I went fishing in Pennsylvania today and forgot to bring water to prevent myself from dehydrating on the water in the spring heat. Not wanting to drink industrial run-off pond scum, I went to the bodega next to the bait ‘n’ tackle shop and pick-up the cheapest multi-pack of bottled water the store stocked: Yuengling Light Lager.
I went on a hike this week with a few of my colleagues to appreciate the forested beauty of the natural world. We eventually lit a fire and toasted some marshmallows and frankfurters. One of my fellow heshers was German and carried around a package of expired hot dogs during his hike that he intended to eat at room temperature. I convinced him to put aside his barbaric hunger and save the sausages for the evening cookout.
For some time, Negra Modelo has been my go-to beer. The shelves are stuffed with variety, but much like metal, most of it straight-up fails by being too proficient.
I picked up Dinkelacker’s Octoberfest to relieve myself of the gut cramps from drinking a six pack of Shiner’s pitiful attempt. The Oktoberfestbier Märzen pours out a dark, translucent brown and actually looks very similar Shiner’s Bock but smells better. I sniff dark fruits and grass. The taste is toffee, nuts, dark fruits, toasted bread but those are almost overwhelmed in the end by a generic grassy bitter finish. The beer is not hoppy but has enough hops in it to slightly overpower the malts but without actually letting you taste the hops. I had to drink many bottles to grasp the flavor profile. Dinkelacker – Oktoberfestbier Märzen is still better than any domestic rendition of the Oktoberfestbier style even if it has some probably intentional balance issues inhibiting the flavors so Hans can chug five liters while staring at a 23 year old’s breasts every October.
The problem with seasonal beer from breweries that do not normally brew in that style is that their product tends to be a half-assed mess marketed to draw sales away from the better brands. Shiner Bock is a decent beer when it’s on sale but this pitiful attempt at a Marzen is barely better than Yuengling. Shiner Oktoberfest tastes shockingly similar to Sam Adams Boston Lager but watered it down with a strange chemically bitter finish instead of hop bite. I would not be surprised if this was brewed with condensed syrups, concentrates, and extracts shipped to the brewery in oil drums rather than from barley malt and dried noble hops. While not disgusting enough to pour out as libations for the sewage treatment facility, Shiner Oktoberfest is still a Hungry Man TV dinner knockoff of a Marzen beer at an import price.
When I ran to the liquor store hoping to pick up a reasonable beer to wash the taste of the horrible Sam Adam Foreskin Spiced Latte out of my mouth, this called out to me as something that probably would taste akin at least to a Michelob, Budweiser’s less diabetic brother. Session Premium Lager is your typical American lager but done well. I smell lemony hops and Ritz crackers. Strong malts almost overpower the taste but it finishes semi-dry. This is a dangerously drinkable beer. A man with a twelve-pack is akin to a seven year old fat kid with a bag of Pepperidge Farm cookies; they’re going to be mostly gone by the end of the night. There’s nothing truly unique to make Session Premium Lager worth seeking out though. There are better American and European lagers, there are more flavorful beers, there is nothing actually memorable in these grenade bottles but it doesn’t do anything wrong and it isn’t watered down for 22 year olds in cargo shorts.
The Boston Beer Company generally makes solid but unexceptional beers for a wide audience which isn’t surprising given that it is a brewery founded by a former corporate financier who was the son of a brewer to fill a hole in the market in the 1980s: domestic beers that could compete with mediocre European imports. Craft beer was just getting started and most of the big adjunct lager brewers had already diluted down the their product to the point where many wouldn’t even drink it. Jim Koch employed the same chemist and brewer who formulated Miller Lite to fine tune a beer an old family recipe he had been homebrewing for mass production. Samuel Adams Boston Lager is a genuinely good beer but what their Octoberfest eventually became in the 21st century is not. The first whiff and sip is dark fruits and toasted bread like a darker Marzen beer should be but then the unpleasantness hits you like an off-scented dashboard air freshener. The beer tastes like brown sugar and smells of artificial cinnamon and ginger. Sam Adams is hiding pumpkin spice bullshit in their Octoberfest seasonal for the Starbucks yuppies! Samuel Adams Octoberfest is one of those beers. The radlers, shandies, Zimas, pumpkin spice lattes, and mango IPAs for ex-sorority girls and effeminate homosexuals – wine cooler “beer”! The only positive attribute is that if you get this for free and drink the entire six pack, you will get drunk. Unfortunately, your excretate will smell like that of an unwashed obese man the day after Thanksgiving.
