Blind American Adjunct Lager Tasting

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by THANAT0PSIS, May 2, 2018.


    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    It has been a long time coming, but I have finally completed this write-up for my second large blind tasting. This one focuses on the much-maligned American Adjunct Lager (AAL) style. Contrary to many in the beer scene, I actually personally believe that AALs, like all beer styles, have their time and place. Further, some of them are very good for what they are, an opinion that should come as no surprise to anyone that knows how seriously I take rating to style. If AALs are not your thing or you missed out on my blind maerzen tasting, I urge you to go back and read it here.

    Since the actual process of the tasting did not change, I have copied and pasted portions from my first blind tasting and edited them to explain the technical details.

    Before getting into the results, please allow me a few notes on methodology. This tasting of 26 beers was conducted by my girlfriend and myself over a period of five days spread across two weeks. Each night, or heat, consisted of six beers randomly and blindly chosen from the entire remaining pool (though the last "quarter final" contained eight beers due to that being the number left). This worked quite well, except when I ran into issues with differing vessels. As I was the one who poured the beers, I could feel the shape of different bottles, and cans caused this issue as well (16oz. cans vs. 12oz. cans vs. stubby 12oz. bottles vs. 40oz. etc.). To combat this, I blindly tried to find another bottle or can of the same shape to enter into the same heat. This cut down a bit on the randomness, but it allowed me to remain completely in the dark as to what specific beer I would be tasting. In the end, I think this was an acceptable solution and trade-off.
    The chosen beers for each night were then poured blindly into nondescript glassware and sampled over as long a time as we needed to deliberate. We took notes on appearance, aroma, taste, and mouthfeel and discussed each beer on both a personal preference level as well as compared to the American Lager entry in the BJCP Style Guide 2015, eventually assigning each beer a numerical rating similar to what reviews are like here on BeerAdvocate (though I will not be publishing those notes here or as reviews as they are rough and not up to my usual standards). We used these ratings to assign each beer two rankings in line with the rest of the beers in the heat: one ranking of personal preference and one ranking of stylistic adherence; each ranking was weighted the exact same, and each ranking corresponded to a point value (first is six points, second is five points, etc.), which we added up and came up with a final ranking for each heat. In the event of a tie in points, we simply chose which beer we preferred (though I noted ties in the results anyway); luckily we did not ever disagree since there are only two of us and no available tie-breaker had it gone further. The winner and runner-up of each heat moved on to the eventual championship round; in one instance, we ended up with two runners-up, so the championship round ended up having nine entries as a result.

    A few notes on selection: All the beers were within two months of each other in age; I know this is a long time, but it is difficult to do much better with some of these less popular brands or even with this many beers in general. We got as many of the national and regional brands that we could get our hands on, but we could not get a hold of some that I really wish we could have included, especially Schell's Deer Brand, Rainier, Yuengling Premium, Coors Extra Gold, and Narragansett. We included Labatt Blue, Moosehead, and Molson Canadian, though I wish we had not since these proved dramatic outliers, and I almost think of Canadian lagers as a different style entirely now, closer to Euro Pale Lagers like Stella Artois or Carlsberg than any American macro; I also feel weird that we included these three Canadian lagers but not any Mexican lagers, which are perhaps even closer to the normal AAL profile. This massive difference in style caused me to keep Molson out of the final despite it winning its heat; it was replaced by the next runner-up, Coors Banquet. We did not include any Light Lagers because they are considered a different style (and we already had too many beers); that will have to be a different blind tasting some other time. We did not include any beers that were not in the vein of what everyone thinks of when they think of AAL, meaning that something like Yuengling Traditional did not qualify since it is an amber. Oh, and as a lark, I threw in Surly #Merica. At this time, all of these AALs were not quite being made by craft brewers, and this one was one of the only ones available.

    One last note: neither of us claim to be BJCP certified, Cicerone certified, or anything of that nature. We are just two people that love beer, and we fancy ourselves fairly knowledgeable and apt at tasting. I believe that I have built some sort of a reputation for myself on this site for having an experienced, discerning palate, a wealth of knowledge about all things beer, and, in particular, being a stickler for rating to style. All that said, please take these results with a grain of salt. These are just how things shook out based on these specific bottles of these beers on specific nights compared on our specific palates. I think it is informative and fun to know, but at the same time I recognize that this is far from definitive.

