O-VER-RA-TED!

There are many (many many) lists floating around out there claiming to be the definitive rundown of the “best beers in the world.”  They range from the moderately credible (see BeerAdvocate, RateBeer, various beer festivals), to the good-effort-but-maybe-find-an-expert-to-help-next-time, to the dear-sweet-tiny-baby-jeebus-please-kill-yourself.

Most beer drinkers are willing to criticize nearly any beer ranking at any time, and I’d hate to stand between my Aleheads and their opinions.  Plus, if I don’t let them rant now and then, they get kinda grouchy.  So this week, I’m giving you a treat.  Tell us boys, What highly ranked beer do you think is too big for its britches?

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COMMANDER PINT O. CHUG

I sent this response to Beerford before he even sent the Conundrum out to the other Aleheads, because I feared someone else would beat me to the only good answer to this question: Stone Arrogant Bastard Ale.

Stone’s flagship ale is average at best, and downright shitty at worst.  It looks good and smells fine; it just tastes like crap.  It is completely overpowered by hops–unbalanced and undrinkable.*  It is a faceful of grapefruit, with some mud and metallic flavors mixed in.  I give it 0.5 hops, and may god not have mercy on its soul.**

*Beerford’s Note: I had a Double Bastard the other night, and it was much better, if not much more pleasant.

**Commander’s Note: The Oaked Arrogant Bastard, on the other hand, is awesome.  It is fitting that you can make something that much less toxic by aging it in oak barrels.  The late, great Magnus Skullsplitter always dreamt of going over Niagara Falls in a keg.  In his memory, I propose putting Copperpot in an oak barrel and sending him over the Falls.  Worst case scenario, he comes out ten times as tolerable as he went in.  Best case scenario, he suffers a tragic demise that we capture on video.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve overheard someone say the Arrogant Bastard is a great beer, I’d have enough beer money for like 200 pints at happy hour at Bodega.  I have a word for people who think highly of this beer: “fuckface.”  They are legion, too–the masses on BeerAdvocate have given it an A- rating.  (In defense of the BA-bros’ ratings of A+ and A-, they were done in 2000 and 2002, respectively.  But still, WTF, bros?!)

I can come up with all kinds of reasons why this beer is as ballyhooed as it is:

  1. The name is an obvious possibility.  Who’d relish a beer called “Arrogant Bastard” more than someone who thinks paying $10 a six-pack entitles him to the best beer in America?  You might as well call a beer “Homer Simpson Ale.”
  2. Then there’s that Stone was one of the earliest craft brewers to ship to most of the country.  Many of the other relics of that era have fallen by the wayside: hello, Pete’s Wicked and Honey Brown?  Maybe it’s just that Stone is still around, and people are taking their nostalgia out on those of us with some goddamn taste.
  3. But is it possible this beer was ever one of the best craft beers in America, and that time has just left it behind?  Realistically, the answer is probably yes.  But I refuse to accept it.

Runner-up: Bud Light Lime.

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BROTHER BARLEY MCHOPS

The Arrogant Bastard is a fine choice although I probably don’t hate it quite is virulently as the Commander. I assume he’s just pissed that the beer doesn’t pay him any royalties…

As for me, there’s only one acceptable answer: Unibroue’s La Fin Du Monde. The beer has been reviewed thousands of time on BeerAdvocate and stubbornly maintains its straight “A” rating. The Alström Brothers, in their wisdom, bestowed an A+ on the brew. And it’s been sitting pretty on BA’s Top 100 beer list for as long as I can remember (which granted, isn’t very long…thanks alcohol!).

So what’s my major malfunction when it comes to La Fin Du Monde? Simple. It’s fucking terrible.

