Serious Eats: Drinks

Drinking with Will Gordon: New Budweiser Black Crown Is a Success (Of Sorts)

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This weekend my wife and I spent an inordinate amount of time discussing denial. It's a tricky business, because admitting to denial tends to undercut the operation, and what a very important operation it can be. For instance, we live in Boston, where the temperature's been 100 degrees below zero every second for the past two months. Complaining about the weather didn't help as much as I'd hoped, and hiding from it only worked for a couple of days until we ran out of beer and things to talk about. So come Sunday we had no better option than to bundle up and venture forth into the terrible frozen outside in search of medicine and diversion, all the while telling ourselves and each other it wasn't that cold. We were lying, but we were also surviving and getting beer.

We decided that our next big feat of necessary denial will be pretending the Super Bowl is not happening Sunday. This denial will be born mostly of petulance: Our preferred team isn't playing, so football is stupid and gross and we'd rather watch those Sunday night smart-people shows on cable channels we probably don't get anyway. But a minor and honest part of our avoidance stems from football exhaustion. I love watching the NFL, but it's such an overwhelming spectacle every week that I'm burnt out come February. I'm ready to fall back into the weekly treat of planning meals and errands without regard for the football schedule. Plus the Ravens are all cheaters and murderers and grown men who wear purple to work.

Of course, missing the Super Bowl also means missing the ads. Fine by me—I've never been one of those possibly fictional people who are just in it for the commercials—but I'm at least a little bit curious about the sure-to-be-splashy ad for the new Budweiser Black Crown.

I tried Black Crown a couple months ago, back when it was the Los Angeles representative in Budweiser's Project 12, a test-marketing (and marketing-marketing) mission in which Anheuser-Busch brewmasters from around the country submitted recipes hoping to become the brand's next new beer. The eventual winner, an amber lager, made a vaguely positive impression on me then—though I preferred St. Louis's golden pilsner and Williamsburg's vanilla-and-bourbon-finished light lager—so I was pretty excited when a sharp-looking Budweiser briefcase bearing the Black Crown logo showed up in the mail last week.

I don't have much use for the vial of glitter, the beechwood chip, or the big metal plaque pushing Black Crown's curious new #tasteis hashtag, but I've always got room for three bottles of decent beer, so I am pleased to report that Black Crown is exactly that, decent beer.

I suspect Bud Black Crown's in for a lot of abuse from the craft beer protectionists, because the beer doesn't live up to the hype. But let's be reasonable for a second: of course it doesn't. But that doesn't mean it's a bad brew. If you regard Black Crown as A-B's attempt to co-opt the craft beer market, it's an abject failure. It's a simple, fair lager with more caramel than necessary and more hops than regular Bud. There's a bit of orange bubblegum on the nose, then a wave of caramel, and then a slightly stale grassy finish. It has some, though not much, of the typical Budweiser wet cardboard essence, but it's still a noticeable step up from the 137-year-old flagship.

In fact, as recently as a few years ago, Black Crown might even have been the best lager available in certain stores. But now that craft lager is finally starting to catch up with the pale ales and IPAs that first delivered us from the clutches of the generic yellow-fizzicists that dominated most of 20th century American brewing, Black Crown has no special distinction. Near me, Notch Brewing and Jack's Abby are making all manner of great lagers; I'm sure someone near you is, too.

So taken as an honest-to-hops craft beer, Black Crown is a washout. But taken as an earnest attempt to provide the Bud drinker with a better bottle of his favorite beer, it's a success. It goes for $7.99 a six-pack at a local shop where regular Bud is $6.49, which means it's priced about halfway between the typical American premium lager and the good stuff. It's also 6% alcohol by volume (up from Bud's 5), which is OK by me, though I do fear that the company's marketing materials mention this extra pop a little too often. Too much emphasis on higher alcohol content recalls the bad old days of ice beer, when the behemoths decided that the best way to promote their new beers was by promising to get you drunk faster than ever.

In the past, A-B focused their new product development efforts on lowering the calories and/or raising the ABV, or covering up the inherent Budness of it all with fake fruit flavorings. Not this time (or at least, not as much this time). In the final accounting, I'm going to say Black Crown earns its shelf space by being a good-faith effort to improve the Bud drinker's quality of life.

About the author: Will Gordon loves life, particularly the parts of life that involve bourbon and Totino's Pizza Rolls. You can eat and drink with him in Boston or follow him @WillGordonAgain.

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