    Without further ado, here are the results of each heat, ranked in order, and the championship round results at the very end, ranked in order.

    Heat 1
    1. Stroh's
    2. Red Dog
    3. Moosehead
    4. Point (tie)
    4. Busch (tie)
    6. Rolling Rock

    Heat 2
    1. Molson* (removed for being too different in style)
    2. Schlitz
    3. Coors Banquet
    4. Milwaukee's Best
    5. Capital Supper Club
    6. Budweiser

    Heat 3
    1. Lone Star
    2. Leinenkugel's Original
    3. Upland Champagne Velvet (tie)
    3. Miller Genuine Draft (tie)
    5. Surly #Merica
    6. Hamm's

    Heat 4
    1. Pabst Blue Ribbon
    2. Old Style
    3. Miller HIgh Life
    4. Labatt Blue
    5. Iron City
    6. Blatz
    7. Grain Belt
    8. Mountain Crest

    Championship Round
    1. Pabst Blue Ribbon (CHAMPION!)

    2. Miller High Life (tie)
    2. Coors Banquet (tie)
    4. Old Style
    5. Lone Star
    6. Stroh's
    7. Leinenkugel's Original
    8. Red Dog
    9. Schlitz

    Analyzing the macro data (no pun intended), one can see that Miller did consistently better than Budweiser. Both I and my girlfriend found the Miller products to have more flavor than the Budweiser products across the board. Indeed, Budweiser and Busch were essentially flavorless, especially the latter. Some may view this to be a positive in a setting where you might want to reach for an AAL, but we both personally prefer a little bit of flavor while maintaining crispness and drinkability, which Miller excelled at with the exception of Miller Genuine Draft. MGD fared well in the tasting, but after tallying our scores for its heat, we had trouble finishing the beer as it became sickly sweet upon even slight warming, and the feel was far too full and sticky.

    The worst beers of the tasting were undoubtedly Busch (flavorless), Rolling Rock (cooked veggies), Grain Belt (grape soda), and Mountain Crest (grape soda plus acetone). I had heard a lot about Grain Belt before the tasting and was excited to try such a legacy brand from a respected brewer (August Schell), but this was horrid. No offense to my Minnesota friends and colleagues here, but all six of the cans we had tasted like grape soda mixed with the cheapest grain possible. If it were not for the ludicrous budget brand Mountain Crest, this would have been the worst beer of the tasting (and the worst beer I have ever had). Even though Busch came in low, it is fine and inoffensive, it just had nothing redemptive about it that tap water does not.

    A special note on the BA and blind tasting darling: Hamm's gets talked about on these forums a lot nowadays (and elsewhere), but neither of us was very impressed by it; it had a little of that Grain Belt grape soda thing going on and was generally forgettable, though certainly not a bad beer by any stretch. I will be giving it another blind shot alongside the top three just to make sure I am not crazy, but it will mostly be for fun and will not challenge the results here since that would be unfair to the methodology and the other beers. The result of that will be a post in this thread at most.

    I do not know how to account for Schlitz's hard fall from nearly winning its heat to last in the championship round, but we were both put off a bit by it amongst the others on that particular day.

    My girlfriend and I disagreed most on Rolling Rock, Upland Champagne Velvet, and Schlitz, though it is difficult to say exactly why since these beers do not really share many characteristics (though they are perhaps some of the more flavor-forward beers in the tasting).

    The final takeaways from this for me are that I want to keep Pabst, High Life, or Coors Banquet around at all times. In my area, Pabst and High Life are both $12 for a 30-pack (compared to Coors at $16 for a 24-pack), which makes them an incredible deal if you are looking for a value beer. For me, Pabst is very nearly a 5/5 with wonderful drinkability, actual hop flavor, and a surprising depth of maltiness and richness. Coors features a fruitier take with a unique minerality. Miller High Life brings a classic liquid bread flavor along with light hopping, and, yes, a nice effervescence. Both of the runners-up clock in around a 4.25-4.5 in my book.
    Next, I will be tackling German Pilsners and Czech Pilsners or saisons (featuring both classic DuPont-style and newer Hill Farmstead-style). For variety's sake, I may want to get away from lagers in this format, if only for a single iteration. We'll see...