Let me throw in a few caveats as is standard operating procedure for me. First, I consider Unibroue to be amongst the most over-rated breweries on Earth. My theory is that for quite some time it was THE Canadian craft brewery…the only antidote in a country flooded with Labatt and Molson. If I’m a Canadian, and my options are an oil-can of Molson XXX or a corked bomber of La Fin Du Monde, I’m guessing the Unibroue offering would taste pretty goddamn good to me too. As such, I suspect the on-line ratings for Unibroue’s beers have been unfairly inflated by Canucks who tend to over-rate their home country’s “best” brewery (though I think even Unibroue fanboys would admit that Dieu Du Ciel has surpassed them in recent years). Since La Fin Du Monde is Unibroue’s flagship, it’s no wonder its ratings are so high. And as we often see with on-line rankings, a “follower” mentality tends to develop. If 1,000 people rate a beer highly, the 1,001st reviewer will probably be influenced by that straight “A” ranking. Just another reason to approach such lists with caution.

There’s another caveat as well. I probably like Belgian beers as much, if not more so, than the other Aleheads. But if there’s a chink in the armor of my Belgophilia, it’s the oft-heralded Tripel style. My tastes run more towards Belgian Strong Dark Ales, Flemish Reds, Oud Bruins, Dubbels and Quads. The pale Tripel style is exemplified by a trademark blend of spicy phenols and fruity esters which I don’t necessarily love (just a personal preference). That’s not to say a great Tripel can’t win me over. Westmalle’s version is the standard by which others are measured, but I also love Allagash’s Curieux, De Dolle’s Dulle Teve, Boulevard’s Long Strange Tripel and Midnight Sun’s Panty Peeler.

In my mind, La Fin Du Monde doesn’t hold a candle to those brews. I’ve always found the nose to be extremely subdued and the taste to be overly bready and far less complex in terms of balance of flavor than other Tripels. It drinks like a tamer version of Duvel or like someone took a decent Tripel and mixed a light beer into it to dumb it down. And like the Arrogant Bastard, it has a hyperbolic name (La Fin Du Monde means “The End of the World” in French) despite being a wholly pedestrian brew.

To say I’m in the minority with this one would be an understatement. It’s the highest-rated Tripel on BeerAdvocate and has an army of devoted Alehead supporters. But this Conundrum is all about standing up as the lone, dissenting contrarian voice against the inexorable crush of popular opinion. While I may risk getting a hockey puck chucked at my head the next time I’m in Quebec, I will still proclaim in a loud, clear, American voice: “La Fin Du Monde…vous goûtez comme la merde!”

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KID CARBOY, JR.

It seems odd to say, looking back, but my experience with extremely hyped beers has been mostly good. There have very rarely been times when I’ve gone out of my way to procure a well-known brew without it turning out at least decently. Perhaps not every “whale” I’ve hunted down has lived up to all of the hype surrounding it, but I can’t think of any that have inspired the vitriol of the Commander toward, say, Arrogant Bastard, or the indifference of Brother Barley toward La Fin Du Monde.

My real beer disappointments have often been on the session side of things, with brews that aren’t necessarily world-heralded but are still generally recognized by most Aleheads as “solid.” Some of these just don’t work for me at all, to the point where I’ll give one a second chance and then wish that I hadn’t. Case in point: Avery IPA, an offering I really don’t like from a brewer I otherwise adore. I had tasted Avery’s year-round IPA in the past and been unimpressed, but decided to give it another try recently. (Or more accurately, I thought I was ordering one of their other IPAs on tap but got this one, and decided not to bitch at the bartender about their beer list labeling.)

Bleh. A completely one-note offering, and it’s not a good note. Loads of hop bitterness but bone dry and with little flavor, other than an “old sweatsock”-like funkiness. It’s hard to see where they could go so wrong, as the brewers of two exemplary DIPAs, The Maharaja and Dugana. But that’s the brew-game—not every swing is a home run.

There is, however, an experience I can highlight where my expectations and what I actually received were in egregious disagreement. It’s told from a perspective that many of us Aleheads have likely forgotten or would like to forget—the budding mind of a completely and utterly ignorant craft beer novice. It’s the story of Kid Carboy Jr. and Sam Adam’s Chocolate Bock.

Today, I am 24, and have been drinking long enough to develop the same sort of tastes that mirror the other Aleheads on this site. A few years back, at 21, things were much different. I had only recently discovered that not all beer was fizzy and yellow, had just started homebrewing, and generally had no idea of what I was doing. At that time, I was easily mislead by product packaging, and typically didn’t bother to consult resources like BeerAdvocate.

