Monday, August 25, 2008

Budweiser American Ale (and Michelob Pale Ale): first notes

The long-awaited Budweiser American Ale is finally in my glass, after some of the same delivery problems Uncle Jack had (with the weird result that I didn't get the first shipment, but then got two more instead of one; it's okay, I'm sharing).

How about it? It’s bright and clear, it’s a deep ruddy amber, the foam is creamy and light parchment-colored. I smell sweet fresh malt, some caramel, and piney hop. The flavor has all that, in fact, it delivers on the aroma in an almost one-to-one ratio, although the caramel masks the hops to a degree. The ale is not overly full in the mouth, somewhat on the light side, but that’s not really a surprise; A-B was surely intending this as a drinking beer, not a sipper. The biggest surprise for me here is the finish: it’s relatively long, and bitter.

Passing it around here at Tucquan (I wrote this while rusticating on the Susquehanna again, no trip to Conestoga this time) gets some interesting reactions. "Oh, that’s good. I could drink that!" (from Cathy, who’s pretty demanding on beer, but does like a nice pale ale) "That doesn’t taste like beer, that tastes like rye bread!" (my mother, who’s currently drinking a Reading (which, bless her, she insists on calling "Old Reading"), so I’ll take that as a positive), and "It’s not that hoppy" (Uncle Don, who’s drinking Coors Light, but has had many a craft and import with me).

Don’s right, it’s not that hoppy…but for something with "Budweiser" on the label, it’s plenty hoppy. More importantly, for a pale ale, it’s fine, easily as hoppy as SNPA. Actually, turns out it's not...quite. It's about 28 IBU, SNPA is about 32-34. I'd call that ballpark, though.

Interesting to note two things. One, the cap is a pry-off, not a twist-off. A-B has noted that the craft market doesn’t trust twist-off caps. Two, the label is damned near unreadable on that dark red-ochre background. Intentional? Or a rare screw-up?

I had a bottle of Michelob Pale Ale sent to me last week as well, so I decided to do a side-by side. It was revealing.

Not sure, but I think this is another tweak on this beer, which has been around in one form or another, in varying markets, since the mid-1990s. It’s quite a bit lighter that the Bud Ale, more a reddish gold. The nose is restrained (i.e., there ain’t much), mostly a light piney Cascades aroma. It’s fairly creamy with malt, the hop comes through with a brittle edge, and it finishes up quite clean, with a lingering bitterness.

Side-by side? Clearly two different beers. The Bud’s caramel malt gives it a much heavier mouthfeel than the Michelob’s pale malt, while the hoppy edge of the Mich makes it cleaner, crisper. And no, I cannot believe I’m writing those words: "Bud’s caramel malt…much heavier mouthfeel…hoppy edge of the Mich…"

The question for both these beers remains the same as it has for over ten years. Can a beer that is brewed in a "craft" profile, but labeled with a mainstream brand…ever sell? Who’s going to buy it? Bud drinkers? To be blunt: not effin’ likely. Craft drinkers? Maybe, but most of them will not want to buy a beer from A-B (or InBev, for that matter). Sorry, guys, but for the majority of serious craft drinkers, who makes the beer is as important (or more so) as what the beer tastes like. Crossover drinkers? Maybe. If we could ever get a solid number on just how many people who regularly drink Blue Moon know it’s a MolsonCoors product…I could give you a better answer.

18 comments:

Steven said...

"...easily as hoppy as SNPA."

Seriously? It will certainly be interesting to try. Be even more fun in a side-by with the legendary SNPA.

Lew Bryson said...

Yeah, well, that was a guess at the time. Next up: a side-by-side. Problem is, it's really a different kind of beer: darker, more caramel. But I do suspect that the finish is going to be just as bitter. SNPA's only about 32, 34 BU; A-B knows that and they're smart enough to know that's an inevitable comparison; easy jump to assume they'll want to be in that ballpark, no?

Bill said...

I think maybe it's time to note the differing types of craft drinkers -- there are those who keep trying different brews and who dominate the websites, and there is the significantly larger group that buy, say SA Boston Lager or SNPA regularly and drink that 90% of the time. The ones that have pushed said breweries to pushing the 2-million-barrel boundary. That larger group could end up buying the Mich or the Bud AmAle. If A-B pushes these brews by trying to get tap handles all over, they could gain traction: huge parts of the country exist with no SNPA widely available on draft. I feel that among the larger beer drinking population, the Bud name works well in getting folks to try something. If they like it, they'll look for it at the supermarkets.

Lew Bryson said...