    Thanks for reading!

    Tagging a few people I think would be interested: @ZAP @CHL @zid @drtth @TongoRad @AlcahueteJ @JackHorzempa @steveh @cavedave @LambicPentameter @Ranbot @scottakelly @hopfenunmaltz @EvenMoreJesus @Urk1127 @JohnnyChicago @bubseymour @Domingo
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  2. EvenMoreJesus

    EvenMoreJesus Champion (870) Jun 8, 2017 Pennsylvania
    Premium Trader


    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    I would urge you to read it if/when you've time since I put a lot of work into it, but...


    Pabst is the best. High Life and Coors are second best. Miller is better than Budweiser in general. I didn't enjoy Hamm's as much as everyone on this site and all these other blind tastings have. Grain Belt is awful and tastes like grape soda. Canadian AALs really taste more like Euro Pale Lagers than what we in America think of as AALs.
  4. EvenMoreJesus

    EvenMoreJesus Champion (870) Jun 8, 2017 Pennsylvania
    Premium Trader

    JK. I did read it. I was just amazed at how long it was. Looking very forward to the other blind tastings that you mentioned.

    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    Always the troll.

    I find brevity not all that useful since I prefer reading detail, so that's just how I write, but I agree, it's ridiculously long. Sorry all.

    No longer than your combined contributions to every thread, though, right?

    Kidding, kidding, love your contributions always, even if I don't agree with everything.
  6. Ranbot

    Ranbot Zealot (545) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania


    I remember @zid also giving Miller High Life high marks when he did a similar tasting. I am going to have to get some to try myself.

    I assume this tasting began pre-Founders Solid Gold?

    I like Hamms... but different strokes for different folks... and I will admit 30 rack for $14 probably influences my opinion positively.
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  7. EvenMoreJesus

    EvenMoreJesus Champion (870) Jun 8, 2017 Pennsylvania
    Premium Trader

    Possibly much more concise. :flushed:

    It takes just the right sprinkling of a bunch of different personalities and writing styles to make boards like this work.
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    Thank you.

    Yeah it predates Founders Solid Gold. I have reviewed Solid Gold, though, and I honestly prefer every beer in the Championship Round except Red Dog and Schlitz, doubly so when price is factored in. Of course it didn't have the benefit of being tasted blind, though.

    I still want to give Hamm's another shot, but like I said, I will keep whatever I decide about it independent of this tasting.
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  9. JoePasko

    JoePasko Initiate (83) Mar 10, 2018 New York

    I know that Champagne Velvet has a long history of being brewed as an AAL and/or a cheap malt liquor. But the current maker, Upland, claims it has gone back to the original 1903 recipe, and the can says "no additives". Does that mean no adjuncts ? Just wondering if it is truly an AAL or not ?

    PS - the can also says "no flavors" ... I am pretty sure that they mean no added flavors, but I still find it funny.
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    This is a good question, and my tasting notes on Champagne Velvet note a strong pilsner malt flavor. I also noted some corn/grain sweetness. Of course my palate is not infallible, so take that with a grain of salt, but (See the fourth paragraph.) This article mentions flaked corn in the recipe (seventh paragraph under "Old Brew, New Attitude")
  11. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,652) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

    FYI if you didn’t already know, the Rolling Rock is brewed to give you that creamed corn flavor (DMS). It’s part of what RR fans really like about it and they aren’t happy if it’s missing. So there’s an argument that it’s different enough in style it might have been dropped as well.
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    Yeah, I personally hate that flavor in RR, though since it's purposeful (which I was aware of) I guess I could have cut it some slack. That said, it still would not have won its heat, so ultimately it doesn't matter.

    If it doesn't fit in with AALs, I don't know what it fits with, though. I'm not aware of many beers that purposefully have DMS.
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  13. muck1979

    muck1979 Initiate (134) Jul 3, 2005 Minnesota

    Nice to see my go-to Leinenkugel's Original at least made the championship round.