I had a large college project that I had been working on for a number of months. During one of my trips to the liquor store, I decided, “I will buy a special beer with which to celebrate the completion of this project.” And that’s when my eyes fell on the bottle of Chocolate Bock.

Now, you’ll have to recall that at the time, Sam Adam’s Chocolate Bock was a once-a-year release, and certainly wasn’t available in 12 oz bottles as part of the “winter seasonals” collection. It was bottled in an extremely impressive-looking opaque black wine bottle, probably 750 ml, with an inlaid metal label. It cost $15. It was easily the most expensive beer I had ever purchased at the time, probably twice as much as anything else.

“Chocolate?” I thought? “Chocolate in beer? How delightfully decadent! With what libation could I better celebrate the crowning achievement of completing my newspaper design project? Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Calay!”

Some time later, having snapped out of my Jabberwock-inspired trance, I made the purchase and brought the special beer home, to savor in my moment of triumph. As the weeks went by, I greedily anticipated drinking what would no doubt be a beer of Earth-shattering quality. Each day, I would look at it sitting in my fridge, and any rational expectations I might have once held were ground into the dirt by its gleaming chrome label. Overcome by lusty desire, I would occasionally shout “IT’S AGED ON COCOA NIBS, PEOPLE!” out the window to anyone within earshot.

Finally, the big day came. With it, naturally—extreme disappointment. My world was turned on its head. It didn’t taste like a bock—there was no German character to it whatsoever. It did taste like chocolate—in the sense that Nestle’s Quik tastes like chocolate. It was a bland, but at the same time cloying mess that tasted like fake chocolate layered on top of a completely unremarkable beer that wasn’t even trying to make itself known. After waiting and waiting for a chance to taste the beer, I grimly poured out the last few ounces and gave up on pretending that I was enjoying the experience. My innocence was gone.

I’ve never tasted the Chocolate Bock again. For all I know, it’s completely different today—it’s certainly packaged differently. More likely in my mind is that as the extreme beers trend continued and bombers filled store shelves, BBC simply realized their product was no longer something that could feign uniqueness, and repackaged it in a more accessible way with much less fanfare. In the end, I learned my lesson—do a little research, and don’t get crazy expectations based on factors like metal labels.

Is Sam Adam’s Chocolate Bock as highly ranked as the previous two offerings? No, and it never has been. But I still consider it perhaps the worst $15 I’ve ever spent in the world of craft beer.

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SLOUCH SIXPACK

Finally, a conundrum with a negative spin! I’m sure our readers have grown tired of our typical Conundra fodder such as: “What Beer Pairs Best With (Insert Food Item Here)” [Answer: Dale’s Pale Ale or any Imperial Stout] or “If You Were Trapped on a Desert Island and Could Only Have Sex With One Beer For the Rest or Your Life, What Would It Be?” [Answer: Pour the contents of a Miller Lite Vortex Bottle into the sand, name it Wilson, then make sweet, sweet love beneath the palms.].

My answer is Germany. Some people think that Germany makes the best beers in the world. Of course, some people (namely, Charlie Sheen) think that Charlie Sheen is just high on “Charlie Sheen!”. This is patently absurd. America makes the best beers in the world, and Charlie Sheen is high on life, booze, crack cocaine, paint thinner, whippets, and Goddess dust. Germany used to make the world’s best beer, but that was the 19th century. At the time the German Reinheitsgebot, or purity law, dictated only barley, hops, water, wheat, and yeast could be used in beer production, which ensured that nasty medieval adjuncts like bog myrtle and mugwort were kept out of your stein. Through modern times the law led to a lack of innovation in from German brewmasters, and though amended in 1993 the German beer landscape reflects its conservative legacy.

