Explaining American beer

The old Anheuser-Busch insisted on using whole grains of rice in its beer. AB InBev was fine with the broken kind. “Our purchasing of rice has to do with how fresh the rice is, not whether it is whole or broken,” says Vallis.

Whole or broken may not matter. But rice? Beer?

Yes, I know, been going on for decades. But still.

15 thoughts on “Explaining American beer”

  1. I’m no fan of Budweiser, but there are some decent rice-based beers, notably Asahi Super Dry, as well as Tsingtao and Tiger.

    The reason mainstream Yank beer is pisswater is because they combined German recipes (hence boring ingredients) with early industrialisation (hence boring outcomes). The UK industrialised beer first, of course, but we had heavily hopped and malted beers to start with so they were easier to replicate.

    By the time industrialised beer reached Asia in the 1920s-30s (driven entirely by Germans; the first globalised heavy industry at which the British utterly failed to gain any traction at all), brewers were skilled enough to make beers from rice that lived up to German tradition. But by that time, Americans were already used to drinking the horrible swill they still stick with.

    I loved the BusinessWeek piece – the concept that it would be possible to make Budweiser worse through cost-cutting is entertaining.

  2. (the last paragraph of the piece, where he suggests Ambev might buy SABMiller, is properly insane. That’s like suggesting Microsoft would buy Apple, in the years when the cash mechanics still worked, or that Google would buy Facebook. Every regulator from Anchorage to Zanzibar would tell them to resoundingly fuck off.)

  3. Off topic, and I’m sure most of you know this. But there is a VAST choice of amazing American beer, available all over the place. Broadly speaking its the mass produced stuff you’ve heard of that is crap. You can walk into pretty much any bar on the west coast, the east coast and most places in between and find great American craft beer.

    Alex

  4. So Much for Subtlety

    john b – “The reason mainstream Yank beer is pisswater is because they combined German recipes (hence boring ingredients) with early industrialisation (hence boring outcomes).”

    Not to mention the Temperance movement that made sure they were pisswater to begin with.

    “By the time industrialised beer reached Asia in the 1920s-30s (driven entirely by Germans; the first globalised heavy industry at which the British utterly failed to gain any traction at all), brewers were skilled enough to make beers from rice that lived up to German tradition.”

    That depends on what you mean by industrialised. Tsingtao beer, for instance, long pre-dates the 192os. In fact by the 1920s the Japanese probably owned it for obvious reasons. They did not originally use rice either. That has been a slow and much fought over process.

    But it is worse than crap. You ought to read the bit in “Mr China” about the joys of investing in Chinese beer making.

  5. SMfS: pre-1920 American beer was surprisingly similar to post-1933 American beer, but yes, Prohibition was a brilliant self-defining piece of Yank insanity that still governs Americans’ personal morals to this day.

    North Asian beer begain in about 1900-1930. Tsingtao was started by Brit money-men and German brewers in the 1900s, like most things in those days.

  6. “You can walk into pretty much any bar on the west coast, the east coast and most places in between and find great American craft beer.”

    San Francisco had some amazing microbreweries,. I recall…

  7. Beerlao (from Laos) is rice based, and is absolutely wonderful. (I’m with Tim Newman that Asahi is a good drink, too). I am not as big a fan of Tsingtao and Tiger, but I have no difficulty drinking plenty of either in places where they are the local brew.

    And what Alex said. American big brewery beer is usually ghastly, but their craft brewery movement makes the best beer in the world, and its products are now fairly easy to find when you are in the US.

  8. Agreed that Tsingtao has a really nice taste. Obviously all the big US corporatist firms make shite but they appear to have had a bit of a capitalist revolution in the micro-brewing sector. Not been to the states in years but last time I was back in the UK I bought some great bottles of US Ale from Tescos. Goose Island IPA is a cracking drink

  9. Tsingtao was the German equivalent of Hong Kong and Macao until after WW I, so it’s no wonder the beer brewed there and named after it is ok. I’m just back from Brussels, though…Oude Lambik, Belgoobier, Bink Blonde, Watou, and on and on. ‘Ah, beer! Wife, mother, secret lover’ (Homer Simpson, although he probably wasn’t thinking of any of those.)

  10. In the brand marketing biz one of the great cautionary tales is of Schlitz, the US number two beer until it cut corners and premium ingredients in the early 1970s. Profits initially soared but by the end of the decade, sales and profits had plummeted and the company disappeared. We can but hope for a repeat.

  11. While some American craft beer is very drinkable, they have a regrettable tendancy to think more is automatically better when it comes to hoppiness and ABV. This is not doubt a reaction to the sex in a canoe beer the big brewcos push out, but there still isn’t the range you find in proper British beer (based on sampling microbrews in from Colorado to Carolina in situ) .

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