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Is it OK to Make OK Beer?

I was reading a blog post about Saranac Beer over at The Brew Club, and it got me to thinking about how many middle of the road brews there are out there.  See a comment was made by one of Scott’s visitors about the fact that he had a “What Ales You” Case of Saranac, and that there weren’t any great beers in it, but there weren’t any bad beers in there either, and the comment was made that Saranac makes middle of the road brews.  Now according to my brother they make all crappy beers but he is a judgmental ass, and has been called out on that before on this blog.

But I began to ask myself with so many wonderful beers that are out there is it ok to actually have a mediocre beer?  See I think beers, and breweries fall into two different categories, those that play it safe and try to produce beers that will sell to the masses, and those that (to use my brother’s cliche) swing for the fences.  So when you swing for the fences you are going to strike out from time to time, so I understand bad craft beer.  More times than not it is just something I don’t like.  A good example of this is 21st Amendment’s Hell or High Watermelon.  I hate it, others adore it.  I get that not everything can be a home run for every person…

It seems where I have a problem is with the other category of beer/breweries.  The kind that just make ok beer.  Not bad, not great, but are they giving us their best?  I know the whole thing about entry beers and having less challenging brews for the noob.  I’m not necessarily talking about those, what I’m talking about is beers that are just Meh.

You got to believe (at least I do) that the brewer knows they are middle of the road, yet they keep making mediocre beer, brew after brew.  Don’t we deserve better?  Shouldn’t all brewers swing for the fences in their own way to make really great beer, even for their entry level stuff?  Some beers/breweries remind me of the kid in school that just floated along, knowing that his “C’s” would allow him to graduate just as much as my “A’s”  did.  Why do we reward mediocrity?

What do you think?  Is it ok to make ok beer?

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23 Comments on “Is it OK to Make OK Beer?”

  1. August 24, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

    I’m the judgmental ass? You’re the one who carpet bombed New Belgium, buddy. I think you’re just miffed about the whole “beer is better than whiskey” thing.

    I think mediocre brewers will meet their fate as the industry continues to develop and more and more quality brewers start offering their wares. There’s still room for meager brewers to hide (and thrive – looking at you, Saranac), but I think they’ll eventually run out of patrons as folks discover what good beer really is.

    That said, the sitcom is still alive and well, so I might be totally wrong.

    • Don
      August 24, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

      Hey, don’t be messin’ with my sitcoms! I like the idea that there will be less room to hide in the future. It will make things a little easier for the consumer to find quality brew. However some of the mediocre brewers are starting to align with the propaganda machine. Look no further than the CBA trying to sell to InBev for evidence of this. If you can’t make great beer, just market the hell out of the mediocre stuff…and the wheel keeps spinning.

  2. Marvin
    August 24, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    Think about this though. If everyone made amazing beer, wouldn’t that be “middle of the road”? As everyone would be making it.

    For some breweries, this is the best that they have. The way I see it, they make us appreciate the great beers even more. Everyone has a place.

    • Don
      August 24, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

      I don’t think so Marvin. Its like my son’s basketball coach says ” you’re good when you’re good. I don’t have to taste bad or mediocre beer to appreciate good beer. Good beer is good. So I guess I disagree with your premise that if all the mediocre beer were somehow to magically disappear that the good beer would become mediocre. It is like when cops say that no matter what the speed limit is everyone will drive 10 over. Not true and there are a lot of stats to back that up. Enough Philosophy!

  3. Andrew
    August 24, 2010 at 6:39 pm #

    If it sells well, at the end of the day, does it matter if its mediocre. Beer before all, like most things, is a business first, and an Art form second. Like Mozart and some of his contemporaries. They lived lavish lives, and were successful and prosperous. There was in their time a place for their work. But who would remember the works for Antonio Saliere if it wasn’t for the movie Amadeus. In short, it doesn’t have to be transcendental to by profitable and successful. The flip side of this is that Saliere thought of himself as a mediocre, but he wasn’t buried in a potters grave in his early 30’s. So……

    • Don
      August 24, 2010 at 6:44 pm #

      Interesting analogy. I think Beer should be good. If it isn’t good, I think it shouldn’t be packaged and sold for profit so some poor sap like me buys it thinking it is good and it isn’t. And that all I have to say about that!

    • August 25, 2010 at 11:20 am #

      I think you nail it here Andrew. You can’t blame people for peddling lesser wares, especially when they’re successful doing it. If the market says it’s good, then it’s good, even if it’s crap.

