Tag Archives: quality

Looks like someone beat me to it: how to find fresh beer.

I wrote a post last week asking for requests for production information on beer labels, in an effort to accumulate a database that you can reference in your quest to buy fresh beer.

Well, one commenter has enlightened me to the fact that this has pretty much already been done.  What a load off my back!  This could have been a huge and on-going project, and I’m a bit relieved that I don’t have to assemble and maintain such a list.

I’ve had a look over it and it’s huge, and from the entries I’ve seen, pretty accurate too.  Of course, breweries change their labels and equipment all the time, so there may be some inaccuracies hiding in there somewhere, but it’s a great start.

Fresh Beer Only.

So, find your favorite breweries in this list, and make a note of where and how they put their information on the label (hopefully they put something on there; there’s a disturbingly high number of packages that have no information whatsoever on them). Then when you’re standing in front of the beer aisle at the store, don’t be afraid to shuffle the bottles around in order to find the freshest. You deserve it.

Jackpot! The Beer Fishbone Diagram

This PDF is a bonanza of information, enumerating the multitude of factors involved in all sorts of beer phenomena. It’s called a Fishbone Diagram, and the reason is obvious once you see it. I can’t even begin to explain everything that’s in here, I mean it would takes hours (days?) to pick it apart.

It’s pretty easy to interpret, although it is a bit of an information overload. Each page explains the various factors that influence a particular quality issue in beer. For example, below is a screenshot for the one of the pages [!] about how packaging and brewing issues interact to promote or limit beer oxidation. Other issues covered are controlling beer pH, fusel alcohols, H2S levels, foam quality, beer stability, yeast flocculation/vitality/viability, etc etc etc.

Brewing/Packaging Parameters and Beer Oxidation

You can find it here:
[see below]

Please excuse the rotated table of contents; I rotated the PDF so that the first page was the only one (of 42) that you needed to crane your neck to read. Better yet, print it out and enjoy it with a pint or two of your favorite beer. I’m going to go get a blonde ale out of the fridge right now.

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Edit, 1/6/11:  Looks like these fishbone diagrams were developed by Greg Casey, recently (currently?) of Coors Brewing.  I hope it’s OK that they’re posted here…

Edit, 1/2/13: I’ve recently been informed that the file on the host site disappeared, so I’ve rehosted it at another site. If it disappears again, shoot me an email and I’ll try to get it back up.

Edit, 1/23/13:  At the moment, the free file-hosting websites I’ve been using don’t seem to have much of a shelf-life.   Either that or Greg Casey has a Google Alert on “beer fishbone diagram” and every time he sees the file posted he submits a takedown request to the hosting site.

Anyway,  I’m going to do this on an on-demand basis.   If you’d like a copy of the Beer Fishbone Diagrams, email me (found on “About” page) and I’ll get you a copy within a couple days.  

A word about beer quality

One of the discussions I tend to get into a lot involves how “quality” is perceived with regards to beer. Invariably, these discussions start with comments about how terrible Budweiser is or with comparisons of certain macro-beers with fornicating in an aquatic environment (old joke is old). Most of the time the people who say this are self-professed “beer geeks”; people who like craft beer, microbrews, homebrews, and flavorful beer in general. Probing them further reveals that their bias against these beers is founded on the lack of flavor in these beers relative to the beers they like. What probably won’t be revealed is the possibility that they don’t like these beers because it’s cool to not like them; as if their “beer cred” will be diminished if they admit they like American lagers. One thing we need to be aware of is the tendency to inject our own preferences into our concept of the term “quality”. It should be an entirely separate concept: we should be able to identify a high quality beer, even if it is one we do not like (although it is certainly acceptable to dislike things that make a beer low-quality).

A simple and accepted definition of a “quality product” that we can use here is: “a product which is made from high quality raw materials, does not contain noticeable flavor defects, maintains a consistent flavor profile, and does not deviate from accepted specifications”. From this definition it becomes apparent that beers like Budweiser, Miller Genuine Draft, and Coors Light are actually very high quality beers, and they have to be, for the same reason that beer-geeks deride them: they have no flavor. Having such low color, bitterness, and overall flavor levels means that production specifications need to be much narrower than they can be in craft beers. A craft beer with a target bitterness specification of 40BU’s can probably be fine with a variation of +/- 10% (+/- 4 BU’s ; 36 – 44), which is a pretty easy specification to maintain. However, a pale lager (about 10BU’s) could not handle a +/- 4BU variation in production without being noticeably different. A +/-10% specification window on a 10BU beer is much harder to hit. Fortunately for the big brewers, their production volume and brand portfolio allows for some blending options when things get off the rails.

Similarly, if both of these beers have about 40ppb diacetyl, then which beer’s flavor will be more impacted? The craft ale will have many more flavors helping to mask the buttery flavor than the lager does. If both beers are 30% too dark in color, which one could be able to be packaged as-is, and which one will need to be blended because it’s obviously out of spec? The craft ale can hide out-of spec color much easier than the pale lager.

These are just a few examples of how craft beer is much more forgiving during production than American lagers. The color and the flavor of the lagers are so light and mild that there is very little room for error. Each batch has to be nearly perfect, or else the defects will stick out like a sore thumb.

On top of that, A/B brews their beer in a dozen different locations across the US (and more elsewhere) and they must go to extraordinary lengths to make sure a beer from Fairfield tastes the same as one from St. Louis. So next time you here someone bemoan the quality of Budweiser or its ilk, make it known to them that they are likely commenting on their preference rather than the quality of the beer itself.

I’d love to start a discussion with any of your thoughts about beer quality, so if you have anything you think ought to be mentioned, please feel free to leave it below.