Permit me a bit of a rant, here. I am really tired of the carping about the big commercial brewers by craft beer snobs. Oh sure, I'm one of them but I try not to act so "above the station" of the masses and their preferred drinks. Of course I recognize the fact that most of the B-M-C (Budweiser-Miller-Coors, the American Light Lager triumvirate) offerings (insert the appropriate Molson, Warsteiner, Fosters, etc. for countries outside the U.S.) are less adventurous and more concerned with selling volumes of their product than with producing small batches of handcrafted beer but that doesn't make their product "bad" or "undrinkable" as is commonly asserted by my beer snob buddies out there. In fact, if truth be told, it makes their products extremely "drinkable".
I've recently seen some activity on a couple of the craft beer forums and talk groups to which I subscribe, concerning the merits (or lack thereof) of Anheuser-Busch's American Ale. Now, I'm not saying A-B's American Ale is a great beer or that it should be praised for being more flavorful than A-B's normal offerings, merely that some of the criticisms hurled at it are unfair and mislabeled. I've read-on one of these forums-that it tastes like Bud Light. That's absurd. I've read that it was brewed with "drinkability" in mind. That is probably true but the writer was using the term derisively, as though "drinkability" was an invented, marketing term that meant little or nothing (think "fahrvergnugen"). The term does have some meaning and the truth is that (I'm sure many craft beer drinkers will agree with me, here) American Ale isn't exactly all that "drinkable".
What exactly is "drinkability"? Of course, at its very heart the word means consumability, right? If an item is drinkable, it possesses the qualities that allow the item to be drank. Of course, that would mean liquidity, potability, temperature appropriateness, etc. It is not that definition that is being used in the Bud ads and it is not that definition that we tend to use when describing beer. Drinkability refers to the different aspects of a beer that make it easier to drink. This is also what A-B is talking about when they describe their beers as "drinkable".
I like to view this quality as displayed in a continuum of different beers. A Bud Light is very drinkable. It's light, refreshing and not too filling or chewy. Of course a good English Mild is similarly drinkable, while supplying something the Bud Light doesn't: flavor. At the other end of the continuum, a good English Barleywine is certainly delicious, chewy, intensely flavorful and filling. It is certainly not a session beer, though it may invite another (but not many). I hate to say it but this type of beer does not have "drinkability". Do I prefer them to their more drinkable cousins? Usually, but not always. If my bar had the recent Mild I brewed, that would be my regular beer!
Is this simply a marketing term invented by A-B for their ad campaign? No, it isn't. I have seen the term used by beer writers as knowledgeable as Gordon Strong, in the newest issue of Brew Your Own, for example. To further illustrate this, I'll let you in on a little secret: the bar I frequent most often is a beer desert. I mean by this that they sell only the most common B-M-C offerings, for the most part. The exception to this is the summer offering of Bell's Oberon. I go to this bar because it is close to my home, it offers the NTN trivia game I love to play and there are many of my friends there to meet (OK, the owners and serving staff are real cool, too). I don't go there for the beer (There! I said it!). I say this to explain that their replacement for Oberon this Fall was "American Ale". They thought this would make the beer geek (that's me) happy. Well, I was underwhelmed, even though I hadn't tried it, yet. So I got a glass and it wasn't a bad beer. It had some residual sweetness and definitely a more chewy mouthfeel than most B-M-C offerings (I really don't notice any hops, though)...you could say it had an ale character. I had a few over the course of the evening and didn't mind it at all.
I have tried to make this beer my regular beer when at this bar but I really can't because it is too "strong" for that purpose. It is less drinkable than B-M-C and is too flavorful, heavy and has too much alcohol to drink it as if it were a session beer. Now, I would drink the Oberon that way, even though it is stronger, but that's because Oberon tastes better and is more "drinkable" (due to its enjoyability, not it's gravity or mouthfeel). I switch to Bud or Bud Light if I'm going to have more than a couple.
American Ale is not a bad beer but it is far down the list of even the big brewers' beers for me. I would greatly prefer an Amber Bock to it and perhaps even a Killian's, too. Both of these beers are more enjoyable for me to drink. Given my druthers I'd have a good craft-brewed beer but that is usually not available to me in the beer desert (I need an oasis!). Both of these beers is also more "drinkable", as well. I mean this both in the sense that they are less filling, less chewy and "lighter" but also in the sense that they invite another, which is an even more important aspect of drinkability.