By Aaron Ramson
I remember the first time my dad was away for the weekend and I got into his stash of Natty Light. The refrigerator’s vegetable drawer was completely devoid of carrots and celery, but had a neatly stacked reserve of silver and blue cans (this explains my vitamin D deficiency and low-grade alcoholism completely, now that I think about it). I remember opening one of those cans to get at the sweet nectar of the gods that was inside it, and was dreadfully disappointed at the taste. I’d never seen an alpaca, and I’d never tasted pee (I swear), but I was 99% sure I was drinking carbonated alpaca pee. Beer sucked.
I asked my friend Lee why she doesn’t drink beer, and I immediately regretted that decision. “Omg, it’s way too filling; too many calories and it doesn’t get you drunk enough,” she said fully aware that I brew beer for a living, “it makes you feel bloated, and it has a nasty aftertaste. Hops are gross. Yeast is gross.” The consensus was clear, despite there being more craft breweries in the US now than ever in the history of man putting saccharomyces cerevisiae to wort (if you don’t know what that means good on you, you obviously have way less time on your hands than I do), a lot of people still hate beer.
To understand why beer sucks to a lot of people, we should understand what beer is. At its very core, a beer is an alcoholic beverage made by the fermentation of grain. Barley, rye, oats, wheat, rice, and although not a grain, even corn are ingredients found in beer. You can even make a brewski out of quinoa and sorghum, although good luck trying to get people to drink that crap. The grains are steeped in water until the starches break down into simple sugars. The resulting liquid is collected and boiled, hops or other herbs are added for flavor and stability, and the resulting stew is then inoculated with yeast. Those little organisms then eat all the simple sugars in the liquid and convert them to alcohol.
When hops are added to boiling wort, they release iso-alpha acids into the liquid. Those acids give beer its characteristic flavor and bitterness, and they’re also extremely sensitive to the suns UV rays. If sunlight is allowed to break down those iso-alpha acids, the resulting compounds bind with sulfur containing proteins, and new chemical is created. It smells and tastes damn close to skunk butt, hence the term skunky beer.
Beer that’s packaged in brown bottles have the most resistance to UV rays, while green bottles have a mild resistance. But beer packaged in clear bottles are very vulnerable to being light struck. Damn near everyone has taken a swig off a skunky bottle of Corona or Newcastle before, and this is another reason why beer sucks.
Non-beer drinkers seem very adamant about their distaste for suds, and it’s hard to fault them when you think of their experiences. To them, beer is usually a mass-marketed lager drunk at tailgating parties, out of plastic solo cups during beer pong matches, or during outdoor concerts like Stagecoach. The beer is usually highly carbonated, cheaply made, and full of adjuncts like corn syrup. Most concert-goers pay upwards of $9 for a plastic cup of this stuff, and it’s no wonder they feel like it’s a waste of their time. Man, nothing sucks more than overpriced beer.
Conversely, a lot of people who’ve conditioned themselves to love the taste of a Tecate or Miller Light are turned off by the full and robust flavors of craft beer. As a former Coors Light acolyte, I can remember the first time I was given an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout to drink. I sat there wondering why my buddy was trying to get me to drink motor oil, that jerk. With its big and bold flavors, craft beer can suck to those who haven’t acquired the palate for it.
Lee hates beer for a lot of reasons, and I’m pretty sure her experiences with skunked Coronas’, IPA’s when she wasn’t ready for them, and too many years of Bud Light fueled Stagecoach experiences are to blame. Lee also loves banana daiquiris’ and Chicken McNuggets and has the palate of a booze loving ten-year-old. It’s sufficing to say that she’s not going to be appreciating the finer aspects of a Belgian-farmhouse saison anytime soon.
So maybe it’s not really beer that sucks, but bad beer experiences? Hmmm, that is an interesting proposition! With so many breweries making so many styles and flavors for every palate, I have no doubt in my mind that there’s a beer out there that’s perfect for everyone; they just haven’t found it yet.