Let’s Have Some Fun: A Few Words on … What Makes a Good Beer?

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What makes a good beer?

Is it the effort brewers put into it? Is it the drinking experience?

Is it the bull testicles?

Maybe not so much the last one.

Bon Appetit (via Yahoo) recently released a list of the strangest beers in America, which led me to think once again about the novelty of beer and what that means for craft beer drinkers.

The list ranges from Wynkoop’s Rocky Mountain Oyster Stout – which I had at the Great American Beer Festival and liked – to Uncommon Brewers’ Bacon Brown Ale (another bacon beer?) and even Flying Dog’s Pearl Necklace Oyster Stout, despite oyster stouts being, well, kind of common compared to bacon and testicle beer.

The missing link to good beer, apparently.
The missing link to good beer, apparently.

That list pairs well with the 10 best perceived (national) beers in America, which is comprised of all the usual suspects like Budweiser, Bud Light, Corona, Heineken and Sam Adams, which tops the list.

Um, those aren't punching bags, sir.
Um, those aren’t punching bags, sir.

So sure – when comparing bull testicles to Bud Light, one is going to seem rather strange. But maybe they taste the same to some. (Oh snap! A BMC burn!)

But seriously, folks, what makes a good beer?

There’s so much that can be said about perception and how that influences our decisions of what’s good or bad. When I’m trying a beer for the first time, I always make sure to go through at least a few sips before checking into Untappd or looking up other thoughts on Beer Advocate. I don’t want my original opinion to be biased after reading comments from other drinkers.

I think I know what I like, which certainly helps. IPAs, sours and witbiers always seem to show up in my glass. But that’s never stopped me from trying anything. But do I enjoy beers because of the idea? The fun ingredients? My attachment to a particular brewery?

mom special beerIf my mom always told me I was special, then by extension my taste buds must follow suit, right? The way I like beers is one in 7 billion!

Justin over at Justin’s Brew Review pondered an off-shoot of this topic a while back, concluding that a drinker will always fall into a trap of bias, one way or another. Only natural.

So I suppose it leaves me with this: is a good beer good because of the love and attention put into it? Or is it good simply because we want it to be good, for whatever reason? Certainly the answer lies between, but if you could pick only one, which would it be?

Starting from there, maybe we can find a new appreciation (or at least a new way of thinking) about what makes a good beer.

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac


6 thoughts on “Let’s Have Some Fun: A Few Words on … What Makes a Good Beer?

  1. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one that thinks about this stuff. I just haven’t been able to organize my thoughts enough to come up with a post that makes any sense. It’s good to know that somebody did!

    As far as your questions, somewhere in between is where it is. I have a soft spot for some breweries (Great Lakes, Victory, Maine Beer Company, Smuttynose, Brasserie Dupont, Green Flash, etc), so I typically get ready to try their stuff with much enthusiasm. Does that mean that I rate their beers higher than I should? Maybe. Maybe not. I don’t think any of these brewers are perfect, and they have all churned out a beer or two that have disappointed me. Or maybe I just didn’t care for the style. Critiquing anything is tricky. I guess the only way to do it is to taste it blind, but how the hell do you pull that off under real life circumstances on a regular basis? #FirstWorldProblems indeed!

    Great post! I wish I thought of it. 😉

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      Obviously, the solution to this problem is to only buy and drink beers that come in brown paper bags, so as to not bias any of our senses or opinions.

      I can’t recall which brews off the top of my head, but I know I’ve had some in the past where the color has impacted my opinion. If it was bright red, should it have tasted more fruity instead of hoppy? (for example) Is it bad because of that?

      Appreciate you adding to the conversation!

      1. Ah yes! The Great Pour Conundrum, i.e. will the look of a properly poured beer affect your critical analysis of said beer? I’ve had had that happen a few times. Most dissapointing.

  2. I like the brown paper idea. I do have the problem of comparing, let’s say a any saisons to Dupont or an Imperial stout to Storm King.

    I try not to but it does happen

    1. I’m with you. There are simply so many beers to be had it’s hard not to compare, if only to get some kind of baseline comparison.

      But then, as you point out, you run into issues of bias. Maybe there could simply be different categories of “good” dependent on time/place, company, nostalgia, etc.

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