Brew Blog: Big Flats 1901

Poor "Big Flats 1901." It's such an easy target, people just can't help themselves. First, it's made for and sold exclusively by Walgreens, and, clearly, booze marketed by a drugstore has to be bad. Then, they had to go ahead and give it a name easily synonymous with crappy beer. Then, some marketing whiz thought he'd take it one step further by giving this poorly named "drugstore exclusive" brew a slogan ("It's the water that makes it") ready made for mockery.

In fact, the beer is so lampoon-able that it already has a bigger online presence as a caricature of itself than (as the label puts it) a Genuine Brew. Some write-ups I've come across are so over-the-top and predictable in their skewering that one actually wonders if the reviewer bothered to drink the beer, or if they just took the obvious pot-shots and called it a day.

The thing is, Big Flats is actually not that bad. Now, let's be clear, here; this ain't craft beer. It's not meant to delight the senses, it's meant to dull them. If you're looking for a beer to savor, slowly uncovering hints of this and notes of that, move on. There will be very little beer-geekery in this review.

I almost didn't bother pouring Big Flats because, like it or not, very little of it will see the inside of a pint glass. I did, however, want to give it as fair a shake as I could. It's a pretty straightforward American Lager from every perspective, and its nearly colorless, crystal-clear appearance is the first giveaway. Very high carbonation gives it a light, fluffy head that drops away to a thin cap within a minute or two.

Pouring the beer also revealed what is certainly its biggest flaw, a slight skunkiness that billowed out of the glass as I poured. Fortunately, though, that was short-lived. It was also kind of odd, as I had been under the impression that "skunking" was a reaction between sulfur compounds and hops, activated by exposure to light, and should theoretically be impossible in canned beer. Oh, sorry, I promised no beer-geekery. Moving on.

Thankfully, the skunk gave way quickly, leaving a very faint aroma in its wake. It smelled like someone had mixed a couple of handfuls of Rice Krispies in with some Wonderbread dough. I don't know about you, but I think the smell of bread and Rice Krispies is actually pretty pleasant. One of my favorite smells in the city of Houston is found driving past the Sunbeam bakery on Washington Avenue. I don't like to eat cheaply made white bread, but the aroma is actually kind of intoxicating.

Realistically, I could probably stop there, and you'd already have a pretty good idea of what this beer is like. The flavor mostly repeats the aroma, minus the skunkiness. First, though, you're hit by a very zingy carbonation. It's so effervescent, it kind of feels like liquid Pop-Rocks. It's very crisp and light, with some very slight spicy and floral notes --more beer-geekery! sorry, guys -- from the hops, but no bitterness, at all. The bready, clean-grained taste is exactly what you'd expect from smelling Big Flats, and pairs unexcitingly but nicely with an ambiguous subtle sweetness.

Look, it's nothing to write home about, but it's not the worst beer in the world, either. There's nothing offensive about it, once that first slight whiff of skunk clears out. It's certainly no worse than any other big brew American Adjunct Lager, and I'd argue it's better than many. I'm willing to wager that this very blog has its share of PBR drinkers. This is just as "good," maybe even a tad better. Plus, it's only 50 cents a can. Next time I come home from work tired, wanting an adult beverage that will slake my thirst and take the faintest of edges off my day (it is, after all, only 4.5% ABV), without requiring the mental effort necessary to discern esthers and aldehydes and variously roasted malts, I just might reach for a Big Flats.

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Nicholas L. Hall is a husband and father who earns his keep playing a video game that controls the U.S. power grid. He also writes for the Houston Press about food, booze and music, in an attempt to keep the demons at bay. When he's not busy keeping your lights on, he can usually be found making various messes in the kitchen, with apologies to his wife.
Contact: Nicholas L. Hall