It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, - Come on, admit it please - lt just because a beer is “craft,” doesn’t necessarily
guarantee it will taste good. There, I said it and stand by it despite knowing it's almost unsaid in
today's beer media. As the American brewing industry continues to grow, the topic du jour for
many media outlets is saturation not quality. I can't tell you how often I see articles that ask
when will the craft beer bubble burst? How many IPAs can consumers stomach? Is there room
for new players in the community when microbreweries are competing against their peers and
not the multinational beer conglomerates? Who gets the tap handles? Important questions but
not the most imortant.
For me, it’s not “how many breweries can one city handle,” but at what point do quality
concerns rise to the forefront and we see breweries producing lackluster beer start to fail
simply because their products are inferior?
Now before you start shaking your head Bill, I understand the fact that figuring out how to
differentiate a good beer from a bad one can prove tricky, because there are multiple parts to
the discussion – the subjective drinker’s preferences for style and flavor, and the industry
standards for objective quality measurement are not easy to measure. Needless to say I want
to see every player succeed, but in order to ensure everyone has good beer to drink for the
foreseeable future, it’s important to support brewers who are producing consistently solid
brews and not those who don't. So the basic question is where does quality control start? Like
most products the answer is at the point of origin, which in this case is the brewery.
Quality as I see it begins as soon as the recipe is configured and the ingredients are sourced.
Where do the hops and malts come from? Is the water filtered or purified, or does it come
directly from the city? Are the hops fresh and free of damage? Each element is a catalyst for
quality. From there, every step of the process must be conducted in the same manner with
every batch, For example, if a fermentation cycle is cut short, there are off-flavors that will
develop that are not medically harmful, but will ruin the taste of a brew. I can't tell you how
often I've tasted off flavors of Diacetyl - think buttery popcorn- or Acetaldehyde - green apple
seed, in a craft beer. Just yesterday I had a beer from a local brewery that screamed
Oxidation - grainy papery flavor. How can anyone who cares about making a good product sell
beers like that tto the public? Is quality control not even an afterthought for them?
I'm not telling people how to run their business but if these places want to prosper they have to
constantly monitor everything about their production process. And even more important to we
consumers, the more flawed beer in the market the more likely we will see an end to the
continued growth of the entire craft movement.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hello Gina - I clearly remember many of those off flavors that you mentioned as being in your
last home brew. Ouch - oh, just teasing. Actually the readers should know you are an
outstanding home brewer who has won many awards. And for the record, the one thing you
have always talked about was quality control, especially sanitation in your brewing.
Like you, I've visited many breweries and the first thing I look for is to see how clean it is. I try to
see if there are any places where bacteria might be picked up. That’s really important because
you start getting spoiled beer out there, that leads to inconsistent beer and bad tasting beer.
Now don't get too worried folks. The off-flavors, oxidation, and sanitation issues that Gina
mentions are easy to prevent. When they do occur, it says a lot about the brewer. Being able
to identify off flavors and how to fix them is a critical skill tbrewers must have to make a good
Today the explosion in startup craft breweries can be traced to the fact that any homebrewer is
easily able to acquire the right permits to open their own facility. However that's when the margin
for error shrinks and the propensity for making mediocre beer widens. To me, the fact that there
are few industry requirements for getting into the game means that many do so without ever
stepping foot into a production brewery,which in turn means they have never really learned about
quality control in large-scale beer making..
Homebrewing is great and we both know a lot of homebrewers who have become really great
production brewery and brewpub owners, but they're in the minority. When I get a not so good
craft beer I question the technical skill of the brewing team. Do they have some experience?
What are their credentials? Sadly there are some people starting breweries that don’t know that
much about the business of brewing beer commercially.
Gina, I agree with you that quality control and assurance must begin at the brewery but the
drinker always has the last word. Personally, I run through a mental checklist every time I try a
new brand. I consider clarity, aroma, carbonation, mouthfeel, flavor, balance, and finish. It’s not
simply a question of the beer not having off-flavors and appropriate oxygen levels, but also do all
of the beer’s elements come together to make a delicious pint? Are the batches consistent?
Does the level of carbonation feel appropriate? Is it balanced and complex? There are many
technical markers for quality beer but to me it really comes down to whether you like the beer or
not. Does it deliver? Does it meet the expectation? From a consumer’s standpoint, that’s the only
quality discussion there is.
That brings me to the responsibility we consumers have. It’s up to us, beer drinkers, to know
what to look for in quality beer and vote with your buying choices. Support the breweries that are
making good beer, and then the industry will grow in a healthy way.
Here's looking at you Gina