      But will folks remember Saranac in 100 years? Probably not.

  4. Big Tex
    August 24, 2010 at 10:27 pm #

    I think some of it lies within the brewer/brewery itself. Yes, tastes do differ, but we also have varying levels of skill and talent with crafting beer. Some people have it, some don’t. You see that in any field.

    With Deschutes, they always put together a great beer, even if it’s the standard fare of pale ale, porter, stout, etc… They’ve hit upon something, and it works (very well, I might add). But then there’s Redhook, who IMHO, doesn’t produce the same level of quality. They are bigger and have deeper pockets, but they produce somewhat bland beers. The mediocre beer fits within their business model. It works for them.

    I guess it’s about priorities… is it about the craft first, business second, or the other way around. I think the priorities are evident with the two breweries I’ve mentioned.

    • Don
      August 25, 2010 at 9:53 am #

      I guess I don’t understand why the business first breweries are so successful. Is it because they were here first so they win and can rest on their laurels for ever? The whole thing makes little sense to me, but I think it is time for some of these mediocre breweries to go the way of schlitz and just fade into the background.

      • Big Tex
        August 25, 2010 at 8:09 pm #

        Well, from talking to my friends who are native to this area, Redhook used to make better beers. It’s what gave them their initial success. But with success, it seems they “sold out” to a lower common denominator. At least that’s how my friends tell the story.

  5. August 25, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    Good comments and an interesting post Don. (Made much better by the link to TBC!) 🙂

    I recently reviewed the Newcastle Summer Ale, and not surprisingly it was bland at best. (Why it is a summer ale is a whole different issue) Anyway, I had a great comment from ‘The Professor’ wondering what is wrong with a well-balanced, lover ABV beer. Have our tastes become so accustomed to the extreme that ‘normal’ beers are no longer acceptable, even if they are otherwise good?

    Its a good point to consider, but in the Newcastle case, its just a bland beer period. Still, I do think that people’s tastes are evolving and people want more than bland good beer. The standard has changed and brewers will need to pay attention to that.

    Here’s the Newcastle post I mentioned.
    http://thebrewclub.com/2010/08/20/newcastle-summer-ale/

    • Don
      August 25, 2010 at 9:56 am #

      Yes Scott, I read that post and that combined with the Saranac post is what set me to thinking why are there so many mediocre beers on the market. It just makes little sense to me.

  6. August 25, 2010 at 10:35 am #

    Don, I think the answer, as @Andrew mentioned, is that someone out there is buying the stuff in large enough quantities to make it profitable. From that point of view, it makes plenty of sense and so they will still be made until it becomes unprofitable.

    If you think about it, people pay a heck of a lot for an even more tasteless, bland, and watery drink. Bottled water!

    • Rob Crozier
      August 25, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

      Another aspect of the Saranac angle is that its not great beer to us beer geeks that seek out the latest and greatest but it is to someone coming up the ranks from Bud/Miller/Coors. Case in point, my step-son who has graduated from Bud Light and loves Saranac because its better than BMC and its in his price range. In time he will advance to the next level but my point is that there are a lot of people moving up the beer chain and there will always be so Saranac may be successful in brewing their mediocre beers because there will most likely always be a market.

      • Don
        August 25, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

        I would try to steer him to Victory, HeBrew, or Flying Dog instead of Saranac. See there are good breweries making good beer that can be entry level too. I just feel there is no place for these slackers.

      • Don
        August 25, 2010 at 1:04 pm #

        One other thing, that if you were to steer him in one of these other breweries direction there are more challenging brews that they offer for when he would be ready, where Saranac doesn’t have that.

      • Rob Crozier
        August 25, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

        I’ve given him the taste of Dogfish Head, Lagunitas and Victory, etc. and he loves it. His wallet can only afford the likes of Saranac and others like it for the moment.

      • August 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

        Let’s not forget Smuttynose…

      • Rob Crozier
        August 26, 2010 at 7:55 am #

        Funny story…I guess my step-son has more money than I though – I came home to 4-packs of DFH Palo Santo Marron and Terrapin Gamma Ray in the fridge yesterday. So much for Saranac.

        • Don
          August 26, 2010 at 10:28 am #

          Nice, you are teaching him Home Economics 101…Save your money for the good stuff!

        • August 26, 2010 at 10:38 am #

          Huzzah – he has seen the light! Spend less on food and more on good beer. Atta boy!

  7. August 25, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    Slackers. Love it.

  8. August 25, 2010 at 9:46 pm #

    Smuttynose good.

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