Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. / Mahrs Bräu – Oktoberfest (2016)

sierran nevada oktoberfest 2016

Oktoberfests seem to be brewed in July so they can be shipped to every liquor store and supermarket shelf in the western world by October. Most American Oktoberfest beers are simply caramel-flavored American lagers unpleasantly bumped up in flavor and alcohol. By making everything extremely loud, nothing truly stands out and what results is usually some tomato-tasting malt flavor with either too much or too little hops and and a warming alcohol finish rather than anything resembling the traditional märzen style. Sierra Nevada avoids this by partnering with a different traditional German brewery every year to brew what is annually one of the best American examples. For 2016’s version, Sierra Nevada teamed up with Mahrs Bräu to produce a simple, well-hopped pale lager. As the beer hits the tongue, the spiciness of the Germanic hops take hold and lead into a doughy, slightly chewy body of toasted white bread that finishes with a spicy hop finish and a slight note of warming alcohol. The warming finish and palette fatigue prevent the subsequent consumption of multiple bottles but Sierra Nevada’s 2016 brew thankfully avoids the grapefruit and mango IPAs for women trend to produce a decent, inoffensive drinking beer with well-developed simple flavors that can be savored while still letting you think about whatever else it is that you’re doing without having to pander to Panera Bread “crafted” bullshit such as pineapple phenol scented specialty Okinawan hops mixed with smoked habanero peppers in a stout that tastes like the fruity candy you leave for the annoying relatives you despise in a box of chocolates.

Quality: ***/*****
Purchase: ***/*****


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Coors Brewing Company – Coors “Banquet”

coors banquet can

The original Coors that is usually advertised with “Banquet” in the title is the least dumbed down for carbonated corn syrup soda chugging couch potatoes of the big three American adjunct lager brews. Budweiser and Miller High Life both taste strongly of green apple while Coors is still clean tasting. The beer smells of bready pale malts, adjunct grains, and somewhat fruity yeast esters. Gulping it down, carbonation slams the tongue, followed by a chewy combination of pale malt and adjunct sweetness that in combination with the yeast flavors, resembles liquefied banana bread. Coors probably slightly stresses the yeast of their flagship Banquet beer to obtain that banana fruit ester while most American brewers, including the so-called craft ones, have terrible control over yeast flavors and generally opt for a neutral yeast profile in comparison to the ancient British and continental breweries. Coors Banquet finishes with a bitter hop finish, noticeable but balanced to not overpower the other ingredients. At well under twenty dollars for a rack of twenty-four cans across the country, Coors Banquet puts hipster and yuppie swill to shame for a balance of flavor and price.

Quality: *****/*****
Purchase: *****/*****


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Miller Brewing Co. – Miller High Life

miller high life

Miller High Life, the apple juice of beer. The cheapest of the big three of Bud, Miller, and Coors, High Life is your typical heavily cost-reduced in both ingredients and production process mass market lager. The beer starts with beer flavor, then corn grits continuing into green apple-scented acetaldehyde, and finishing with a chemically bitter off-flavor resembling Bitter Apple brand dog deterrent rather than a proper dry or bitter hop finish. High Life might as well be carbonated apple juice with corn starch and detergent dumped in due to the cut-short lagering to stock urban liquor store shelves full. While the cheapest of the cheap outside of Game Day Ice, High Life is a beverage only suitable for sharing a swig with unwashed bipolar bums in bus shelters. Pabst Blue Ribbon, the watery favorite of Dennis Hopper and hipsters everywhere, is much more suited to the task of rehydration while sitting outside in ninety degree heat. High Life will only bring irritable bowels and unlike those bums, you won’t be comfortable squatting in the corner of a glass-enclosed bus stop. With food? High Life will make you hate yourself into not wanting to be like them: the homeless hammering you with their fists over refusing them change for crack, the larded alcoholics homebrewing IPAs, and the sweatshirted sports hooligans watching the NFL every Sunday while downing eight tallboys; High Life motivates teetotalling and fasting.

Quality: */*****
Purchase: ***/*****

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Anheuser-Busch InBev / Florida Ice and Farm Company S.A. – Labatt Blue & Occult Burial – Hideous Obscure (2016)

occult burial - cover


Occasionally an artist’s work and the chemical inspiration thereof are inseparable and must be experienced together. Occult Burial’s recent ersatz, Hideous Obscure, was inspired by the sloppy, mid-Eighties Teutonic speed metal recordings of Sodom, Kreator, and Destruction which were all written and performed under the influence of a copious deluge of the cheapest Euro pilsner poured down their throats by the liter. This proto-underground beer metal was composed so as to be musically comprehensible to even the drunkest bar patrons still standing in the audience. Lacking even the melodic narratives of Motorhead standards, rocking rhythms, groovy powerchord progressions, and catchy choruses repeated ad nauseam over speed metal gallops and pick-up drum beats, hammering the basic riffs and leads into the heads of all the long-haired drunks tackling one another protected only by jean and leather jackets. To get into the garage practice space, inebriated mindset of these Canadian imitators of the imported speed metal of their fathers, I decided to pick up the Genesee-brewed as mandated by the Obama administration modern recreation of what those in my generation considered a northern, imported treat alongside the likes of St. Pauli Girl, Beck’s, and Guinness Extra: Labatt Blue.