Agreed, Bill, and I've noted that difference many times. Face it, folks: BAs and ratebeerians do not have a huge influence on craft beer sales. You can tell that just by the disdain displayed on those sites for Fat Tire, Blue Moon, and Boston Lager. But I am starting to see that there really are folks who regularly drink craft beer and mainstream lagers, despite the oft-repeated thought among craft brewers that 'once they've had craft beer, they don't go back.' Actually, they do: they go back and forth. No problem there: everyone gets sales.

It's going to be interesting to see whether these beers sell, and who they sell to. Like I said: Blue Moon sells, but no one really knows if the people drinking it know who makes it, and if it would make a difference if they did. It's a key issue: why do people drink craft beer? Is it the taste, is it the advertising, is it the "local" nature, is it because it's different, is it because it's cool, is it, is it, is it... A fascinating question.

Rob K said...

"...who makes the beer..." Maybe that should be "who doesn't make the beer". I imagine most don't really care who made the beer, as long as it wasn't a one of the big producers.

Steven said...

"I think maybe it's time to note the differing types of craft drinkers..."

And don't forget those of us who found craft beers nearly 20 years ago and feel like we've tasted just about all the trendiness there is to be had.

Personally, I'm one of those returning to the classics and searching out the best -- whether SN, Bell's, or... A-B?

Steven said...

Just thinking on this infor for A-B AmAle and I have to give credit to someone (BA or RealBeer member) who pointed out last year's Budweiser commercial... the one where they point out that Ale brewers are trying to hide their faults with other flavors... hmmm.

Peter Hoey said...

I can see a scenario where this will help craft beer sales. This ale could break in new craft beer drinkers from the Bud crowd. It could act as a stepping stone for them into some other craft brews once their palate is acclimated to bitter beer.

It is like chili peppers. Most people can't jump from a bell pepper (Bud) to a Habenero (Double IPA). But if you give them a Jalepeno perhaps next time they will try a Serrano...lots of peppers but I think the analogy works!

However the personality type that will try it in the first place is likely already willing to try other beers.

As a brewer I did take offense to the statement that AB has "created a new kind of ale" in their press release. Wow, a radical departure that includes caramel malt, two row barley, and more hops. I've never heard of such a thing...

Lew Bryson said...

Peter,
As a craft drinker, I take offense at the idea that to be a craft drinker I have to get acclimated to bitter beer! Plenty of excellent crafts and imports out there that are under 25 BU. Keep a broad perspective, and remember: not everything has to be a stepping stone to DIPA, fer cryin' out loud!

Peter Hoey said...

Point taken. Not everyone likes Habeneros and I didn't mean to imply that working up to a DIPA is the ultimate goal for craft beer enjoyment. I was just trying to illustrate consumers drinking preferences and evolution using extreme examples. Perhaps I should have focused on more flavor instead of more bitter in my earlier comment.

ReDave said...

anybody know what's in it? like the usual Formaldehyde and other bad adjuncts? or is this really an honest craft ale? [not like I'm suspicious or anything...]

Lew Bryson said...

Steven,
I was a little off: BAA has 28 BU. But definitely ballpark. It's 5.3% ABV, too.

ReDave, don't pull chain. BAA's made from pale and caramel malts, dry-hopped with Cascades. No additives, no adjuncts. Formaldehyde? Formaldehyde? Go back to your cave.

ReDave said...

Hey, you're the one that started THAT! http://www.lewbryson.com/formaldehyde.htm

Andy said...

One thing I see as positive, if this is truly a respectable beer, is that all those bars/resturants/wedding receiptions we inevitiably have to go to with coworks/friends/relatives that have crap for beer, may at least carry this. Unless it is a total crap hole, SA is my goto...but often it is old, or I'm just tired of it. Since SA isn't my favorite beer in the world, this will at least give me another option.

ReDave said...

OK OK i didn't really read your article until AFTER i googled for formaldehyde beer, but i thought it was funny that your link came up first HA. but there's also this.
http://www.pressinterpreter.org/node/186
which of course is getting WAY off topic and i am sorry.
[i am still suspicious]

Lew Bryson said...

ReDave: note on your second URL reference that it's all about Chinese brewing. That's where all the formaldehyde additions take place, as noted in my piece you refer to. Not an American brewing practice.

Anonymous said...

Good article. I tried this beer and it far exceeded my expectations for a Bud. Not terrible at all, especially considering the source.

P.S. Easy on the bold tag! HTML was exciting in the early '90s, but... not so much in 2008. There are other ways to emphasize your point.

Steve Musgrove said...

I'm from St. Louis, felt bad for years, not drinking AB products. Kept hoping they would come up with something. Wow this stuff is good!! Now I feel bad, no longer an American company. I've tried both and each is great. Flavor beyond compare. I'm a convert. Hope you're wrong about the market. Hard to believe this was conceived on this side of the pond.