One of America’s biggest brewers is raiding the archives. But is what they discovered worth the effort?
I’ve argued before that American beer is some of the best in the world – but not all American beer deserves that compliment.
Much of what’s churned out by the “super brewers” – Anhauser Busch’s signature Budweiser, and SABMiller’s famous Miller as examples – simply isn’t very good.
It’s made with inferior products (Budweiser uses cheap rice to bulk out the barley malt) and is deliberately given a bland, generic taste to offer superior “drinkability” (meaning you can drink more of it, which you don’t tend to do with more strongly flavored beer like I.P.A.)
It’s as cynically marketable a product as it’s possible to make; and it works. Anhauser Busch has a 50% market share in the USA for a reason (and in their defense, it’s hard to argue with a cold mug of Bud after a hard day’s work.)
But even the ‘super brewers’ are starting to get wise to the microbrew revolution; as demonstrated by Batch 19 – a beer I discovered in my local liquor store the other day.
Made by the iconic American brewing company Coors (who are just as guilty of any crimes against beer as Anhauser Busch and SABMiller are) this limited-edition beer claims to be inspired by the beer recipes in production just prior to the passing of the 18th Amendment in 1919.
I bought it because I’m a sucker for archive recipes. Enjoying them is almost like “drinking history” (which is certainly the case with my favorite beer, Yard’s of Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson’s Tavern Ale.) I was dying to get a taste of American beer as it would have been before the prohibitionists came along and ruined everything.
So what’s the verdict?
Batch 19 is a clear, clean Pilsner-style lager that’s arguably not too different from the bland and generic Coors product they produce today. But that small difference makes all the difference – a depth and complexity lacking in most big-brewery beer.
For a start, Batch 19 has all the hoppy flavor you’d expect from a high-end European lager; clean and crisp while remaining flavorful. It also has the natural carbonation and rich head of a ‘real’ beer, which is all-too-commonly added with CO2 and chemical foaming agents in cheaper brands of “typically American” lager.
In short, it’s the real deal – a supremely drinkable, enjoyable product.
And the archive recipe allows drinkers to experience something you can’t with products like Budweiser and Miller – a true comparison between American and European lager. German beer, made in accordance with their historic “purity law”, is consistently good, but sharper and dryer than Batch 19. If I had to choose between a German brand, like Becks, and Batch 19 the American beer would win hands down.
But ultimately, that’s the only contest Batch 19 is equipped for.
While it is a highly superior product compared to most big brewery beer, it’s ultimately exactly that – a historical snapshot of what one of America’s biggest breweries was producing just prior to prohibition. It’s a good beer – something I wish represented the American beer market more so than our “Lite” beer products – but will never be able to compete against the booming market for American microbrews.
It’s the ‘real’ beer, made by small brewers like the Mischief Brewery, that really represent the best of American beer making – and are convincingly proving that we have some of the most talented and imaginative brewers in the world right here at home.