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Dec 27, 2010 08:37 AM

Some of Today's "Craft" Beers are Pretty Questionable (Split off of PBR Thread)

PBR is a throwback _brand_, but certainly a different beer than it was even 35-40 years ago. As yellow water beers go, it still isn't half bad.

As much as I appreciate what the beer 'revolution' has brought in terms of bringing a bit more character to beer, I think the 'backlash' idea has validity too. With so many new brewers entering the marketplace, a lot of what's coming out of the so called "craft" scene these days is pretty questionable. It wouldn't surprise me at all if more of the old 'legacy' brands make a bit of a comeback...especially if the old brands are reintroduced to better reflect what they tasted like 50 or more years ago.
Some of them (PBR among them) were not nearly as bad as the "craft" industry hype machine would have folks believe...

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  1. Curious what you mean by " lot of what's coming out of the so called 'craft' scene these days is pretty questionable" as I probably would disagree with you on that point.

    18 Replies
      1. re: kedbro

        For example? I dont find "a lot" of "craft" beer to be "really bad" myself. Just so much of it is just more of the same and doesnt really excite me anymore. But bad? Maybe in the 90's there was a glut of poorly made beer being marketed as craft beer. But todays craft beer I find to be pretty good overall. Theres always a few clunkers in there but with competition for shelf space the way it is these days its hard for a truly bad "craft" beer to survive or even get a shot in retail stores now.

        1. re: Insidious Rex

          I think the point being made is that "craft beer" is no longer a tiny little niche, and just because something is "craft" doesn't mean that it is necessarily good.

          Look at it this way (I'm making up all of these numbers for effect):

          Suppose 15 years ago there were 10 craft breweries, but because it was such an artisanal/niche thing, 9 of them were good. Now suppose today there are 500 craft breweries, but because more less-dedicated/less-skilled people got into the game, only 300 of them are good. With something like that, it's easy to for lesser quality craft beer to exist.

          As for your notion that it's difficult to survive, I disagree. Even in the craft world, marketing rules. It seems as if many craft breweries are either realizing that the real money is in marketing & catering more to the masses or they're simply starting out that way. I view Magic Hat in this category (I personally say they're the former, others the latter) - mind you I actually drink a lot of MH (then again, I drink a lot of BMC too), but they're certainly not what I have in mind when I talk about good craft beers ... yet they're wildly popular around here.

          1. re: jgg13

            Well you may remember that in the early 90’s there was a first craft beer wave that did well for a while then receded because LOTS of people with little knowledge and little passion for brewing got into the business thinking its easy to make beer and they could make a quick buck. And many of these beers were poorly made and tasted that way. And when I say they were bad I mean they were actually in the hard to finish/turns your stomach category. And popular sentiment for “micro” beer rescinded because of that and most of the bad places went out of business as people turned their back on the micro industry in general and went back to their macro beer or maybe Sam Adams and such. The second craft boom that we are still seeing today was a better one and it has sustained itself and actually grown during rough economic times because of that. Most of the product has been quality and made by people who love to brew and have some basic concept of what they are doing. In my opinion there are just too many GOOD choices out there to complain about the general quality of “craft beer”. If you don’t like Beer X well let me recommend several dozen others…

            And I agree with you that marketing can be important. But I dont agree that it rules. Not in the microbrewery industry. Theres so much product out there now and only so much shelf space. In order to compete in this industry now you need to have quality product. And marketing will never make up for bad product (on the micro level). The best breweries in the country do little if any marketing yet they cant sell their beer fast enough. Ask Russian River or Three Floyds how important marketing is. I don’t even think they have marketing departments. But people know their beer is excellent and because of that people buy it as fast as they can brew it. Magic Hat makes some decent beers and I certainly agree with you that they are worth drinking (I recall enjoying their Hex or whatever their Oktoberfest was this year). You may be seeing more marketing from them because they were recently purchased by North American Breweries who also owns Pyramid and a bunch of macro beers and swill breweries (Genessee and Dundee I think). We will see if this impacts the quality of their beer. Hopefully not. But I don’t think you can make a rule about craft beer because a few get bought by profit driven corporations. Theres still way too much good stuff out there than we can possibly hope to all try. You may see Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams commercials out there but they are running those in the hopes of increasing their penetration in the macro drinking crowd. Not to win over a little more of the 6% of the beer drinking public that considers themselves “craft beer” drinkers. The market is still too small to put real marketing money into otherwise.