    FWIW, Grain Belt (Premium, anyway) is well-known for that sweet flavor you liken to grape pop. I keep waiting for Schell's to bring back the original Grain Belt Golden, but I don't see that happening at this point with all the other pale lagers they produce.
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  14. dennis3951

    dennis3951 Champion (835) Mar 6, 2008 New Jersey

    Very well done, thank you.
    Just wondering which craft lagers do you enjoy?
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    As in AALs, or just in general? And are you counting imports as being a part of craft?
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  16. FBarber

    FBarber Poo-Bah (2,454) Mar 5, 2016 Illinois
    Premium Trader

    Hell of a write-up - thank you! Very informative and I was surprised to see that my (non-blind) impressions largely mirrored some of your blind results.
  17. dennis3951

    dennis3951 Champion (835) Mar 6, 2008 New Jersey

    Just what craft lagers do you enjoy

    DISKORD Aspirant (212) Feb 28, 2017 North Carolina

    Not trying to be rude or anything, but this seems pointless. Why put so much time and effort into something like this? It's like trying different types of feces, just so you can choose which one tastes less like sh!t.
    RobNewton likes this.
  19. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (3,713) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    @THANAT0PSIS, thanks for much for starting this thread and taking the time for produce a thoughtful post.

    Cheers to you sir!
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  20. EvenMoreJesus

    EvenMoreJesus Champion (870) Jun 8, 2017 Pennsylvania
    Premium Trader

    Ehh . . . just because you don't like the products that were tested doesn't mean that the process by which they were tested wasn't interesting.
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    DISKORD Aspirant (212) Feb 28, 2017 North Carolina

    It takes the "interesting" out of the process, using AALs. Just a huge waste of time. Seems like a punishment/chore.
  22. drtth

    drtth Poo-Bah (3,652) Nov 25, 2007 Pennsylvania

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  23. EvenMoreJesus

    EvenMoreJesus Champion (870) Jun 8, 2017 Pennsylvania
    Premium Trader

    Although this round might be less interesting to people, his Marzen write-up was very cool, as I'm sure the Pilsner one will be.
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    From your general area, I have enjoyed Von Trapp, Hill Farmstead, and Jack's Abby lagers (in that order).

    In my area and elsewhere and in no order, I enjoy New Glarus, Metropolitan, Urban Chestnut, Lazy Monk, Dovetail, pFriem, Heater Allen, Live Oak, Olde Mecklenburg, Firestone Walker, Victory, Off Color, Sierra Nevada, and Trumer (sort of an import, though the ones I get are produced in Berkeley, CA). I am sure I am forgetting some.

    As to specific brands that are favorites, New Glarus Zwickel and Hometown Blonde, Metropolitan Heliostat Zwickel, Urban Chestnut Stammtisch and Urban Underdog, Dovetail Vienna Lager, Heater Allen Pilsner, Live Oak Pilz, Olde Mecklenburg Capt Jack, Firestone Walker Lager and PIvo, Victory Braumeister Series, Off Color Tooth and Claw, Sierra Nevada Summerfest and Oktoberfest collabs, Trumer Pilsner, Von Trapp Helles and Dunkel, Hill Farmstead Mary and Marie, and Jack's Abby Sunny Ridge, Saxony, and Hoponious Union, among many, many others.

    Sorry for the long response to a simple question.
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    Eh, I expected responses like this, and while I don't agree, it's your opinion, and that's fine. I would definitely argue that the gap between PBR and Grain Belt or Busch is pretty wide, but at the end of the day, I know not everyone is interested in AALs for myriad reasons. I enjoy them for what they are, no more, no less. Do check out the maerzen post that I linked in the body of this thread if you haven't already, and maybe check out the next one that I do. Thanks for reading, anyway!

    Oh, and some of them were more punishment than anything (I'm looking at you, Mountain Crest, Grain Belt, Rolling Rock, and MGD), and if there's one thing we can all agree an AAL should be, it's highly drinkable.

    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    Cheers! Sorry it took so long, but here we are!

