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American beer = not crap

For pretty much my whole life, I’ve been lead to believe that all beer made in Canada is strong, delicious, and the envy of beermakers the world over. You know, “real beer for real men”, or some such nonsense. Conversely, American beer is weak, watery, tastes like bum, and only people who don’t like REAL beer would dare drink it.

I’ve come to realize that this is pretty much a total lie. Yes, Bud, Coors Light and the tragically ill-named Milwaukee’s Best are all terrible and fit the stereotype, but are Canadian and Blue really any better? Maybe slightly, but they’re pretty friggin far from being among the best beers in the world, despite what their slick ad campaigns might say. They really couldn’t be more generic – not terribly offensive, and you’ll drink one if there’s nothing else left in the fridge, but they have no redeeming qualities, and they’re excessively overpriced. It seems safe to say that for the most part, macrobrews are pretty crappy, regardless of the country of origin. There’s no craftsmanship. No taste. No love.

Surely then, Canadian microbrews must absolutely destroy their American counterparts in alcohol content, taste, and overall manliness, right? Again, not so. Stone Brewing, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium Brewing, Lake Placid Brewing and many other American microbreweries are currently making beer that is way, way better than anything made in Canada. Checking the “Top 100 Beers” list compiled by the beer nerds at reveals that just about all of the top beers in the world are either Belgian or American. The only Canadian brewery to even make the list is Quebec’s Unibroue (who excel at making Belgian-style beer).

Now, don’t get me wrong here – I enjoy a Lakeport Honey or a Bohemian as much as the next guy… but it isn’t really “good”, it’s just “not terrible”. Plus it costs $26.40 for 24 bottles, which is straight-up awesome. All I’m saying is, we really need to drop the arrogance about our beer-brewing prowess. It’s pretty much baseless, and somewhat embarassing.

So the next time you’re in the U.S., try a beer you’ve never heard of before – a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, a Fat Tire, a Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout or an Ubu Ale. You’ll likely be pleasantly surprised… at the very least, (in the words of Dave Chappelle) “it’ll get you drunk!”.

last 5 songs: “helicopters” – the stills; “stockholm syndrome” – muse; “retreat” – the rakes; “my wife” – the who; “chinese people” – jerry seinfeld

July 26, 2006 - 10:30 am

Shannen - Mark,

The safe post, but a post nonetheless. Welcome back.


July 26, 2006 - 11:36 pm

Gary - I’m actually in N. California right now and I’ve managed to consume a few free Sierra nevada. The Pale Ale is their standard brew and really good. I’ve also had a couple Summerfest which are awesome but today I had a Bigfoot Ale. Now this beer is strong to the point of absurdness. It has 9.6% alcohol and it is basically wine-beer. I’m sure I could develop a taste for it but the most you could have in one night is 3, max. I’m not even joking.

FYI, if you come across a Sam Adams Cranberry Ale, run the other direction.

July 27, 2006 - 10:10 am

mark - heh – sorry Shan, I just can’t do it. thanks, though.

good work, Gary. SN Pale Ale is awesome. Bigfoot is a barley wine.

July 27, 2006 - 12:35 pm

dan - I like beer. Some beer more than others.

I like Canada. Some aspects more than others.

I like Canadian beer. Some more than others. But there are enough *excellent* Canadian beers (Big Rock Traditional, Creemore Springs Lager, Granville Island) that it forces me to question the bias of your source. The two brothers of hail from Boston, which is a) in the USA, and b) as close to belgium as you can get within the USA. Coincidence?

I haven’t tasted many of their top 100 (though I’ve tasted most of the more popular microbrews that both the Bay Area and Boston have to offer, thanks to my semi-frequent business travel to those two locales), and I look forward to trying some of their favourites. But the crux of my argument is: if they predominantly sample American beer, it is likely that their list will be mostly American beer.

We need some sort of intergalactic beer advocate, with no ties to any country. They could sample every beer from every microbrew on earth, and come up with a *real* top 100. Of course, they would compare everything they taste to their favourite beers back home on their planet Mxlplx, where, coincidentally, Bud is also a top seller.

July 27, 2006 - 12:46 pm

mark - The two guys who run aren’t the ones who come up with the list – the list is based on reviews from anyone who bothers to review them, and there are reviewers from everwhere (even the clocktower beers have been reviewed).

Also, the number 1 beer on their list can’t even be bought in the U.S. – it has to be purchased directly from the brewery in Belgium.

Anyway, here’s how they calculated the scores:

How was this list calculated?
The Best of BeerAdvocate (BA) lists are generated using statisical formulas that pull data from hundreds of thousands of user reviews. They are not hand-picked by any one person. The general formula uses a Bayesian estimate:

weighted rank (WR) = (v ÷ (v+m)) × R + (m ÷ (v+m)) × C

R = review average for the beer
v = number of reviews for the beer
m = minimum reviews required to be listed (currently 43)
C = the mean across the list (currently 3.72)

The formula normalizes scores, that is pulls (R) to the mean (C) if the number of reviews is not well above (m). So if a beer has only a few reviews above (m), its (WR) is decreased a little if it is above the mean (C), or increased a little if it is below the mean (C) in accordance with the normal distribution rule of statistics.

Currently, a beer must have 5 or > reviews to be included in any calculations. And (m) is calculated by averaging the number of reviews for beers that have 5 or > reviews within the list being viewed, while (C) is the mean (average) overall score for all beers that have or > reviews within the list.

Example 1: (a beer with a 4.35 review average and 105 reviews)

(105 ÷ (105+43)) × 4.35 + (43 ÷ (105+43)) × 3.72 = 4.17 = WR

Example 2: (a beer with a 3.1 review average and 6 reviews)

(6 ÷ (6+43)) × 3.1 + (43 ÷ (6+43)) × 3.72 = 3.64 = WR

July 28, 2006 - 9:35 am

dan - Hmmm … mayhaps I should have looked into methodology before painting the brothers with the bias brush.

I stand corrected. And am now a member.

Once you move into Mechanicsville, we will have to have monthly beer sample nights at your new neighborhood pub.

All this talk of beer is making me thirsty. That and the pretzels.

July 29, 2006 - 10:31 pm

Gary - Since my last post, I’ve had a Fat Tire and a Chimay Yellow label. Fat Tire good. Chimay is out of this world. I probably couldn’t afford it if my work wasn’t paying. It’s a belgian beer and a suitable substitute for wine at a fancy dinner.

Funny enough it didn’t make the top 100. I rule that list null and void without it.

July 31, 2006 - 7:44 am

mark - Gary you fool, Chimay yellow’s non-inclusion in the list does not mean that the list is bad, it means that there are at least 100 beers that are better.

This should be cause for celebration, not disdain.

Dan and I will be having monthly quality meetings at Pub Italia. your presence is encouraged.

EDIT: actually, it looks like the yellow label Chimay hasn’t even been reviewed on the site yet.  Maybe it’s new?

August 2, 2006 - 9:03 am

Jessie - Mark, you should consider this rant a success! Everyone is talking about beer, and everyone is thirsty. Hell, it’s 10 am on a Wednesday morning and I am already dreaming about having a Munich Breakfast – consisting of a Hefeweizen, a pretzel and Weisswurst sausage with Bavarian mustard, mmmmm…

If you are really serious about taking beer appreciation to a new level as a group, then I would encourage you to make a stop in Peterborough the next time you are headed to the Toronto area. My good pal Roland owns a fabulous Belgian style bar and tap room with a fantastic selection of beer that includes some Ontario-only releases. And the food is, as Mark would say, DYNAMITE. For a surprisingly engaging read, as well as a tonne of links about beer, check out their website at

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