            I guess Im just dubious when someone says theres “lots” of “really bad” beers in the craft beer niche. Im curious to know which ones they mean. Because when Ive heard that before it usually boils down to I don’t like anything unless its really hoppy. Or I don’t like anything too hoppy. Or something specifically related to taste rather then quality. These days I rarely try a "new" craft beer and find it badly made. Some are slightly out of balance, some don't meet my flavor and style preferences, but rarely are they badly made.

            1. re: Insidious Rex

              I can't speak for the other posters, but I'll put it this way. There are all sorts of craft beers out on the market which find themselves in a price/performance category such that I'm unwilling to partake. By that I mean for the relative improvement over the cheaper beers, I'm unwilling to spend the price difference. I say this as someone who just spent $40 on a bottle, so it isn't as if I'm one of those people who are always whining about the cost of craft beer - most of the stuff I'm talking about are on the lower price end of craft anyways.

              1. re: Insidious Rex

                An excellent post by Insidious Rex.

                I would add that in North Carolina, where I live, there are now about 50 craft breweries/brewpubs. Several of them have achieved national recognition in the beer community (Foothills, Duck Rabbit and Olde Hickory, to name a few), several of them are not very good, but most of them serve decent beer to a regional market. Many of them are becoming increasingly innovative (Mother Earth) and some are doing some very interesting things with regionally focused ingredients (Fullsteam).

                I could make similar arguments for just about every state in the country. It is a fabulous time to have an interest in craft beer,.

                1. re: Insidious Rex

                  "You may be seeing more marketing from them because they were recently purchased by North American Breweries who also owns Pyramid and a bunch of macro beers and swill breweries (Genessee and Dundee I think)."

                  A bit distorted take on recent brewery history.

                  North American Breweries is a relatively new company, which bought 1 brewery - Genesee [which went by the High Falls name for awhile]. One of Genesee's brands is Dundee. NAB also bought the rights to import Labatt. Genesee does a lot of contract brewing (supermarket brands, private labels and, previously, for Boston Beer Co. for many years) but they don't own the labels.

                  Magic Hat bought Pyramid and formed a company called Independent Breweries United [IBU] and apparently ran into financial difficulties soon after.

                  NAB bought IBU.

                  If anything, Magic Hat/IBU has been a lot more aggressive a marketer than NAB has proven to be so far during it's relatively short existence. In my area, where Genesee was once a big seller, their brands are all but nonexistant- in either on- or off-premise locations. Magic Hat's #9, OTOH, is probably the most commonly found "craft" beer on tap after the various Samuel Adams' brands.

                  1. re: JessKidden

                    IIRC the problem with IBU had to do with the financial health of the fund that had a big piece of it.

                    From what I've seen, NAB intends to let Magic Hat be Magic Hat, and doesn't intend to mess with stuff that ain't broke. Looks to me like Pyramid is the one that needs some attention.

                    NAB seems to be focusing on building a nice portfolio of beer properties in various segments, and doesn't seem to be in this just for the bucks.

                    1. re: Jim Dorsch

                      Yeah, the entry of NAB into the business (after 30-40 years of watching companies exit the industry) was an interesting recent twist in an era of a lot of rapid changes in the US (Molson/Coors, SAB/Miller, A-B/InBev, and finally Miller/Coors in the US). Their picking up Labatt for the US market at the same time as the Genesee purchase and then, later, going with Molson to brew it only added to the "strange bedfellows" of it all.

                      The very fact that KPS named the company "North American Breweries" sure suggested that they had big plans. Jim Koch for one didn't think Genesee/High Falls was only a "swill" brewery, since he made Samuel Adams Boston Lager under contract there for many years, up until recently when he got the eastern PA BBC brewery up and running. ( I think there's some legal action between the two companies over the contract- mentioned in the BBC Annual Report- perhaps KPS-NAB wasn't happy with the deal.)

                      IBU's lack of funds may be why they didn't expand the distribution of their two main brands to the opposite coasts- I thought we'd be seeing Pyramid in the East but when I asked a Magic Hat rep about it, he acted like I knew some big secret.

                      1. re: JessKidden

                        re: Sam Adams being brewed at Genny - in college we used to joke that Genny was whatever they mopped up off the floor after brewing the sam :)

                        1. re: JessKidden

                          Clearly, any large "swill" (a term I've never liked) brewery is capable of brewing technically sound beer, and furthermore, BBCo personnel are quite involved in the brewing of their beers, wherever that may be.