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Margaritaville Brewing Co. – Landshark Lager (2015)


When a friend and I hit the local liquor shack and saw these hanging out, I was skeptical because of the hip name. Marketing and quality tend to work in inverse proportion to one another. Then again, a new brand has to fight hard in this over-populated beer market especially with all of these idiots buying hipster IPAs.

As we walked in the door, I finally connected “Margaritaville” with that guy who made the funny music. Not really a fan of country, or of entertainment, I felt my spirits sink. This was probably just a commercial con and we bought into it (for $4.99 for four sixteen-ounce beers, roughly the price of half a Starbucks latte downtown). “Ah, what the hell,” I said. “How bad can it be?”

The surprising answer: not bad at all. This is a well-designed product and as part of that, Margaritaville Brewing Co. has included quality beer. The name is cool; the logo is cool; I hate cool because it means an avalanche of tools who buy stupid stuff and drive the good stuff off the market, or into niches where it is hard to get and far more expensive. But the beer is good. The short review is that it is like a sweet, natural-tasting and high alcohol (4.7% ABV) version of Corona, with the kind of harvest time sweetness that 1664 has. This is a beer for drinkers and not people who like lite beers and lite cigarettes. You can actually put yourself into giggles and drooling with Landshark Lager, which immediately makes me appreciate it more as a beer designed to beat back the idiot beers from the beach scene or wherever people drink Corona, probably the same place they smoke Marlboro Lights and eat fat-free Ranch Dressing, both of which are proof the Communists won back in ’54 and they just never told us.

This is a thin beer with no alcohol taste, but like the best of the pale lagers it captures the yeasty and bready flavor of beer, just gently and hidden behind sweetness. I am not the world’s biggest sweet beer fan, or sweet things fan, since those belong in childhood with candy and people saying things like “it will all be all right” (obvious mental cotton for cuck beta bottoms). You can pour one of these and enjoy a beer that reminds you it is a beer, not just a wine cooler with suds, and the increased alcohol makes it fit in with the powerhouses of any well-stocked pub. Beer has been knocking up the ABV to compete with wine, which is now the preferred tipple of the average yuppie wannabe and so has hit the optimum price points, probably because some idiot in Congress regulated it less in exchange for hookers ‘n’ blow from a lobbyist. Either way, this beer is refreshingly free of hipster marketing that tries to be cute and artisanal (pronounced “artist anal”) even if it has mainstream branding and appeal. Especially at this introductory price point, it’s worth considering for casual drinking.

Quality rating: 4/5
Purchase rating: 3/5


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Brasseries Kronenbourg – Kronenbourg 1664 (2015)


France, the land known for fine wines, also makes fine beer. This makes sense given that it overlaps with a certain amount of formerly-German territory, but Kronenbourg 1664 stands on its own and is gaining some momentum in American markets. This lager very much in the European style has its own approach to beer making and tasting.

At first, it hits the palate with a sweetness. This broadens into a grainy taste, which then turns slightly bitter and then sweet again, like a melody passing from a few high notes to a surging dark riff and then ending on a semi-ironic, positive note. Slightly skunky, its combination of Pilsner and cereal malts gives it a sturdy but elegant flavor. Grassy hops propel its flavor to take on texture and depth, and its bready taste gains a small amount of almost citrus lightness as the beer warms. It pours down the throat smoothly like a light beer, but has the alcohol and complex flavor of a more traditional beer. In short, the wine-drinking cheese-eaters have given the Germans a run for their money here.

Kronenbourg 1664 is still hard to find in many places, but it is not exotic and fully ironic enough for the hipsters, so for now it remains the province of in-the-closet beer snobs like myself. All I ask for is quality, in part because what the majority of people drink — Budweiser, Coors, Michelob, Miller and Shiner — strikes me as both utterly bad and cynically cheapened yet given an appearance of uniqueness. Each maker puts out beers like television shows, with quirky personalities or weird ingredients, but underneath is an MBA bottom line: how to make something beer-tasting enough that people with buy it if subjected to advertising, and then how to save money by cutting out everything good. Kronenbourg 1664 has cut nothing good yet, but if it gets popular it will surely get the dreaded “Heineken treatment” and be reconstituted from syrup domestically to be sold as an import. Until that happens, this delicious beer with a light personality and cryptic depths awaits you.



