Of course, the wonders of these inter-tubes is that we have instant access to all sorts of information. Unfortunately, it's not generally very handy when actually standing in front of the cooler at the liquor store. If you are one of the lucky few in possession of a Crack-berry you could limber up your thumbs and look some information up. But, really, what kind of tool does that? Right. Well. Let's ignore that question for the moment, because sometimes that damned device is blocked by the faraday cage of fluorescent lights and structural steel.
Allow me to back up a minute and set the mood. We were driving home from Thanksgiving; driving along I-30 in South-Western Chicago hoping to avoid the traffic on the expressways. A light snow was starting to fall. It was Sunday (significant because, it turns out, liquor stores aren't open in Indiana on Sundays - you can only buy beer at restaurants or bars that serve food). I was jonesing for some beer that I couldn't buy in Wisconsin. We were going to pass within 20 minutes of Two Brothers Brewery and planned to stop (spoiler: it was closed, despite its website that promised hours of noon to 5 on Sundays). Three Floyds is no longer available in Wisconsin (only Indiana and Illinois) and there's some stuff that you just can not get here.
So, we were stopping occasionally at liquor stores. A fun thing to do if you have some time to kill. We found a disturbingly large collection of malt liquor on the East side of Chicago Heights. We found some Two Brothers. We found the usual Three Floyds suspects (Gumballhead, Alpha King, Robert the Bruce). But nothing special. But, we did find a beer I had never heard of. It billed itself as "America's 1st Italian Brew." And was called Cugino Light. It was brewed in Monroe, Wisconsin. The Crackberry was of no use.
Red pill or blue pill? Do you buy the beer or not. At this point, you know as much about the beer as I did while I was holding it in my hands. There are two reasons I put it down and did not buy it. The first is that I am not a fan of light beers; nothing against them, I just do not usually drink them. The other reason is that it was a beer brewed just down the street in Monroe that I had never heard of. Not that I know everything, but I am moderately familiar with the Minhas product line down there and have kept up on the Berghoff news. I had never heard of a Cugino (or Cugino Light, for that matter) being brewed there.
If ever there was a lesson for "trust your instincts." It now appears that Cugino Light was brewed by The Cugino Brewing Company out of Batavia, Illinois. (A side note: Batavia, Illinois is separated from Warrenville, Illinois - the home of Two Brothers Brewing - by the Fermi National Accelerator Complex, a huge particle accelerator and high-energy physics laboratory). Cugino had contracted with Joseph Huber to brew Cugino and Cugino Light. In 2003. It does not appear that it has been brewed since 2003.
This is a case where "aging" or "cellaring" is not a particularly good idea. A sampling of reviews of this beer from Beer Advocate and Rate Beer:
- The aroma has an off chemical smell ... its got a chemical processed flavor, with a hint of skunk
- Pours way too dark for a light beer ... there are a few floaties visible
- Almost ethereal with a damp, musty basement finish.
- My first and last.
And a few (BA. RB.) from the "non-Light" version:
- Not sure I would go out of my way to pick-up
- might make a decent lawnmower beer
- found this at some store in wisconsin once on a camping trip: $2 for a 6pack. figured, why not, right? ratebeer.com offers four good reasons why not: aroma, appearance, flavor, and palate.
- No need to use your liver as a sieve for this one.
- Wherever it’s from, I don’t want any more.
So, the moral of the story? I'm not sure there is one. Maybe it's that sometimes you should be very afraid of the beer you've never heard of. Maybe it's the same old story that a contract brewery is only as good as the recipe. Maybe it's that Joliet, Illinois is a suburban wasteland unfit for subtlety or fine taste - a place where a beer like Cugino can survive on the shelves for 4 years. Heck, maybe it's just that not every beer is good.