As Americans’ taste for craft beer grows, it’s causing a shift in how the big brewers are approaching the market.
Beer lovers might have noticed Anheuser-Busch’s “Shock Top” wheat line or MillerCoors’ “Batch 19” line, among others.
Enter Budweiser’s “Project 12 ” initiative into the mix. It’s the same event that brought forth the beer giant’s new “Black Crown” amber lager.
The idea goes like this: Budweiser releases three small-batch styles made by brewmasters at its various breweries to see what the public likes best in order to create a new beer to add to the lineup.
According to the company, the brewmasters have to develop the recipes using the yeast that they’ve been using since 1876.
Each beer is identified by the ZIP code from the brewery where it was made. This year there is a beer from Columbus in the mix.
Straight from Budweiser’s website, here are the descriptions for the three contenders:
- Batch 94534 (Fairfield, Calif.): Brewed with a unique blend of North Pacific hop varieties, including Cascade and Palisade, this bold, hoppy lager is 5.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) and offers a distinct taste of the American Northwest.
- Batch 23185 (Williamsburg, Va.): Aged on a bed of bourbon barrel staves and vanilla beans, this light amber lager indulges the sweet side and features a 5.5% ABV.
- Batch 43229 (Columbus, Ohio): Brewed with chocolate and caramel malts for a rich auburn appearance and finished on Beechwood chips for a crisp, clean taste, this deep amber lager is 6% ABV.
Bud fans are encouraged to vote for their favorite in a variety of ways, including a Bud website and social media . The Project 12 beers will be available through the end of the year.
The response has not always been warm from microbrewers. They are rightly worried that a macro-brewer moving in on their turf could push them out of local markets, snatching up customers who are new to microbrew.
Some customers might opt for a slightly cheaper six-pack from the macrobrewers rather than take a chance on the craft beer that they aren't used to. However, choosing the local alternative has more of an impact as the money you spend stays in the local economy as opposed to be dispersed across the country.
Many Cincinnati brewers offer beers at Tri-State grocery stores similar in price to the macro-brews to boot. Also, getting beer in take-home growlers direct from a tap room will always give you more bang for your buck.
The release of Budweiser’s Project 12 has me wondering what local beers might offer a similar experience for craft beer newbies and fans alike.
To that end I set up an unscientific taste test with two of my WCPO.com compatriots. Here are the Queen City beers we put in head-to-head tastings:
- Rhinegeist’s Zen Pale Ale : American Pale Ale with Golden Promise malt base and dry hopped with Cascade and Simcoe; 4.5%ABV, 45 IBU
- Rivertown’s Dunkel : A Munich-style dark lager with “surprisingly light body and mild roasted flavor and caramel undertones.” 5.8% ABV, 24 IBU
- Triple Digit’s Cranium Coffee Vanilla Bourbon Stout : A bourbon barrel-aged imperial oatmeal stout with coffee and vanilla. 11.5% ABV 60 IBU
Rivertown and Triple Digit’s beers are available in bottles, and Rhinegeist’s is available on draft or in 32 or 64 ounce growlers. Also, there are only limited quantities of the Cranium and Zen, so you’ll have to snatch that up before it runs out.
Here’s our unfiltered tasting notes:
>North Pacific Lager vs. Zen Pale Ale
Budweiser’s North Pacific Lager:
- Refreshingly crisp
- Still mostly tastes like Budweiser, but the hoppy aftertaste can sometimes juxtapose strangely against the pilsner malts
- Exudes a slightly sour smell
Rhinegeist’s Zen Pale Ale:
- Refreshingly crisp but with a balanced malt-to-hops taste overall
- Significantly more aromatic
- Zen was more carbonated/bubbly, more pleasing taste
- Finishes clean, no lingering aftertaste
Budweiser put forth a decent effort into making a hoppy lager. The three of us agreed that either beer would be great for camping or tailgating. We’d love to see Rhinegeist make the Zen Pale Ale one of the first beers it cans. The Zen was just simply more balanced than the NPL with none of the negatives.
>Beechwood Bock vs. Rivertown Dunkel
Budweiser’s Beechwood Bock:
• Consistent flavor from start to end; a true departure from Bud’s normal taste
• Overly sweet, yet with the same sour smell as the NPL
• Has a heavy body/mouthfeel, almost mealy in taste
• Has a striking color, but is not refreshing
• Not sure what season or event this would be pleasing to drink during
• Great beer for fall or early spring
• Is almost as sweet as the Bock but is more balanced thanks to the hops
Lighter mouthfeel, refreshing to drink
• Would order for hearty meals, great dinner beer
Our initial excitement over the Beechwood Bock was immediately tempered by an overly sweet taste that stayed throughout the drinking of the beer. The Bock needs more hops or a lighter body to make the beer work. The Dunkel was significantly more balanced. Though still as sweet as the Bock, the malty flavor was balanced by a light body and healthy hop addition.
>Vanilla Bourbon Cask Lager vs. Cranium Vanilla Coffee Stout
Budweiser’s Vanilla Bourbon Cask Lager:
• Strong, pleasing vanilla aroma and flavor
• Can get a hint of the bourbon but it’s very faint
• Crisp beer but suffers from a buttery/candy aftertaste
• Improved significantly as it got warmer
• Could be a pleasing after-dinner beer
Triple Digit’s Cranium Coffee Vanilla Bourbon Stout:
• Whoa…. Just whoa
• Intense, flavorful beer that is delightfully complex
• All flavors are well-balanced: taste goes from coffee to vanilla to malt to bourbon
• Heavy body and very strong, not a beer you’ll be having several pints of
• Aroma is wonderfully complex; this beer requires almost all your senses
This was a slightly less fair matchup. Not only is Cranium a stout as opposed to an amber lager; it’s also significantly more alcoholic. That said, Budweiser’s entry did a good job standing its ground. If the brewers can figure out how to get rid of the buttery taste, they could have a winner. Cranium is simply unbeatable in this category though.
Overall, Budweiser put together some decent entries that we hope will entice beer lovers who haven’t quite come over to craft to consider trying something new. We were most pleased with the North Pacific Lager overall. It was still crisp and refreshing and had a distinctive hoppy flavor that would balance out the mellowness that Bud is known for.
If you’re looking to try something new though, we highly recommend you head to Rhinegeist, Rivertown or Triple Digit for a taste of their beers. Not only will you be treated to some unique Queen City flavors, your dollars will be staying in the community as well.
Follow #9Beer's Jesse Folk on Twitter at @wcpojesse .