in small batches, manually controlling the brewing process achieving a consistent beer (the same every batch) is HARD, and virtually impossible. They do try, with great effort, if repeatedly brewing the same beer, to get it to taste look and smell and feel the same each time. It will vary, but that's not a bad thing. Variation in the finished product helps them learn what the process gives. It adds a sense of craft to the product, after all how often have you cooked the same recipe for a chilli and it be identical to the last time? Be honest now, it's never perfectly the same, and that's because the ingredients themselves vary, slightly hotter a chilli, slightly less fat in the beef, slightly different natural sweetness in the onions. That's what the small batch producer is contending with to achieve a consistent product, the malt sugars vary, the hop oils and bitterness in them vary, they're all natural products, and so the finished product will vary, in the same way the shape of an artisan sourdough loaf will look different one, to the next. However inconsistency for the small brewer has limits of acceptability. You can't produce a beer with 35 International Bitterness Units (IBU) in one batch and 45 IBU in the next, you'd notice that difference from a mile away, this would be a bad beer.
For the Large producer, they can have more control over these varying elements, simply because they have huge amounts of analysis they can throw into the process, they can assess the sugar in the grain so that the same amount of sugar per litre appears in the liquid they ferment, The same amount of Alpha acids are introduced from the hops, and the water is chemically analysed and have precisely the same parts per million of calcium in the brewing water and so on... This leads to a perfectly consistent batch of beer every time. This is good because we know exactly what to expect when we by one of the big boys finest lager.
However, the argument presents itself about character, this in depth analysis and perfect consistency could be argued to be a lack of character. I say this isn't true. It has the character that the brewer wants, and just because you think the product is boring, doesn't make it bad, it's just consistent.
Perfect consistency alone doesn't make for a good beer though. There are some poor beers out there, consistent though they may be, are truly simply awful. They shall remain nameless, and are for you to decide on. They are lack flavour, or mouth feel, or are alcohol for the sake of it, or have artificial additives and do no one any favours. These are BAD BEERS.
What I'm not saying is Four legs (or wings) good two legs bad. Big can be beautiful and small can be horrible. Some big producers produce some great beers and some small producers terrible ones. A beer that consistently few like is not good for anyone, and there have been small breweries that produce a range of beers that frankly stank, both literally and metaphorically. For small producers that do this they disappear, Big boys have however have rafts of brands that sell and they can just withdraw quietly the ones that don't.
Ingredients maketh the beer! Good quality ingredients are the key to any good quality food, no less so in beer. Cheap ingredients means cheap beer, great for profit, bad for the consumer, enough said. For many a consumer it often difficult to tell the difference. But that's about educating a pallet and not about the beer itself.
The brewers own taste, in small breweries this makes the difference, a brewer will brew what they think tastes good, and if his customers generally agree (even if its a relatively small market sector) happy days, and the beer will generally be good.
In larger and very large concerns, the marketing and accountants have more of a say. A really expensive beer to produce may not get to market, simply because of that and the accountants don't like the slim margins, or it wont fit a marketing profile. A less costly beer may well be great, but still not meet with the marketing teams direction for the company. Having got there through the long and tortuous process and a beer emerges it may well be a quality product well produced and be a good beer.
But NO ONE gets it right all the time.
The last point on the production side is this. If someone really cares about what they do, every time they do it, it's more likely to be a good beer! Care (love if you will) for the product shows. If the producer is only interested in the profit they can make it will almost certainly result in corner cutting and cost cutting. The result is a bad beer.
So the brewer has produced a high quality product, a beer that tastes great, and people like when they try it out on a few punters. Then comes the venue serving the beer. This is a bit unfair to say a beer is bad because a pub landlord doesn't give a damn about his cleanliness, or cant nurse a cask ale to the proper condition. Nevertheless at the end of the day it's the customer's experience of a beer; and if it's not looked after, it may well be their last, even for a great beer. For the big guys, this isn't much of a problem, they have lots of venues, and it may not impact the beers overall effect in the market (its very big after all). For a very small producer the reality is somewhat different. They have limited outlets that will take their beers and can't afford to be too picky about who they sell it to, especially if it's via a distributor. A good beer's death nell in an area can be signed by one bad landlord. Bear that in mind, be picky about where you drink, and even if you thought the beer was bad in one location, firstly tell the landlord, and secondly give it another chance somewhere else.
I've gone on too long, there's lots more I could rant about, but I'll save that for another time.