By Rick Armon / Akron Beacon Journal beer writer
Only one beer got dumped.
That’s not bad — considering.
The Plain Dealer's Marc Bona and I sat down last month to taste 31 different beer brands for a joint project. Only that one awful, awful beer — and more on that later — got tossed down the drain. I expected more to experience a similar fate.
See, these weren’t flavorful craft beers. No India pale ales or stouts. Not even a nut brown. No, these were brews with names like Old Milwaukee, Natural Light, Genesee Cream Ale and Big Flats — brands that are often referred to as fizzy yellow beer and would never pass through the lips of craft beer snobs.
We both had been kicking around the idea of sampling budget beers and those brands that once ruled the brewing industry but are now mostly overlooked. You know the kind. They sell for $3.99 a six-pack or in one case, $9.99 for a 30-pack.
We were dying to know whether they were as bad as we remember from our college drinking days or at least as bad as we thought they were since we have mostly graduated to craft.
Also see: Read the full budget beer survey
We stopped by numerous stores in the Cleveland and Akron areas to gather up the 31 beers — one for each day of the month. We also decided against including Budweiser, Miller and Coors, although those breweries make many of the brands we sampled.
My standards were a lot lower when tasting these beers. There was no real concern about hop flavor or whether they were balanced. It simply came down, at least for me, to whether the beer is offensive or nonoffensive.
The bottomline is that most of these American-made, mass-produced brands are nonoffensive. And that’s not a ringing endorsement. Well, I guess, to a certain degree, it is. Most taste like carbonated water. They lack aroma. They lack flavor. They lack any kind of aftertaste — good or bad. And they are all various shades of urine yellow.
More often than not, we made comments like: “I’m not repulsed by it” and “Not as bad as I thought it would be.”
At the end of this less-than-scientific experiment, I was left with three categories: beers I sorta enjoyed, beers that were nonoffensive and beers that will never pass through these lips again.
Here’s the rundown:
• Ballantine: It comes in a green bottle and it has a skunky flavor. Many people enjoy a slight skunk in their beer. I’m one of those folks. This beer seemed to get better tasting with every sip.
• Schlitz Red Bull: Yes, Schlitz Red Bull. This malt liquor came in a 40-ounce bottle and I had to go to an inner city corner store in Cleveland to buy it. While drinking this, I uttered: “What the hell is wrong with me?” That’s because I enjoyed it and couldn’t believe it. There was a pleasant beer aftertaste and there was something cool about drinking from a 40.
• Schlitz: Compared to the other beers, there was some hop flavor. Or at least I think it was a hop flavor. No matter, there was a flavor that I liked.
• Lionshead: The beer is a little darker in color and has a corn aroma, which I really don’t mind. It also had a heavier mouthfeel than many of the lighter, almost watery brews.
• Big Flats: The beer is made special for the Walgreen’s drug store chain. It’s dirt cheap, at $3.99 a six-pack. And I swear it has a little bit of flavor to it.
• Red Dog: Wanted to hate it. Didn’t. The beer was dry and had a crisp carbonation. Later, I found out it’s been a regular winner at the Great American Beer Festival.
All the beers in this category didn’t impress me. With a few exceptions, they were watery, with no aroma or flavor. But they also didn’t leave me wanting to rinse my mouth out with soap.
In other words, they were blah. Given no other choice, I’d drink one.
Black Label, Blatz, Burger Classic, Busch, Colt 45, Country Club Malt Liquor, Genesee, Genesee Cream Ale, Iron City, Keystone, Little Kings Cream Ale, Milwaukee’s Best Premium, Natural Light, Old Milwaukee, Olde English 800, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Pong Lite, Rolling Rock, Schaefer, Straub and Stroh’s.
A couple of these beers stood out for having no flavor whatsoever: Pong Lite (a beer made especially for the beer game Pong) and Rolling Rock. Both tied for most tasteless.
Little Kings and Straub had a slight skunky flavor. Of course, both come in a green bottle.
These beers stunk, some of them literally: Steel Reserve, Schlitz Malt Liquor (the one with the blue bull), Mickey’s Big Mouth and Icehouse. They had an unpleasant aroma or aftertaste, or both. I have no desire to ever taste them again.
The worst of the bunch was Steel Reserve, a beer that proudly claims that it has an “exceptionally smooth flavor.” Wrong. It’s just plain gross. Marc was repulsed by the heavy alcohol taste.
This was the only beer we poured down the drain.
It wasn’t alcohol abuse, as some might say. But, I felt bad for the drain.
As a side note, Marc and I got a big kick out of seeing where these beers were made. Remarkably, 12 hail from P.O. Box 739 in Milwaukee: Ballantine, Black Label, Blatz, Colt 45, Country Club Malt Liquor, Old Milwaukee, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Schaefer, Schlitz, Schlitz Malt Liquor, Schlitz Red Bull and Stroh’s.
The name of the brewery on the can or bottle might be different, but they use the same P.O. Box. Hmmm.
Now, some astute readers may have noticed that there are 32 beers listed here. But the graphics that appeared in The Plain Dealer and Akron Beacon Journal featured only 31. And the beginning of this column mentioned 31.
So what’s up with the 32? Oops. It was a mistake.
Perhaps we had drank too much one night and couldn’t count. But we ended up sampling 32 overall.
We debated quite a bit on which beer would get cut from the newspaper. It ended up being the 40-ounce Country Club Malt Liquor.
I had bought that beer at the same corner dive where I got Schlitz Red Bull. The female clerk handed both to me in a brown paper bag.
At the time, I was wearing a dress shirt, tie and nice slacks. As I left the store, the clerk said: “Good luck with those beers.”
Little did she know.