Last week, a class action lawsuit was filed against Anheuser-Busch InBev, claiming that several of the company's beers had been watered down with the intention of lowering the alcohol level. If the allegations are true, the alcohol percentages advertised on the labels are incorrect, which is a violation of state and federal laws.
CNN affiliate KSDK and other media outlets conducted their own tests on several of the beers in question and found the ABV to match what is listed on the label. This would seem to make the lawsuit bogus, but the plaintiff's attorney, Josh Boxer, stands by the suit and will continue to defend his clients' allegations.
Regardless of the outcome of this lawsuit, the takeaway for me is this: Would anyone notice if their Budweiser, Bud Light, Michelob, etc, was actually watered down? Would it really affect the taste of the beer? And when you choose a beer to drink from your local beer store, refrigerator or restaurant, what causes you to pick one beer over another? The simple answer for me - it's all about the taste. But it also goes much deeper than that.
When it comes to taste, I want my beer to taste like something. Something tangible. Something familiar. If asked, I want to be able to describe the taste to others. Ask any drinker of macro lagers to describe the taste of said beers and the most common response will invariably be "it tastes like beer." But what does beer actually taste like? There's not a simple answer to that question, but a starting point would be looking at the four main ingredients required to make beer: water, malt, yeast and hops.
Many large-scale breweries also add up to 30% rice or corn syrup to the brewing process. These are known as adjuncts and something that is generally frowned upon in the craft beer world. They're viewed as cost-saving ingredients, rather than something to impart more flavor into the beer. Having said that, water and rice are the two main flavors I detect when drinking something like a Budweiser or Michelob Ultra - two ingredients that hardly contain any flavor at all.
If one of these beers was to be watered down, as the lawsuit alleges, I don't believe I would notice a difference. There's a Jim Gaffigan joke where he riffs on bottled water and it goes something like "this is more watery than water." That's what I imagine a more watered down version of Budweiser to taste like; "this tastes more Budweiser-y than Budweiser."
After talking about the lawsuit on CNN Newsroom with Brooke Baldwin, my friend Tes, a loyal Budweiser drinker, responded to me saying, "I do care about the taste and, as a lover of Budweiser, I choose to drink it because sometimes I want a beer to taste like nothing but still have alcohol in it." I have to agree, it tastes like nothing in particular and that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just not usually what I'm looking for when choosing a beer.
The beers I seek out have flavors ranging from grapefruits - a common descriptor for many IPAs - to coffee and chocolate, found in various imperial stouts. There are Christmas-style beers that taste of gingerbread and subtle English mild ales that have flavors of toffee and caramel. These are flavors that are familiar to most and can be identified easily when drinking the beer. I cannot say the same about the beers listed in the lawsuit.
Besides taste alone, there's a myriad of other reasons why I typically shy away from the mass-produced lagers. I like supporting small, independent breweries that are creating unique beers and experimenting with new styles and/or brewing techniques. I want to support breweries that don't resort to misogynistic depictions of women in their advertising or merchandise. I try to drink local when possible and visit breweries and brewpubs, something that's difficult to do when drinking beer made in a factory hundreds of miles away.
I love the fact that, by and large, the craft beer community is just that, a community. Brewery collaborations happen all the time, even foregoing legal battles all in the name of furthering this little beer movement. Can you imagine AB-Inbev collaborating with SABMiller (Miller-Coors) on a beer? The two companies share a fierce rivalry akin to that shared between Coke and Pepsi. But in the craft beer world, it's extremely common to see breweries like Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada, two of the largest craft beer companies, working together and creating a new beer. These are just a few of the many reasons why I choose to drink the beers I do.
I value the taste of beer more than anything and that usually means beers that fall under the definition of craft breweries, but not always. AB-Inbev, the owners of Shock Top, brewed a great apocalypse-themed beer last year, called End of the World Midnight Wheat. I also regularly seek out Goose Island beers, who lost their craft brewery status after being purchased by AB-Inbev in 2011. Their change in status won't affect my decision to drink their product so long as they continue to brew quality beer and operate the same way they always have. And then sometimes I just want a beer that tastes like nothing. And that's OK, too.