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How we write our beer reviews


Why read a review at all? For some, it is like reading a catalog: find the basic attributes of a product. For others, it is an investment in the judgment of others to tell how well the product fits together. Any idiot can cobble together a checklist of trendy things that consumers have indicated they want in user-response surveys. It takes a stronger human being to figure out where they intersect, how to balance them, and from that how to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This applies to music, smokes, literature …and beer.

I write all the beer reviews for Death Metal Underground. These are my opinions and mine alone, but I base them on years of sampling and enjoying different beers. I bring something else to the table, which is practicality. Any idiot hipster can write a review gushing over the radical new ideas — not all that’s new is good, mind you — in some IPA made by two guys in a garage using only wild-grown hops, antique oatmeal and West Alabaman cardamom. A practical writer looks at what the beer has to offer and how that fits into the life of the person who will be drinking it. You know that phenomenon where you or someone near you sees an advertisement and thinks, “You know, that’s what I really need to complete my life — a combination hedge-trimmer and ionizer!” and rushes off to buy it, without having ever recognized the need for something like that before. This is the most common human failure of understanding, what Brett calls “reversed cognition” and William calls “islands,” where instead of thinking of what we need in a logical manner, we stumble along and see what crops up that might fit the bill and then buy it. All advertising works on this principle, and so do all hipster beer reviews. Your life just isn’t complete until you taste this beer… but why did you want it in the first place?

My reviews look into the utility of a beer. That seems like a Walmart-level consumer attitude, but it is a practical one. It involves two questions: Why would you drink this over all the other options available? and Why would you buy this in comparison with the prices of other beers? Beer is, like everything else, a market; demand balanced against supply determines value. Sometimes, demand is irrational, like all the people rushing out to buy bitter but saccharine IPAs so they can tell their hipster friends, “No, man, you haven’t lived until you’ve had Broken Alternator Upside-Down Ale, broslice.” But metalheads are more practical folk. We drink for flavor, true, but also for alcohol (who buys non-alcoholic beer except designated drivers?) and for the situation in which we are going to drink the beer. Drinking with friends in a San Francisco bar, where every beer costs $32 and twenty cents of that goes to starving orphans in Malaysia who are so poor they have never even seen Twitter, is different from everyday life where you’re picking up a half-rack to pound down with friends.

To that end, every review has two ratings: a quality rating, and a purchase rating. They look like this:

Quality rating: 3/5
Purchase rating: 3/5

Note to the curious: on a scale of five, a “three” is the equivalent of “take it or leave it,” dead center in the middle of your options.

The quality rating determines how good the beer is as an everyday drinking or weekend drinking beer. This is not for people with giant beer cellars who prize rarity and oddity over hassle-free enjoyment. It is also not for people who are uncritical and buy whatever the beer giants put out in 18-packs on sale at the local Ralph’s, because that group does not need beer reviews; it needs coupons and (probably) Alcoholics Anonymous. For your practical-minded metalhead, which is the type of person who reads this site, my quality rating provides an assessment of how good a beer is independent of how novel, weird, “interesting” or unique it is. That jive is for giggin’ hipsters (definition: a giggin’ hipster is one working a series of day jobs while “working” some vast artistic project that will never come to fruition, or will be garbage welded together with boar semen entitled One Day in the Multiverse (Republican Cadillac Genocide, part II)) and no metalhead wants that. The purchase rating gives a sense of how worthy it is to seek out this beer given the other options available. If Pig Wrasslin’ Pale Ale is 20% better than Humpty Dumpty’s Riverhead Lager, but also is 40% more expensive, it suffers on this account because the added quality is not worth the leap in price. That may seem shallow to you, but your money matters. The extra bucks you could drop on fancy beers that do not really add that much more to the party, especially after the third glass, could go toward buying rare Demoncy LPs. Mull that over when you have your next beer.

Like most things on this site, my reviews aim to be controversial not for its own sake, but because the truth is usually controversial unless a question is so universal (“who likes to poop? raise your hands”) that it answers itself. I write for this site because they will let me get away with this, where on Beer Advocate or other metal sites I would be drowned out by hep cats listing off their favorite beers which can only be purchased during the full moon for two weeks in December on a ferry between unnamed islands in the Agean Sea. If you like them, great. If not, I extend a hearty classic metalhead-style middle finger to you, a wink, and hope you enjoy whatever overpriced fad swill you’re chucking down on Daddy’s trust fund account.

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Classic reviews: