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Aug 25, 2006 01:50 PM

The Three Stages of Beer Appreciation

To my observation there are several steps or stages that one goes through in their beer appreciation development. The first stage I call the adjunct lager stage. At the adjunct lager stage most of us are not drinking for taste but merely to get inebriated. I can’t imagine anyone savoring or anticipating a Coor’s, Miller or Budweiser. These beers provide a simple (i.e. tasteless) and affordable way to “get there”. Most American beer drinkers never leave this stage.
The second stage I call the Honey Brown stage. At this point the actual flavor of the beer (as well as the alcoholic affect) is taken into consideration. These beers are fairly obvious in flavor though (i.e. sugar) with little complexity. Brands of the kind include: Honey Brown, Killian’s Irish Red, Pete’s Wicked, etc). The key point here though is that the flavor isn’t an afterthought (as in stage one) but definitely anticipated, recognized and appreciated.
The third stage is the big one. I refer to this as the Sam Adams stage. If you can appreciate Sam Adams (or any other beer with significant hops) you have arrived. At this point you can approach and hopefully appreciate a wide variety of beer styles like IPA, German Pilsener, and other profound and “real” beers.

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  1. The fourth stage is Belgian trappist ale, Saison.

    The fifth is the IPA stage.

    Sixth is double IPA.

    Seventh is gueuze and traditional lambics.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Josh

      Ha! Agreed! Although I've dabbled in stage six I'll never truly own it.

    2. I think it's presumptuous to say that most adjunct-lager drinkers have a goal of getting a buzz. I might agree that such people don't challenge themselves, and miss out because of it, but I wouldn't presume to know why they consume what they do, nor the typical quantity consumed, which one would need to know before drawing such a conclusion.

      9 Replies
      1. re: Jim Dorsch

        It might be presumptuous for me to say "most" I agree. However I've yet to encounter an adjunct-lager drinker who comments on the flavor of his Bud or Coors (as he would about say his pizza, burger or wings), save the "thirst quenching" comment often heard after cutting grass in the summer heat (but what couldn't serve as thirst quenching then?). As for the quantity consumed why is this crowd so often appealed to with "25 cent Bud draft" nights at local establishments?

        1. re: Chinon00

          I've seen lots of folks get trashed at craft beer festivals, so I don't think this type of behavior is unique to BMC drinkers. But this is anecdotal rather than analytical, similar to what you've said above.

          1. re: Jim Dorsch

            That I do not doubt. I myself have been trashed at craft beer festivals. But wouldn't you agree that those who regularly drink adjunct lagers wouldn't be likely to invest the time and energy to attend said craft beer festival (except by happenstance)? We "chowhounds" (I believe) have a natural curiousity for new beer experiences that those stuck in the adjunct stage simply do not have.

            1. re: Chinon00

              Sure, I would agree, except to say that the chowhound may not have a 'natural' curiosity, but rather that curiosity might have developed over time.

              1. re: Chinon00

                Actually, I've run into plenty of people at beer festivals who were clearly not regular drinkers of craft or Belgian(-style) brews. These people seemed to view the fests as a way to get tore up on several types of high-ABV beer for "free," where free is the equivalent of a couple 30-racks of PBR. This is part of why I like going to the smaller Friday night sessions of the BeerAdvocate fests, but avoid the larger, more drunken crowds of the Saturday sessions.

            2. re: Chinon00

              I don't know why people insist that beers such as Bud, Coors, etc. do not have any flavor (tasteless). The craft brews, microbrews, imports, etc. have distinct flavors, but so do the macrobrew lagers - different flavors, but flavors nonetheless.

              Sure, you may not like the macrobrew flavor, but some folks do. I'm sure, or at least I assume, that it is simply a common (and tiring) exaggeration, but if some people cannot tell the difference between Bud and water, perhaps they should get their water systems tested.

              You may find it hard to believe, but there are actually many, many people who are financially able to purchase any beer that they wish, and usually choose an American lager simply because they generally prefer the taste to that of the other choices, many of which they have sampled.

              Now please excuse me while I adjourn to the kitchen for another Busch.

              1. re: SuzyInChains

                Well... the obvious reason that AML has no taste is that they have purposely bred the taste out of it, in order to satisfy (i.e., not offend) the largest number of people, and produce the maximum quantity of beer for the minimum price.

