How dare you? You masquerade as a craft beer, standing on the backs of hundreds of tiny upstarts fighting for a fair share in a free market. You hide your true identity behind a cartoonish orange label designed to trick the uninformed into believing you care about quality. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, you have bought your way into the craft brew section of every supermarket in America. You are Shock Top Belgian White, a foul attempt by Anhueser Busch to fool the masses.
The world is changing. People have decided that the tasteless brews that once monopolized the United States just won’t cut it any longer. The people are taking back beer. In every corner store and local bar, small companies put it all on the line to rebuild an art form that had lost its way. Brewing is a craft as old as civilization. It should be approached with pride and performed with a solitary goal; make the best beer possible for beer lovers to enjoy. I think of this as I pour a tall glass of beer bound to disappoint me, so that I may relay the crimes hidden within.
Once more unto the breach, dear friends, for sadly this is not my first encounter with Shock Top. My first sips of this liquid lie were taken by accident and luckily without cost. It was a Kevin Smith screening for his film Red State. During the Q&A red plastic cups began to appear. A gift from the theater for patrons to enjoy. What can be better than free beer? The answer would usually be NOTHING. However, even with low expectations I was let down. A strong headache began to envelope my consciousness. I was unable to finish the first cup and was forced to reject a second offering. Later as I passed through the lobby, I cornered the theater attendant who had delivered the beer. He was rolling an untapped keg of Shock Top away from the concession stand. In a theater filled with twenty-somethings, a second keg of free beer had gone untouched. We looked at the orange label on its side and laughed.
I find it hard to laugh now, confronted with a full glass of this beer, wondering if it will once again cause my eyes to squint with the pain of an oncoming migraine. Prepared for disaster, a high quality beer waits in the chiller to be my follow-up, a life raft to carry me away from these troubled waters. To my horror, the initial pour crackles and pops at me as though I had just poured a glass of Coke. The “head”, lasts such a short time that I cannot even arrange the bottle and glass quickly enough to photograph them before it has completely vanished. Lace doesn’t even come into play here. What remains is a cloudy glass that would appear to be cider were it not for the faintest scent of generic beer.
I stare at the glass for a moment and ponder my place in the universe, then, the first sip. No sweet malt, not even the faintest hop. The orange and the coriander are present, but in a way that feels and tastes artificial. Yes it tastes of orange peel, but with such uniformity as to lack character all together. The watery mouthfeel leaves one thinking, “Wait, where is the rest of it?” I ride out several sips, hoping for an onset of late-blooming flavor as it warms. Instead I find a slightly sour milky aftertaste that fills my mouth with an unpleasant cottony texture.
As a man who lusts after quality Wits and Belgians of all kinds, I find myself truly puzzled by this beer’s existence. To rank it metaphorically, Shock Top is to craft beer what McDonald’s is to cheeseburgers. With clever marketing wisely concealing all traces of its Anheuser Busch origins, the beer claims to conquer new territory. The Shock Top website (also not linked to A.B. in any way) boldly states:
“We’ve shaken up traditional tastes by brewing a spiced Belgian-style wheat ale with real orange, lemon and lime peels,and then added a little coriander spice to the mix. This uniquely crafted and award-winning ale is unfiltered to create a brew that is naturally cloudy with a light golden color and a smooth, refreshing finish.”
If “shaken up” means disgraced hundreds of years of brewing tradition, then they have succeeded. Otherwise, they have not only added nothing to the essential ingredients of a wheat-based ale, but have somehow managed to do it in a way that produces such a bland product it is hard to even qualify it as beer. Shock Top shares more familial DNA with flat orange soda than anything Belgian and they surely are not setting the world on fire by not filtering a wheat beer. This lazy copywriting only underlines how obviously unenthusiastic Anhueser Busch’s attempt at “craft” really is.
Sure enough as I write these words, that headache fights its way toward my frontal lobe. Perhaps there is no biological reason for this. I like to think it is my free will, my soul even, screaming at me the only way it can. Telling me that I deserve better than this. This was a mistake my body will ensure I never forget. The next time this pandering orange label crosses my field of vision I will remember the pain I feel now. I will move on. I will select one of the hundreds of great beers that surround it. I will tell all I know to do the same.
The sad truth is that this beer tastes precisely like what it is; orange-flavored Budweiser. This is not a craft beer, it is a cash grab from the largest brewery in the world. I imagine it being consumed in great quantities by the same individuals who accidentally rented Snakes on a Train and I wonder if it is a sign of the times. Is this beer the death rattle of these giant monoliths as they become obsolete in a cultural return to artisanship? I hope so. With each passing day the number of good beers in the supermarket threatens the livelihood of these antiquated giants. I hope I live to see them fall and on that day also, I will exclaim, “I hate your beer!”