What am I saying? Don’t rate beers? I see you write about beers that you like on this blog all the time!
Well yes, I do mention a number of beers that I have enjoyed at different times throughout my excursions, but, what you should notice is that I never put a character on that description. No A-F. No 1-5…10…35. No first grade word grades (Good, Very Good, Poor, Excellent). I will admit that I used to participate in rating on websites like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. I was obsessed with improving my rating profile like most of the people on these sites. Sitting at the table pouring beers at my desk, giving ratings that all started to sound the same after a while. Honestly it felt like a chore, and I was finding myself getting defensive when I saw someone downrate a beer I absolutely loved. How did these people not understand the sublime flavors of Samuel Adams Double Bock?
I also saw opposing ratings that really confused me because of the writer’s word choice. One of my favorite Imperial Stouts (Bell’s Expedition) was described by one review as tasting deliciously like charcoal and rose petals. Charcoal…and rose petals. I get the roasted aspect of the beer making you think coffee and smokey flavors….but charcoal is one word I would just never use for this beer. Then to also say you got a lot of rose petal off the beer? I have to call bull shit on that rating sir. Nothing in that wonderful beer would give you that impression so I either have to assume you are a troll of some sort or someone who is rather misinformed about what you were drinking. After that day, I was rather disillusioned with offering my ratings on beers. They just seemed to be pawns in another online community where it was more important to score points. That may not be what everyone does, and I do check these sites to get a base line on beers that I am going to try and I do value the opinions of the bloggers that started the sites. There was just a contingent of the online community that didn’t appeal to me.
I was a little put off by my sudden realization, and that coincided with a visit to one of my favorite beer bars (Churchkey). I happened up to the bar and sat next to an older gentleman whose name I cannot remember. But it was the conversation we had that made me envy his existence. He was at the bar meeting friends with a few bottles of beer to try at the bar, as well as a few beers from the bar. He was more than willing to pour me a glass eagerly asking if I had ever tried a beer from Trans Tunisia (it wasn’t good but now I can say that I have had a beer from Trans Tunisia). The other impressive thing was that this man had sampled beers from over 90 countries and had sampled over 10,000 beers. I asked this sage person who was clearly enjoying his later years in a fashion to make any real beer geek jealous, “How do you catalog these beers, and do you rate them?” Well apparently he has an excel spread sheet and writes everything down when he goes to beer festivals. When it comes to ratings, he found that he had to stop doing them. Why? Because he frequently experienced a situation where he would rate a beer one day and then the next day he would try it and would find himself less impressed. Why? As he pointed out….EVERYTHING.
Everything can and does have an effect on how you enjoy a beer. The glass, the location, the people you are with, the temperature outside, the day of the week. It can all change how you enjoy beers. Don’t believe me? Buy two bottle of the same beer, drink one Monday night after work and drink the other Friday after work. Seems like it would have an effect on how you are enjoying the beer, right? What I like to tell you all about are the special beers that I experience at dinners, festivals, and bars, usually with people who are important to me. It’s nice to write about a beer you like when you are sitting on the couch or the game or at a special event, but your senses are inevitably going to change based on the situation. But I don’t want to pass judgment on a beer or brewery based on one beer that may have been consumed in less than ideal conditions. This mentality also coincided with a few stories I had read from one of the icons of craft beer, Sam Calagione.
Sam is one of the most passionate advocates and defenders of the industry and I think he has a good head around the situation that craft beer is in. Any percentage growth of the industry as a whole only puts a small dent in the 90+ percentage of the total market controlled by the macro brewers. One of his recent quotes was, “It’s pretty depressing to frequently visit this site (BeerAdvocate) and see the most negative threads among the most popular. This didn’t happen much ten years ago when craft beer had something like a 3 percent market share.” I agree. This movement is too young to be putting down a craft brewery just for making money. In a further interview I watched, Sam points out, “90% of the Beer Advocate community is awesome and is doing god’s work to put small breweries like Dogfish and particularly smaller to the national radar of good beer, but there is that minority component of eating their young. (Better Beer Authority; 12:04).” The last thing that anyone should be doing is putting down a brewery just because you don’t like them. People who are new to craft beer really take the opinions of other people seriously, and I don’t think people should be putting down breweries just because they don’t like one beer.
At the end of this all, I am a beer geek and enjoy taking the time to passionately advocate for better beer. I want my friends out trying all the new beer that they can, and frankly I am very proud about every friend I have that now goes to the bar and requests a craft beer over a macro brew. Beer snobs use their drinking to lord it over other people and make them feel like they can’t stack up to the drinking habits of more informed patrons. And if you want to measure statistics of beers up against numbers such as overall popularity, the macro breweries would inherently win because they control most of the market. If rating even one beer lowly makes one new drinker reconsider craft beer, then it’s not worth it to me. Nothing depresses me more than seeing a new beer drinker excitedly mention a certain IPA to another semi-educated person and have them smack them down because that IPA isn’t Pliny the Elder or Heady Topper. The inclination that beer is something that regular people can’t start to enjoy because they don’t know what the best beers are is insane.
This is a drink of the common man. We have elevated it but it should never be something scary like a sophisticated wine list. Beer drinkers are the most friendly people in the world, we just want to drink with you and share. Don’t scare people away from a beer because its a B+ instead of an A-.
Anyway, I am preparing a follow-up post to this to compare the difference between a beer snob and a beer geek. I am just on the heels of visiting Yards Brewery and Samuel Adams (the long wait is finally over) so I plan on relaying that information. And I will be making my pilgrimage to DogFish Head in August to see the glorious brewery and eat and drink at the brewpub (one of my favorite restaurants), so, be prepared for more posts soon.