Beer School #4: How to Judge a Beer by its Label

Really? Judge a beer by its label? As in, know if it tastes good before buying it?

Is that even possible? Do you know WHAT THIS MEANS?

Level 5 Beer Mage


Yes, by Odin’s missing eye! It is an age of miracles and wonder. Lazers in the jungle and a baby with a baboon heart.

Because they are out there, aren’t they. They are out there, the limitless brands of beers, stacked row upon row and rank upon file in their endless, dizzying, invincible variety. Each label screams for attention. Their fonts are aggressive, their colors loud and intimidating. And up till now, they’ve been in charge. Because inside the bottles? A mystery. “You have to buy us first,” they taunt, “and if you don’t like us you’re stuck with at least five more!”
And their laughter sounds like the tinkling of a thousand glass chandeliers.

That, my friends, is tyranny. And it will not stand.

But quick! To work! There is no time to lose.

The Useless Parts
First of all, there are useless parts of a label. They will try to get you to include them in your judgment, but you will not. Because like Rowdy Roddy Piper in his magic sunglasses, you will see them for what they are.

Useless Part (U.P.) #1: Any Award
Lots of beers sport awards on their labels. They mean nothing.

U.P. #2: History Lessons


Here in America, breweries want to tell you how they’re just down-home folks at heart. They want you to know how they started out as just Granper Joe cookin’ up his barley juice in the milking barn, or how ole’ Great-Uncle Matthias crossed the plains on a Conestoga wagon with their signature strain of yeast in his wife. Ignore them.

U.P. #3: Lists filled with Adjectives
These usually appear on the little labels that go around the neck, although they’ve been spotted on the main labels, too. They can be identified by the use of adjectives paired with ingredients, such as “clear, artesian waters” and “golden, aromatic barley”. These are as useless as Twitter. I hate you, Twitter.

The Warning Signs
The following things on a beer label are like bright colors on an insect. They advertise poison.

1. Devils, Demons, Goblins, Hobgoblins, Gargoyles, Gremlins, etc.
So many American microbrews have demons on their labels. So, so many. It’s an epidemic. It’s like metal albums in the eighties.
What devils (and demons, and gargoyles, and the like) signify is rebellion. They’re anti-authority. I blame Milton. What this says about the beer is that the brewer’s primary interest is not being a master of his craft. Their first concern is being different, and if I wanted a beer that’s simply different I’d put pop rocks in it.

That, and they’re not even being that imaginative about it. Like people with tattoos, they’re being different like everyone else.

2: “In the Belgian Style”
Imagine you really like celery. Someone hands you some rhubarb. “It’s in the celery style,” they say, so you try it. Maybe it kills you.

Americans haven’t got the Belgian thing down, and we never will. We have different soil, different seasons, different ambient variables. Why imitate the Belgians? We have our own masterpieces to offer.

3: Hops on the Label
Where did people get the idea that more hops makes a better beer? I’ll tell you a story:

Stop with the Hops!
Stop with the Hops!

I went out with a hipster friend of mine. I got a boring old domestic, he got an IPA with hops on the label. I think it even had some obnoxious name like Hop Goblin or SmallHops Blankets or something.

Anyway, it was so acidic that it burned his lips red and after downing the bottle he had heartburn so bad he vomited.

Two weeks later I saw him someplace else, and damned if he wasn’t drinking the same stupid beer. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because he wanted to look sophisticated. That, and he’s a pompous retard. God help him if it ever becomes sophisticated to staple your asshole shut.

And he’s not alone. There’s millions of you out there, choking down your syrupy acid sludge with the label held carefully outward and congratulating yourselves on your elevated tastes. You’re so stupid. You are laughably, pathetically stupid and your spouse has recurrent fantasies about hatchet murdering you every time you talk. I could explain to you how true quality in a beer comes from balancing the flavors and manipulating the fermentation, and not just dumping garbage bags full of hops into cough medicine, but you’re not listening anymore. You’re already searching the thesaurus for big words you can use to make your rebuttal sound smart.


Good Stuff
These are things you want to see on a label:

1. Local Mascots

I am all that is man!
I am all that is man!

Say a beer is from San Diego, for instance, and has a picture of a VW Woody with a couple surf boards on top. Or maybe it’s made in Texas outside a sheep-farming town and they’ve got a picture of a ram on the label. A local mascot on a bottle is a green light. Blow the rent money. It means the brewery is proud of their place, proud of their traditions, and proud to have their beer represent both.

2. Somebody’s Name
Think Yuengling. Think Henry Weinhard’s. When a person puts their name on a beer, it means they’re not afraid of getting hit every time they introduce themselves. That says volumes about their product.

3. Nothing but the Brand
Picture a can of Guinness: nothing but blackness and the brand. It’s like how Picasso used to pay restaurant tabs by scribbling things on a napkin. When you’ve been excellent long enough, the name is all you need.

Big Brother is watching you... screw up beer
Big Brother is watching you… and he’s Picasso

What light is this, that breaks across the realm? Why, it is the dawning of a new day. Banished are the shadows of uncertainty, the mists of doubt and fear. No longer do the teeming legions of unknown beers laugh at your approach. Now they greet you with solemn nods, and silently await your judgment. You are a wizard. You are a sorcerer. You can find beer gold with the diviner’s stick of your mind.

This knowledge is power, and the power is yours. Go forth thereby, into a land alive with opportunity.

Next time on Beer School: Cosplay girls!

Want more informative comedy from Brian? Try his Space Marines! and Dirtbag, both available here from Smashwords. Or Check out his articles about the Marine Corps at

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