    I'll try to get the next one up much sooner after I finish it, but we won't be starting the tasting process until my significant other is free for the summer as it's hard for her to find a good day to throw back so many beers with her schedule.
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  27. EvenMoreJesus

    EvenMoreJesus Champion (870) Jun 8, 2017 Pennsylvania
    Premium Trader

    The irony of this post is STRONG.
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    Also, I heavily encourage people to posit their own favorite AALs (macro or otherwise). I know many of you have said things here and there about your favorites (largely in the Founders Solid Gold thread), but for ease of comparison do post them here as well!

    Thanks again everyone for feedback and for slogging through my obscene wall of text.
  29. FBarber

    FBarber Poo-Bah (2,454) Mar 5, 2016 Illinois
    Premium Trader

    Any post that starts with stuff like "not trying to be rude ..." or "no offense ..." generally does exactly the opposite.

    If anything, I think this blind tasting was more interesting since it works to dispel some of the common myths that all AALs taste the same or are all swill.
  30. Ranbot

    Ranbot Zealot (545) Nov 27, 2006 Pennsylvania

    I think it would have been interesting to include Yuengling Lord Chesterfield Ale (despite the "ale" in the name, it's an AAL, or CAP if you prefer)
  31. bubseymour

    bubseymour Poo-Bah (2,278) Oct 30, 2010 Maryland

    Nice writeup OP. More importantly, hopefully you had a fun time doing the competition.

    If you ever get around to including the mexican lagers, I had a new one (to me anyway) last week that I thought was quite good to AAL style. Estrella Jalisco. Seems added in 2016 to the website so must be pretty new. Came in a 24oz can. Not sure how widespread it is or what other formats it comes in.
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  32. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,505) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Premium Trader

    Outstanding job all around! My first take is that Lone Star never seems to get a lot of mention around here, but maybe it deserves another look.

    What was the nature of the disagreement regarding the Champagne Velvet, if you can recall?
  33. jesskidden

    jesskidden Meyvn (1,344) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey

    That's another AB-InBev Mexican entry that (they hope) will take the place of Corona, since they had to sell the rights to the Corona and other GM brands to Constellation to get DoJ approval for the buyout of Grupo Modelo.
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  34. Junior

    Junior Disciple (334) May 23, 2015 Michigan

    Then why bother reading and responding. Next time you are trying not to be rude, try harder.
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    I would have liked to have Yuengling Premium, and next time I am out East I will seek both out. I have never had either but have had Traditional many times and enjoyed it.

    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    I have seen Estrella but have not tried it. It has been ages since I have had any non-craft Mexican lagers. If/when I do one of those tastings, I will likely include a few American AALs (ignore the redundancy of sauing American American Adjunct Lager) in order to test my assumption that Mexican lagers are just AALs from south of the border as well as shake up the field a llittle, though of course the true American AALs would be ineligible to move on to the championship round in such a case.

    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    I honestly quite like Lone Star, and this tasting proved that it is not just because of a certain Matthew McConaughey character in True Detective Season 1.

    The Champagne Velvet disagreement was that my girlfriend thought it was too heavy and too Pilsner malt-forward to be refreshing or stylistically accurate. It was quite hoppy per style as well. I still realky enjoyed it, but per what the style has become, it just did not make the final.
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  38. bbtkd

    bbtkd Poo-Bah (2,108) Sep 20, 2015 South Dakota
    Premium Trader

    The two beers that in my AAL days I went out of my way to get - as in it wasn't available near me in Wisconsin - were Coors Banquet and Stroh's, so glad to see they made the list. Not sure where I'd find Stroh's but between the two that's the one I might try again.

    On the other hand, growing up 30 miles from the brewery, Leinies was generally considered vile - partly due to high school rivalry. Won a 12 pack at a Leinies-sponsored festival once, but didn't claim it.
  39. TongoRad

    TongoRad Poo-Bah (2,505) Jun 3, 2004 New Jersey
    Premium Trader

    I suppose that illustrates the difference between rating 'to style' and rating 'with style in mind'. Either approach works, as long as you're consistent with it, which it seems like you were. I still think it's a top notch version, for precisely the reasons you found :wink:.
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    THANAT0PSIS Crusader (764) Aug 3, 2010 Wisconsin

    I love it personally, too. Wish I could get it in cans in my area, but I always just see bottles. Still a really tasty brew, though.

    And thank you. I really try to be as consistent as possible, but I am definitely not perfect.
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