Summer weather of almost a hundred degrees Fahrenheit soaking your shirt through with sweat just walking to your car calls for a different drink than something for sipping by the fireplace. Coors Light pours the color of a well-hydrated man’s pee. It smells like pale malt, corn, with a very slight hint of rotten banana. The tastes isn’t half bad though if you don’t consider it a beer. Coors Light tastes like carbonated water and sourdough bread and finishes with a slightly metallic, aspirin-like hint of hops. It’s better than Bud Light and isn’t horrible but is clearly just a mediocre beer diluted with seltzer. All of Coors’ macho mountain climber advertising is just to convince men that Coors Light is more masculine than a vodka soda. Nobody should ever buy this over Coors Banquet despite the discounts if you buy two tallboys at 7-11.
Czechvar (Budweiser Budvar outside of the US) is the original Budweiser beer whose demonymic name Adolphus Busch appropriated for his green apple tasting adjunct lager omni consumer product in the 19th century. Czechvar and Pilsner Urquell were the two beers the communist government of Czechoslovakia chose to export to increase foreign currency reserves. Unlike Pilsner Urquell, Czechvar‘s production was modernized after World War II despite the recipe remaining largely the same an Budějovický Budvar was not privatized after the fall and failure of communism, still remaining an asset of the Czech Ministry of Agriculture. This means that that Czechvar/Budvar remains largely the same as it was decades ago, having kept its distinctive yeast strain, exclusive use of whole-cone Saaz hops, and ninety day lagering period in in comparison to SABMiller slightly genericizing Pilsner Urquell in order to stock it on the import shelf every deli and bodega the world over to compete with the likes of Beck’s, Heineken, and St. Pauli Girl.
A short history lesson is in order. Pilsner Urquell is the famous original pale lager. A “Czech Pilsner” is not actually a beer style given that the word pilsner itself is a demonym indicating the beer’s origin in Plzeň. The Czechs do not define their native brews by styles such as lager, India Pale Ale, porter/stout1, and so on but by color and degrees Plato with stronger beers of the same color not simply being the weaker beer “scaled up” but separate styles2. The Plzeňský Prazdroj brewery was founded in the 19th century to brew Bavarian-style lagers – then mostly dark at the time – but with pale malts pioneered in England and relatively highly-hopped compared to the common Dunkel. Pale lager became the type of beer that was copied around the world, was cost-reduced with adjuncts, and eventually made into the mixed beer and carbonated water soft drink that is Miller Lite with its “Great Pilsner Taste”. Unlike most beers, Pilsner Urquell continued being fermented and lagered in giant wooden vats and barrels into the 1990s when it was privatized and sold to conglamerate SABMiller. The international piss brewers “modernized” the brewery, replaced the wooden vessels with stainless steel tanks, slashed the lagering time to a third, and replaced most of the whole cone hops with hop oils. This review is of the filtered and pasteurized export variety which is a pale imitation of the rare unfiltered and cask versions usually unavailable in the US.
Pilsner Urquell pours a dark shade of gold with a frothy head. Not uric gold but a rich, vaguely ambery shade of gold. The beer smells vaguely of fresh bread and slightly floral, grassy hops. The taste is biscuits and bread interspersed with hints of butterscotch, caramel, and a mildly spicy hop bitterness. Pilsner Urquell is balanced, unlike many of the hop bomb, onions and cat piss craft IPAs best suited to keep teenagers away from drinking in the same way that putting hot sauce on your food will keep the dog from trying to steal it. The beer may be dumbed down by accountants and many of the flavors typical but it’s well made, tastes great, isn’t sour, doesn’t resemble animal piss, and you can easily down a six pack in a couple hours like I did.
1Porter and stout are interchangeable. Despite stout formerly indicating a stronger porter – a “stout porter” -, many breweries that brew beers called by both terms make a porter stronger than their stout.
2Read Ronald Pattinson’s excellent rundown of Czech beer styles on his Shut Up About Barclay Perkins blog. A more comprehensive detailing may be found on his European Beer Guide website.