                          We've had Pyramid in NoVA for many years, but it was never supported by sales people, just shipped out here and left for the wholesaler to sell.

                          My take on the title of this thread: There are many new breweries open or in planning, and they seem to be run by people who understand the game, unlike the fast-buck types in the '90s. Quality is quite good for the most part, and curiously, much of the fastest growth in craft beer is in high-priced specialty releases.

                            1. re: Jim Dorsch

                              I still miss Pyramid Pale. When served fresh and at the right temp, it was one of the best pale ale on the market. Too bad Pyramid lost their way....

                      2. re: Insidious Rex

                        I can assure you that I don't say there's lots of bad beer out there because I only like hoppy beers - I love all beer, and I drink a lot of it. And I certainly didn't mean to imply the craft scene is at all bad, much to the contrary. And again, I agree there is more out there to try than I can ever hope to.

                        However, I think jgg13 put it well above: just because it's craft doesn't mean its good. There is a lot of craft brewing out there, and a lot of it is coming from new establishments. Just as an example, take the two major beer festivals I attended last year: the Oregon Brewer's Festival and the NA Organic Brewer's Festival. Both festivals represented a large number of breweries of various sizes. Looking back at my notes from the two festivals,

                        Boulder Beer Kinda Blue (blueberry beer)
                        Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA
                        Eel River Acai Wheat
                        Natian Destination (honey)
                        Ninkasi Maiden the Shade IPA

                        Captured by Porches Invasive Species IPA
                        Fort George Quick Wit
                        Laht Neppur Strawberry Cream Ale
                        Uncommon Brewers Bacon Brown and Siamese Twin dubbel

                        All beers I was displeased with over the course of the two days of tasting - many from quite good breweries, a few from breweries I've never had good luck with. Of course, I drank lots of solid beer and a couple of amazing beers over the course of two festivals. But there are a lot of beers out there that are definitely not worth buying, and there are plenty of breweries (usually more local ones) that aren't worth buying.

                        1. re: kedbro

                          kedbro I agree with you. I've noticed recently that a few retailers where I live have started to carry a number of craft beers which previously haven't been available in this area. Some are from newer breweries, some are from established breweries which up to this point just didn't ship here. Now, I'm all for having choices. That's what life is all about but...

                          What I've been finding out is that very few of these beers lately have turned out to be ones I'd ever consider purchasing again. Most have been truly disappointing. Some have been just awful to the point where I couldn't imagine how anyone would consider them to be good enough to actually bottle and expect people to pay for them. Even to the point where I honestly believe that someone with zero prior experience could go buy a cheap home brew kit and on their first try concoct better beers than these.

                          Certainly their have been some beers which I'd consider purchasing again, but these have been few and far between. There are a good number of excellent beers available, but it seems like lately the market has been flooded with a lot of mediocre to poor beers from upstart breweries. It makes me wonder if a lot of beer buyers might decide to try a "craft" beer for the first time and, without knowing any better, stumble upon some of these lousy beers and get turned off to the whole world of craft beers altogether. Certainly every brewer isn't going to be a Russian River or a Närke, but still I've always been more of a quality over quantity sort of guy and lately (at least in my experiences) the poorer beers have been outnumbering the better ones by a wide margin.

                          By the way, I do indeed try as many new beers (of all styles) as possible, both here in the US and abroad. Got back from Germany and Belgium a few months ago and one of my stops was the fantastic Borefts beer festival in Bodegraven, Netherlands. So many stunning quality beers available and not really a clunker in the bunch.

                          1. re: Whisper

                            I think we're seeing a return of the '90s, where a lot of hobbyists with friends who don't know good beer are taking a risk at opening small brewing operations. I recently visited one in So Cal that had truly horrible beer, across the board - and they had customers coming in for growler fills!

                            1. re: Josh

                              That could very well be a reason for the number of subpar beers out there. Certainly it's nice to see people try their hand at brewing, and as most of us know it's not an easy thing to do to come up with a consistent (and consistently good) line of beers.

                              I've always tried to support the smaller brewers, that's one of the reasons I try as many new brews as possible. Unfortunately something however they miss the mark. There's a local brewer who opened up about a year and a half or so ago here in Vegas, and I've tried about a half dozen different beers of theirs since then, both in bottle and on tap. The beers have been uniformly bad. A friend of mine used to run the beer department at one of the local Whole Foods here and said he actually felt guilty about carrying these beers.

