I take very seriously my role as the Lone Listicler, keeping my own counsel and avoiding the corrupting influences of scuttlebutt and daylight to provide the Beer Internet with its only fair and accurate source of rankings, slander, and bullshit. But I was nervous about this compilation of overrated beers, so I broke down and sought nominations from Twitter, my wife's coworkers, and various other rubes and rummies who may or may not know the first goddamn thing about the listicular arts.
My cowardice was duly punished, because although I got a lot of good ideas, I also noticed a lot of consensus, which is antithetical to the very concept of overrated-ness. If everyone thinks a certain beer gets more credit than it deserves, then who's doling out this phantom credit? So we need to arrive at some rough definition of "overrated," which means this is going to be an abject shitshow.
The last Drunkspin list ranked American IPAs, and the preamble stated that to be eligible a beer had to be widely distributed, under 7.5 percent ABV, and sold in my state. That disclaimer helped keep the "What about Pliny and Two-Hearted?" complaints down to a manageable 75 percent of all comments. So discussion of a list with more nebulous criteria stands very little chance of staying on course.
Futile though it may be, let's try to agree on some guidelines. First, we're not leaning too heavily on raw sales figures. Just because Bud Light is the best-selling beer in America despite tasting like the condensation on the handle of an airport piss-pot doesn't mean it's overrated. It just means that tens of millions of people who don't even bother to rate beer keep buying it.
Diehard drinkers of the ubiquitous macro brands display a paradoxically tepid passion. A Bud Man is a Bud Man, but not for any particular reason other than having defined himself as one way back when. Now that he's got that decision made, he can shift his daily focus to the more important matters of keeping the fridge full and the buzz steady. This characterization is not intended as a slight. Some people just have better (or at least other) things to think about. These people drink a fucking TON of shitty beer, but they don't proselytize on its behalf. Let's just leave them be.
We're also judging these beers strictly on their aesthetic merit. This means that when I tell you Yuengling is overrated—and oh, I'm going to tell you that!—I'm not trying to steal your childhood. I fully understand that nostalgia and positive association can make something taste better to you. But that doesn't do the rest of us any good.
Also, "overrated" is not synonymous with "bad." There are a handful of perfectly good beers on this list, and even a couple of great ones. There may be nothing wrong with them, per se, but they're not as good as their ubiquity on reputable beer menus or their cult status will have you believe.
(Note: I've never had Bell's Oberon, but every fiber of my soggy being is certain that it belongs on this list. There is just no way it's as good as millions of Midwestern wackos insist.)
All right. Let's hit it.
Miller High Life: Way too many otherwise tasteful people regard this as the cream of the shit-brew crop. It's not. High Life is markedly inferior to Pabst Blue Ribbon and Schlitz.
Blue Moon: Most mildly engaged beer-drinkers realize that ShockTop is Anheuser-Busch's crass attempt to jack craft beer's momentum, but for some reason Coors's Blue Moon hustle flies under the radar. Of course a beer isn't bad or overrated just because it's brewed by an international conglomerate, but Blue Moon is one of the worst wheat beers around and is therefore wholly undeserving of its market share. It's not that hard to find Hoegaarden, Widmer Brothers Hefeweizen, or Allagash White these days. There's no excuse to drink Blue Moon.
Killian's Red: Another shitty Coors joint. Drink Smithwick's or, better yet, O'Hara's Red.
Heineken: One of my favorite lies is that I don't judge people by what they drink, but the truth is I have a hard time respecting anyone I see holding this skunky pinkie ring of a beer.
Corona: Always skunked, maybe even intentionally. It's not a great sign when your beer is customarily served with a lime to hide the flavor. If you like lime in your beer, that's cool (and weird), but in that case, you're better off just drinking the cheapest thing you can find.
Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale: This was one of the most disappointing things I've tried in the past several years. You can get all sorts of barrel-aged beers these days—KelSo recently put out a really nice Jameson-barrel IPA, for instance—so there's no reason to settle for this erstwhile novelty. It tastes like generic strong ale overdosed with vanilla.
Heady Topper and all the other wait-in-line double IPAs: Double IPAs are so expensive to make (and therefore to buy) that there aren't too many bad ones on the market. I love Heady Topper, and I get excited every time one of my beer-obsessive friends tosses one my way, but I can't justify waiting around all morning outside a middle-of-nowhere brewery for the privilege of buying something that's only marginally better than Dogfish Head 90 Minute, which you can buy on friggin' Amtrak.
Stella Artois: This is clearly just Belgium fucking with us. Stella Artois has to be the very worst beer they make.
Bass Ale: This only still exists because stupid black and tans do.
Magic Hat #9: Vermont's first nationally prominent brewery seems to be more interested in marketing than brewing these days, and it's high time for their apricot flagship to go away. I'll fuck with fruit beer—I love 21st Amendment's Hell or High Watermelon, and even have a soft spot for the unremarkable Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat—but #9's popularity far outstrips its quality.
Your local brewery's flagship: In most cases, the beer that put a brewery on the map way back when—even if way back when was two years ago—has since been surpassed in-house. They may need to keep the sales workhorse around to keep the ship afloat, but the brewers themselves know that they've gotten better at their craft since creating that first hit recipe. (Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale are notable exceptions to this rule, which applies most heavily to smaller operations.)
North Coast Old Rasputin: Imperial stouts from high-end breweries are similar to double IPAs in that they're almost all very good. And Old Rasputin, from the redoubtable producer of America's finest pilsner, is awesome. But it's not as transcendent as its reputation suggests.
Anchor Steam: Hey man, I'm not any happier about this than you are. I like Anchor Porter and California Lager, but the Steam isn't very good. It's too malty and musty, and it bores my poor tongue to death.
Rolling Rock: Rolling Rock, which sucks real bad, has a strange little mystique around it for some reason. Can anyone explain why a large segment of the Pennsylvanian diaspora considers this to be the ultimate good-time juice?
Red Stripe: This is just a Jamaican marketing hustle. I'm told Harvard students fall for it in alarming numbers. Suckers. Red Stripe isn't even good for Caribbean beer. You want to get all islandic, drink yourself some Prestige (Haitian) or Presidente (Dominican).
Moosehead: Canadian Red Stripe.
Shiner Bock: Shiner is reputed to make some very good beers, but I've only had the much-heralded Bock, which is musty and dirty. Sure, fuck it: Texan Red Stripe.
OK, so that settles that. Time to ban me from Pennsylvania, fight about Bell's amongst yourselves, and point out anything I've missed.
Will Gordon loves life and tolerates dissent. He lives in Cambridge, Mass., and has visited all of the other New England states, including, come to think of it, Vermont. Find him on Twitter@WillGordonAgain.
Image by Jim Cooke.
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