Saturday, October 1, 2011

Lite Beer (Part One)

We all know these two: Mr.Dontgiveafuck and Sir Chugalot
Odes to fizzy yellow beers coupled with accusations of beer snobbery are generally countered by snark retorts disparaging the apparent “defense of mediocrity.” Exchanges like this can be seen in almost every craft beer forum and in beerfest lines across our country. Is it one's need to be pigheaded or is it blindness that leads to this continuing banal debate? I think it's safe to say that flavor should be the call to arms and the be-all/end-all evidence in the court of personal beer preference opinion. Whether you're a hop head or a malt lover, it's fairly safe to say that we love flavor and complexity in both light and dark beers. One of my favorite “light” beers is North Coast's Scrimshaw, a staple of local living in Mendocino county. For a Pilsner it has a firm bitterness that holds fast in the crisp brightness of the beer. During a conversation with North Coast Brew Co's Mark Ruedrich, he said “Our beers are not going for the extreme--they are balanced. Balance is key for a sessionable beer...” As we know “sessionable” is many times synonymous with “successful” in regards to sales and North Coast is famous for having unique and complex award winning brews that don't forfeit in the battle of flavor in exchange for that, dare I say it “drinkability.” There I said it! Drinkability! My skin crawls at the sound of that word, but lets reverse engineer our feelings about drinkability. Pilsners have always been quite popular since they entered the scene. They were crisp, bright and see-through. This translucence made quite the impact during a time when glass was just starting to become available (early 1800s) to the masses as a drinking vessel. It shone like a golden jewel and was awe-inspiring. Aside from it's looks though, it made for very decent drinking at all hours of the day and thus came it's popularity.
Let's skip several decades into the future to the years of post prohibition: Only the larger brewing companies that went into other business during the years of prohibition managed to stay afloat long enough to start back up again when the laws were lifted. These companies were in it to win it and by win it they meant to take back the time lost during the dry years any way imaginable. In 1964 an enzyme entered the market that would change the world of beer forever, Amyloglucosidase. In an attempt to put this simply, this enzyme breaks apart the sugar bonds in starches and creates glucose and fructose. This is the same enzyme used to make high fructose corn syrup (another doom word!) Assuming you're familiar with the basic brewing process, after you sparge your grains you're left with your basic wort, but this wort is full of malt dextrins which add flavor and body to your beer but they're not necessarily fermentable starches. This enzyme breaks down those malt dextrins and makes them fermentable. Thus you have a lighter bodied beer minus the calories from the starches but creating a higher gravity beer due to the “high fructose” wort.
It wasn't until the mid1970's that Philip Morris made this popular with their acquisition of a German pilsner company through Miller Brewing. You know, Philip Morris, the tobacco guys.. yeah you know who I'm talking about. Through tactful marketing to a demographic readied by the soda companies they brought out Miller Lite. During this time the sway of power over the U.S. Food and Drug administration was “If you can prove it's not bad for you we'll allow it” and with responses like “nobody's died yet.” By the 1980's chemicals like Cobalt salts (naturally occurring) were increased to over 1 part per million in beer, dimethylnitrosamine (carcinogen) which is linked to cancer was at five times the normal amount, potassium matabisulfite (a salt that doesn't add sodium to your diet, but it makes you thirsty), Benzaldehyde an ingredient used in formaldehyde and the list goes on. The Food and Drug Administration has been cracking down on many of these things. The dimethylnitrosamine is only 2% of what it used to be and the added cobalt salts have been further regulated as well. If you want to find a full guide to what's in those beers you can make an attempt to find the ever elusive Brewers Association Report on “Adjuncts Employed in Brewing.” By 1992 “Lite Beer” was the best selling beer in the US. With sports figure driven ads challenging your machismo to this very day lite beers still control most of the market, even with over 76 chemicals in various combinations that are left to be unreported to the FDA. So we fight back. (Part 1)


I honestly love Natty Light, dont get me wrong i love a nice beer also. but my go to.. definitely the Nat Dogg!

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