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Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis, MO (and elsewhere)

by Markian Gooley

Occasionally a major brewer will try to brew good beer, or at least market something as such an attempt. Usually this is a holiday beer appearing by December and gone within two months, but sometimes it seems to be meant as a regular product. I rarely buy these but I'm always tempted. Now and then my curiosity prevails, or my thrift: I spend too much on beer, I tell myself, and a beer need not be bad simply because it costs a dollar or two less the six-pack than my usual micro-brew. After all, in Colorado I would rent bottles up to forty years old, filled in Wisconsin with beer contract-brewed for a local liquor store and shipped back and forth in dirty old cases, for five cents the bottle, a refundable buck-twenty the case in rental and another ten bucks for the beer itself. That beer was drinkable, just, so why let price prejudice me?

Similarly, why be prejudiced against a name? Labels are for simpletons, aren't they? Appearances can be deceptive. Through Usenet (the full- blown Internet has been less fruitful) I have met many a dear friend, although had we met elsewhere each of us would have dismissed the other as an uncongenial freak. Similarly, I had long thought Coors (let's leave aside questions of unfair labor practices, politics, and so on) incapable of brewing a drinkable beer. I poured most of my first Coors Extra Gold onto the soil of my native Illinois, and when I bought my first Zima at a casino in Central City, Colorado, a few yards from a place sacred to devotees of Kerouac, I handed it back to the bartender after one sip, saying, "Please get rid of this. It is undrinkable." Yet Coors makes the adequate if uninspired Winterfest. Some of the Miller Special Reserve beers (are they still produced?) are not bad, although labeling a beer "100% barley malt" is like labeling a steak "100% real beef" -- or it should be.

Recently I bought a six-pack of Michelob Amber Bock. My eyesight is now 20/25 with glasses, and I did not notice "1896-1996" on the cardboard, presumably Anheuser-Busch's excuse for producing this drink. Nor did I see "Premium Blend," a fair warning, nor the explicit phrase, "brewed with only the finest dark roasted barley malt, rice, water, and hops." I was careless.

This drink is not amber, but lighter. I don't know how Anheuser-Busch defines "dark roasted" according to a standard measure such as degrees Lovibond, but at a guess, a moderately dark malt would do. A third or more of the grain could be rice (I suspect that Evil Scientists working for A.-B. have bred a barley with a malt so rich in enzymes that soon all their beers will be mostly rice). Traditionally, a bock is a lager, stronger than usual from extra malt, but without enough extra hops to balance the maltiness: more alcohol than the usual lager but also more sweetness. The extra alcohol seems to be there, the hops are perhaps a little stronger than in the typical A.-B. product, but the taste of rice overwhelms everything else. Rice or corn (maize, not barley) generally does in mass-market American and Canadian beers.

When I want rice in a drink, I drink sake'; when I want the tastes of rice and malt together, I eat Rice Krispies cereal. As for the extra maltiness a bock should have, I'm not sure that I could detect it, and frankly I don't want to try, not if that means having to drink any more Michelob Amber Bock. It is little better than ordinary Michelob: drink it straight from a bottle stored in melting ice for a few hours, and the cold might kill enough of the rice flavor to prevent you from gagging. This is more mass-market swill with a new label and an inflated price. Avoid it.

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