Still, one German beer stand alone, toe-to-toe against the hoppy Imperial Allied invaders… the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier, the world’s Greatest Hefeweizen. Brewed from the exceedingly rare tears of stoic German angels, everyone thinks this is the greatest thing made with wheat since sliced bread. It’s fine- it has a really nice head, it’s extremely drinkable. It’s smells nice, like clove and vanilla. Our own Brother Barley gave it 4 Hops. Is it markedly better than craft American Hefeweizens like the Sierra Nevada Kellerweis, the Victory Sunrise, or the East End Monkey Boy? I don’t think so… and I’d love for you to prove it to me differently in a blind taste test. This is a beer that above all others benefits from the “group think” lemming phenomenon so prevalent on beer review websites. And it’s also one of the most grossly overrated beers in the world. Let’s think for ourselves, Aleheads, lest we fall to the forces of fascism.

And if you disagree I will destroy you in the air, and deploy my ordinance to the ground. Boom! Print that, people.

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HERR HORDEUM

This is a tough one. There are so many over hyped beers that aren’t really any good. Not that I’ve tried them, but that’s not going to stop me from making judgements. Lets look at the Beer Advocate top 100 right now. In my state, the top beer I could purchase is Rochefort 10, at #19. No issues there. The second is Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, coming in at #60. As Slouch eloquently states, this beer sucks because it is German. It may be the least offensive Dopplebock, but it’s still a Doppelbock. In fact, only eight beers in the top 100 are made by producers that distribute in my state, and I’ve only ever seen six of them in a store. Interestingly enough, all of these are Belgian, except Fin du Monde, which Barley already covered, and the Celebrator. I can’t purchase a single American beer on the top 100 list right now without traveling to another state or having someone mail me something.

So, my answer, to the most over-hyped beer, is everything on the Beer Advocate top 100. I have no troubles finding and drinking good beer, and I am happy with the “common” offerings everyone else seems to take for granted, giving an A+ to everything they find that is rare or trendy. I’m drinking a Great Divide Hercules right now. Its a solid beer, not too expensive, and I can drink it whenever I want. Now that is a great quality in a beer- availability!

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DR. RIPPED VAN WINKLE, III

Do I really need to point this out again?  Most over-rated beer, ever, in the history of brewing, has to be the Allagash White.  I’ll finally admit that it’s a fine example of a Witbier and quite tasty in its own right, but the hype that surrounds that beer just astounds me.

First, it’s a Witbier.  There is absolutely no reason to celebrate a Witbier.  Sure, I like Witbiers more than most of my fellow Aleheads and drink my fair share, but in the end we’re talking about a beer that’s brewed with spices and various fruit zests to “enhance” (read: mask) the flavors that should be present in a wheat Ale.

Second, those that celebrate this beer and over-hype it still often stick a lemon slice in the top of the glass.  Oddly enough, I have nothing against putting a slice of fruit in beer.  It doesn’t bother me nearly as much as it should and while I don’t often do it myself I certainly don’t shun those that enjoy a Hefe with a little lemon and/or orange draped on the glass.  It stimulates the olfactory senses, so I’m told, so that’s fine by me.  With all that in mind, you still shouldn’t celebrate a beer that even has the chance of having fruit tossed in the glass.

And lastly, any beer that is mass-consumed by New England college chicks should immediately be placed right at the very top of the hype crap heap.  Come one, if Buffy from Sigma Slut enjoys a good Allagash White, maybe we should all stop hyping the shit out of this beer.

OK, maybe I didn’t answer the question exactly as it was posed.  While the Allagash White probably won’t show on too many top 100 lists, it’s still listed in every shotty publication as this great all-purpose brew that every Bud Light drinker should add into their rotation.  It’s rated as the #3 Witbier on BA, but I’m just tired of all the hype.

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LORD MASHTUN COPPERPOT

No? Don’t go there? You mean I shouldn’t call out Russian River? Don’t say anything remotely negative about the shining star, pretty boy, squeaky clean, goodie-two-shoes, anointed ale factory of the beer world?

Well, listen up. I love nearly every RR cre-ation. Having my first sip of Pliny the Elder, Sanctification, and other distinguished offerings was a memorable experience to say the least. Like, I will never forget the taste. Pounding beers in Santa Rosa with some of my best friends in the world is like one of those great meals that you will recall with ease even 20 years from now. But when I sampled Blind Pig IPA? Meh.