                Here's what Beer Advocate says:

                "Light bodied, pale, fizzy lagers made popular by the large macro-breweries of America after prohibition. Low bitterness, thin malts, and moderate alcohol. Focus is less on flavor and more on mass-production and consumption, cutting flavor and costs with adjunct cereal grains, like rice and corn."

                Of course, the standard Chowhound mantra applies - if you like it, it must be good. But many people liking it doesn't actually make it a good product, nor does it make it flavorful. Otherwise McDonald's would be the best and most flavorful hamburger in the world.

                I think that Chinon's original point is something that applies to food as well as beer. While I may not agree about the specific steps that people take to learn more about flavors, textures, and all the elements that add up to great food or beer, (because we all get there on different roads), it's nevertheless true that people with curiosity and the desire to discern the various qualities of what we put in our mouths, will try to learn about different and more complex flavors and textures. If you're satisfied with something that is not as flavorful, and you are not curious, or have no ability or simply have no desire to tell the difference and learn about new and more bold flavors, then, of course, that's your right - and it's right for you. But that doesn't mean that in fact, AML has lots of flavor.

                1. re: applehome

                  I believe you are making the common error that more flavor = better flavor. People with curiosity may try beers with more flavor or more complex flavors and decide that the different flavor of AML is what they prefer. Perhaps too much consumption of complex and heavily flavored beers deadens the tastebuds for the subtle flavors of AML.

            3. being a beer drinker for quite a few years now i must say that all so far mentioned stages and the stages to be mentioned forewith all have their appropriate times and places.

              1. Where does "adjunct" come from? I've seen ASL (American Standard Lager) and AML (American Macro Lager) regarding american mass-produced lagers, but I'm not sure I understand the use of "adjunct". Adjunct typically means an addition to or a non-essential aspect... and I guess I don't understand the intended meaning. Kinda like calling McD's adjunct hamburgers?

                As far as steps in beer appreciation, I'm sure there are a lot of different paths - not unlike the appreciation of foods. Personally, I could never drink more than a gulp of the Bud's and Schlitz's that my buddies always tried to treat me to in High School and College - and I certainly couldn't stand the Black label my father bought in quarts. I thought beer was horse-piss, and never actually wanted any.

                Then I got stationed in Germany. Hoh-boy...

                They delivered from the local hofbrau the same way we used to deliver milk here in the US. Put out the empties before you go to bed, and wake up the next morning to a full case sitting on your doorstep. This was stuff with flavor. This was stuff worth getting drunk for.

                Coming back in the mid-70's and looking for anything close - something, please! I had to settle for Lowenbrau export, maybe an occasional bottle of Dinkelacker at a "specialty" place... Honestly - you young'uns have no idea how bad it used to be.

                Today we have local fresh beer much like Germany. True, the majority of people in the US still have dormant taste buds, but really, that's true about food as well - many people eat at McD's and the other chains every single day of their lives. But if you are curious and need more than horse-piss to sate your buds, you don't have to fly to Germany.

                My sons have all started with the micro-brews and decent middle-size brewery products that I've had in my fridge for years. Like me, they never had the yearning for ASL/AML/Adjunct/large-production lagers (horse-piss is easier). We'll try anything - often going back to some favorites like stouts, lambics or heffeweizen. We don't always like everything. That's ok. But we're game to try anything - except horse-piss.

                2 Replies
                1. re: applehome

                  Adjunct typically means a non-malt cereal grain such as rice or corn.

                  1. re: Jim Dorsch

                    aha. Thanks for that. I see the usage under the AML definition in Beer Advocate.

                2. I think economics has a lot to do with it. In college (late 80s) I was drinking the junk beers (e.g. Mickey's Malt, National Bohemian, Genessee Cream Ale) purely for cost reasons.

                  At the same time, I had sampled Pilsner Urquell when visiting Hungary and it was my favorite beers. Dock Street in Philadelphia was another favorite. But I just couldn't afford them regularly, or I bought a case and hid it from people and drank it slowly.

                  Nowadays I can just pick a beer and it doesn't matter the cost, at least when sharing it with my wife or close friends rather than buying for 10-20 guests. A Cantillon Gueuze 25 oz for $10-15. Friends & I recently split & mixed 6 cases that rang up to $530. (e.g. Rochefort 8 was $170). But that will last for awhile & thoroughly enjoyed.