                              In the past year I've tried at least 100 beers (and that's a very conservative estimate) which were new to me, or new altogether. About half of these were at beer festivals and the others purchased at stores or on tap at bars. Nearly all of these were from smaller breweries. I beer shop about once a week on average, and usually pick up an old favorite along with something new to try. Every so often I get lucky and find a winner, something that makes me want to go back at some point and purchase it again. The majority of times though, that's not the case. Hopefully more and more people will keep trying their hand at brewing, and get better and better at it. Regardless of the final outcome, I applaud everyone's efforts at sharing the fruits of their labor with us.

                              1. re: Whisper

                                I view beer two ways: as something to drink by itself and appreciate for the flavors in the beer, and something to have in the house to drink with food. To me, these are vastly different uses that demand different beers.

                                When I go out, I'm more inclined to have IPA, Pale Ales, belgian ales, etc. The beer I keep at home for having w/ everyday meals are typically lagers (pils, schwarzbier) or simple brown ales. But when I'm going out to the pub to drink beer, lagers and brown ales aren't usually what I'll order.

              2. Like some of the other commenters, I'd love to know how you've decided that "a lot" of craft beer is questionable. I also find it hard to believe that the audience that's been nurtured to seek out locally-produced food and drink is going to somehow contract collective amnesia and switch from flavorful beers to industrial light lager.

                I drink *a lot* of craft beer, and I'd guesstimate that maybe 5-10% of it has been sub-par. Of that, it's hard to determine if it's the beer or unclean draft lines.

                I will say that I avoid certain styles almost religiously (specifically anything billed as "extreme", beers more than 10% ABV, punishing IBU levels), so maybe that's given me a somewhat skewed perception, as I'd reverse my percentage and say that probably 80% of extreme beers I've had have been nearly undrinkable.

                Also, I very recently had PBR in a blind taste testing of light lagers and I thought it was very bad indeed. One of the worst in the lineup we sampled, only bested (worsted?) by Keystone Light.

                1. How about a lot of food products are questionable? There are more great beers available in the USA than ever before. As usual in a "glamour" field, there are lot of products that are good only for their labels/graphic art. That's life. If you love beer you can be very happy these days. But..even some good-great breweries put out a stinker or two. Remember even Ted Williams never batted .500. My only issue these days w/the micro scene is that too many brews are now all about the Imperial/mega this or that, and high alcohol. I'd like to see some real flavorful session type beers and the return of 1-2 missing great brews, Pyramid Pale, Sierra Pale Bock.....
                  PS, There are alot of Micro distillers who should wait to put out product. I think many more folks could agree with that....

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: MOREKASHA

                    I think there are very few folks here arguing that these aren't heady times to be a beer lover, rather just because something is "craft" doesn't mean it's good.

                    I think we're starting to see the start of the session beer trend. Here's hopin'

                    1. re: jgg13

                      That's pretty much what I've been saying...just because a beer is made by a small so called "craft brewer" , that _far_ from a guarantee that the product is going to be good...and there's plenty of proof of that out there. Many are quite good. But buying "craft" has very definitely become a crapshoot in the last few years.

                      I really feel bad for some of the brewers that pioneered the small brewery movement back in the late 70's early 80's that didn't make it in the marketplace...they were making great beers but were, I guess, a little ahead of their time.

                      Anyway, with all the product being churned out these days, there's certainly something out there for every taste. I guess that finding the really good ones is part of the fun.

                      1. re: The Professor

                        I disagree. Its not a "crapshoot" at all. Its a lot like wine. Theres a lot of crap out there, but if you have a discriminating palate and do a little homework, you can pretty quickly separate the good from the bad. Patronize quality establishments that serve quality products and you can generally enjoy some mighty fine beers. Also, pay attention to the producers. Good brewers make good beer. Certainly there are some misses along with the hits, but if you drink intelligently, the latter will outnumber the former. we live in exciting beer times and american brewers are revolutionizing and redefining perhaps the oldest beverage in history. Experimentation can sometimes result in failure, but it just as easily can result in a Pliny the Elder.

                  2. I say, the more the merrier!

                    1. " . . . a lot of what's coming out of the so called "craft" scene these days is pretty questionable."

                      I won't say "a lot" but I will agree that some craft beer isn't great. But is that unreasonable? Is it your expectation that virtually all beer labeled "craft" will be agreeable to you or to some personal standard that you have?