Look, it’s a good beer. I’m not going to argue that. But as others have pointed out (or, perhaps they haven’t…I don’t actually read what they write, mostly because I’m illiterate), a cool name can contribute to the hype. And “Blind Pig” is most certainly a cool name. Add to that the fact that this particular Alehead sampled the beer  when my brain and tastebuds were in the habit of consuming a “murderer’s row” selection of brews. Add to that the fact that you need a fantastic IPA to really impress me (see Founders, Bell’s, and Cigar City). Add to that the fact that I have no other points to make, and you must agree. Brother Barley was ready to give it a 4-hop rating and BA has it on their Top 100 list, but to me, even 3.5 for Blind Pig is over-rated, and a spot on that prestigious list is unwarranted.

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BEERFORD MCBREWIN’

Nice work on your first conundrum Kid Carboy!  Welcome to the Aleheads.  You have absolutely no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into (and may god have mercy on whatever passes for your soul).

I’m probably becoming predictable here, but I’m going to go with a beer that is probably the most widely known Oregonian brew and throw out Rogue Dead Guy as my pick this week.  It’s not that it’s the most highly rated of beers (though it does pretty well), it’s more that I’m incredibly sick of non-Aleheads hearing me chatting about beer with someone and interjecting to tell me that Dead Guy is the best beer ever made, and have I heard of it?  It’s not a bad beer by any stretch, and it’s pretty ubiquitous at this point, but it’s honestly nothing special or impressive, nor is it particularly sessionable.  It’s a classic flagship in that it does nothing to offend the sensibilities of the masses, and is undeniably a huge step above macrolagers.  But for god’s sake stop talking about how incredibly complex and well crafted it is.  It’s fine.  It’s decent.  Sure, you can buy me one.  Now shut up and go away.

I have to say, no bad entries this week, but Hordeum hit it on the head: availability is absolutely the most important factor.  If I can’t find it, I can’t like it.  If the good beer’s not around, I can’t drink the good beer.  And lord knows I really enjoy the opportunity to…

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7 comments

  1. Commander, Barley, Slouch, Beerford: couldn’t agree more. Great choices.
    Kid, Hordeum: Haven’t sampled those (which, I take it, is Hordeum’s point).
    Ripped: The most overrated beer in the history of brewing? Really? Hyperbolize much?

  2. Hey man, if you can’t have an overstated opinion, why bother telling anyone.

    Honestly, it’s just another chance to bash the Allagash White in front of Barley for absolutely no reason. I’ve really got nothing here.

  3. So you put that one in simply to rankle Barley?
    Say no more. That’s as good a reason as any.

  4. I’m almost invariably disappointed when trying a beer from the BA Top 100. They’re almost never outright bad, but I’m sometimes scratching my head at the praise most of them get. (And ha, I just mentioned in another comment that Arrogant Bastard is a decent and approachable beer – incidentally, I think it’s a big gateway craft beer for people, which is probably why it’s rated so highly.)

  5. it’s still listed in every shotty publication as this great all-purpose brew that every Bud Light drinker should add into their rotation.

    In a way, isn’t that the truth in that it’s a beer that people are better off drinking vs. something like Bud Light or Coors Light .. It’s widely available .. It’s a decently good brew to introduce the lady to the world of beer and not having to go down to the levels of a corona or a bud light.. I understand the overhyped part w.r.t. #3 Witbier .. but in the end, it’s a good thing for humanity that most publications recommend it to sh!t like bud light ..

  6. Unibroue sold to Saporo and became awful. A fin du monde from 10 years ago was awesome, bring capitalism to the craft beer world and see what happens. Watch out Goose Island.

    For the arrogant Bastard ale, i disagree, it’s not a bad beer at all. It’s drinkable, and I like it.
    I’ve drank awefull beers like the Shipyard IPA or linenkugel’s whatever beer. I think you guys are a little snob here.

  7. I agree with you for the most part VeZ, but The Commander just doesn’t do shades of grey. As for the snob factor, we’re probably guilty on that one. We don’t like to think of ourselves that way (and many of us will quietly drink a crappy light lager or six when the occasion calls for it), but in general we’re all about superlative craft beer and we’re not shy about saying so.

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