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.