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Are you ignoring world-class beer?

In which we discuss whether balance and drinkability should count for more than do intense, powerful flavors.


Union Craft Brewing’s Duckpin is a perfectly lovely pale ale. It’s aromatic but not punchy, with mild floral and spicy hops swirling above sweet grainy malt. Its delivers Cheeriolike malts, peach and piney, peppery hops before a quietly dry, lilac finish. All of these qualities are in perfect balance and proportion; it hits all the right flavor notes and stays well within style guidelines. By all accounts—among our tasters, at least—it’s an outstanding example of an American pale ale. Yet I’ve never heard one person mention it.

In contrast, 14 beer nerds posted ISOs for Toppling Goliath PseudoSue in the time it took you to read this sentence.

We run into this conundrum pretty consistently at the DRAFT offices. Which is the better beer: the one that wows you at first sip but becomes tiresome five or six ounces in, or the one that may be less complex but is so drinkable that you finish two or three pints in a sitting? Is the best beer the one you bring to a tasting, or the one you always keep stocked in your fridge?

In his 2005 book Blink, journalist Malcolm Gladwell dove into the Pepsi challenge, a marketing campaign started by the soda giant in 1975 that had customers blind-taste Pepsi and Coca-Cola, then pick their favorite. The consensus, according to this very scientific experiment, was that America preferred Pepsi.

But the sip test, Gladwell said, was a farce—while a plurality of drinkers chose the sweeter soda upon first sip, subsequent studies showed they were much more likely to prefer Coke when drinking an entire can or bottle. They wanted to taste Pepsi; they wanted to drink Coke.

I submit that the same applies to craft beer. While we beer geeks tend to freak out about hyper-regional beers with powerful flavors, the brews we actually prefer are milder, more drinkable, more balanced. We love to splurge on the occasional limited release, but over a lifetime we spend far more on more approachable ales or lagers. The beers we like best are the ones we have multiple bottles of in our fridge right now—next to cans of Dr. Pepper, which is obviously the best soda.


Zach Fowle is DRAFT's beer editor. Reach him at zach@draftmag.com.


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  • Anthony says:

    Hm. Intriguing read, Zach. I would say that for the craft beer lover, both types – hyper regional limited release top-rated bottles and the familiar 6pack of your favorite IPA – become better because of each other.

    For instance: my lovely wife decided to get me my ideal Christmas present a few months ago – some top-rated (and pricy!) beer I’ve been wanting! She also got me a few packs of my local favorites.

    I’m been enjoying the special bottles immensely – delicately pouring them into the most appropriate glassware, taking 30 minutes to carefully finish as I measure each sip and observe aromas, flavors, etc…then on other days, I’ve been happily drinking my regular favorites while I watch TV. I enjoy my regulars more because I know how to appreciate them more as I practice enjoying the special bottles; I enjoy my special bottles more because I get my palate used to my regulars and I’m primed to enjoy some top-quality stuff.

    If I only had access to mid-level IPA’s for months, I would probably fall out of my chair after tasting PTY on tap nearby. However, if I only drank limited-release hyper regional bottles for months (ahh…that would be awesome), I would enjoy coming down to “rest” on my regular 6packs from the store.

  • […] point: The Pepsi Challenge, as applied to fancy beer.  But if you want to avoid being labeled a beer snob, you’d better check this […]

  • Kevin Cummings says:

    Excellent points, by both Zach and Anthony. I tend to be closer to Anthony in my habits, although I rarely buy a 6-pack of beer, tending more to build my own sixer of beers that I have never had. But there are a few brews that I do buy a 6-pack of every once in a while, just not Palate Wrecker or Bigfoot (although I dearly love both of those brews). So I tend to keep some favorite kolsch, session IPA and APA around, even though I mostly drink IPAs. Like beer, balance is good as it pertains to what you drink.

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