26 April 2008

Thoughts on Reviewing Beer

I am a member of Beer Advocate, and, despite my better judgment, subscribe to their magazine. I don't belong to RateBeer, and I don't know why.

I purchased a six-pack of Jimmy Buffett's Landshark Lager, and thought I would review it on BeerAdvocate for posterity. I didn't like it very much.

But as I began my review, I noticed this advice about reviewing a beer:

Try to review a beer with its style in mind vs. 100% personal taste, but realize that styles are highly subjective and open to interpretation by the brewer.

I defy anyone to find a review of an American Macro Lager on either site that reviews with style in mind versus personal taste. Every single American Macro review has a bad rating. Now, you cannot tell me that every single American Light Lager is a "D". At least, you can't if you are judging to style. There has to be at least one "A", doesn't there? How else can Lone Star win a Silver in the World Beer Cup? Otherwise, there would only be one winner.

So, Corona versus Landshark? On both sites, both beers are rated as "To be Avoided." Say you are stuck in a resort in Mexico that doesn't have a beer above 8% ABV, as the top 12 beers on the Beer Advocate list of the top beers. So you can only choose between ten or twelve "D-" beers?

There's something fundamentally flawed about these beer ratings. Are you telling me that sitting under a Live Oak Tree on a hot, Texas July day a Trappist Westvleteren 12 is better than a cold Budweiser?


posted by Jeff Holt at 18:27


Blogger assurbanipaul said...

The flaw is with the raters, not the ratings. These sites just don't attract fans of the major light lagers.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

True. There is a built in snobbery among the registered users. of Beer Advocate and Rate Beer.

4:01 PM  
Blogger Dr Joel said...

Part of it too though is that what you're using to guide your decision is just a bunch of opinions and biases...and geeks and snobs. I realize that you're just making a point here, so i mean this all as generally as possible.

The sum of the opinions of anyone who can register and rate anything in any way that they want doesn't make a very strong base. And not to take away from those who do rate each beer seriously, but letting a site with such free range of results tell you (you being anyone) what to drink rather than exploring styles or brewers yourself makes you one more tail in a big herd. It's ok to order a beer you never heard of and find out you don't like it or it's not to style or whatever makes a beer 'bad'.

8:31 AM  
Blogger Jay Jackson said...

Hey, I agree with you. I am trying to change that in the beer ratings. Check out my site www.brewpot.com It is not quite up yet but it works a lot differently!

10:08 AM  
Blogger Ron Pattinson said...

"Are you telling me that sitting under a Live Oak Tree on a hot, Texas July day a Trappist Westvleteren 12 is better than a cold Budweiser?"

Yes. Budweiser tastes nasty, Westvleteren rather nice.

Would I rather drink a good lager than Westvleteren in those circumstabces? Maybe, if it was Herold Kvasnicove.

But I do rather like Westvleteren. I think I might choose it whatever the weather.

4:32 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

While I have never had a Westvleteren, I'm sure it's a fine beer. My point is that there is a time for every beer. Would I want a Westvleteren after mowing the lawn? Doubt it. I'd drink a macro. Would I have a Macro in the evening relaxing with a book? Nope. I'd choose the Westvleteren.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Ron Pattinson said...

There is no occasion when I would choose to drink a Budweiser. I might be forced to drink it, if there were no other beer, but I wouldn't ever drink it voluntarily.

The perfect beer for a hot day? Guinness Special Export, lightly chilled.

5:26 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

But again, you make my point: The best beer in the world isn't always the best choice for a particular moment. While your bias against American macros will forever prevent you from drinking one, there are occasions where I might. And most people who subscribe to Rate Beer and Beer Advocate automatically share your opinion. The scores are biased in favor of craft beer, and therefore, unreliable and subjective.

5:58 AM  
Blogger assurbanipaul said...

The logic of your last statement is wrong.

Yes, beer rating websites are biased toward craft beer. But their disregard for macro products does not invalidate all the scores or opinions.

NFL.com is biased toward fans of football. That doesn't mean it should be discounted just because it contains no news about baseball.

Rating sites are cumulative opinions from special-interest groups, not judged rankings.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

I'm not completely disagreeing with you, but I think your analogy is wrong. NFL is geared toward football fans. Baseball fans have their own league, so getting baseball news from the NFL is unrealistic. NFL records do not necessarily reflect which teams have the best players. Is Brett Favre a worse quarterback than Troy Aikman, based solely on Super Bowl rings? There's the analogy.

11:42 AM  
Blogger assurbanipaul said...

Your NFL analogy is incorrect all the way across the board.

You're trying to force an equivalence between NFL team records (objective numbers) and beer reviews (subjective opinions). Won't work.

Now, I can *rate* Aikman as a better QB than Favre on qbadvocate.com, and a cumulative rating score can be obtained from everyone else's opinion. Aikman may score higher, or Favre might -- either way, it's a valid ranking garnered from an average of many opinions.

Nothing is invalidated here just because Montana doesn't make the list, even if "objectively" he may deserve to be on top.

Rating sites are collective averaged opinions, that's true. However, the numbers behind them make them anything but unreliable or biased. To the contrary, they are probably more accurate than professional polling.

5:24 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey said...

Point taken.

I still maintain that there should be "A+" beers in every category. Just because a bunch of beer snobs favor high alcohol sour beers over everything else does not make everything else inferior beer. But on beer rating sites, it does. The higher the alcohol and the greater the percentage of brettanomyces makes a beer the ne plus ultra of the beer world, with extra points if you can only get it by trekking to the brewery or buying it on eBay at a 1000% markup.

9:41 PM  
Blogger assurbanipaul said...

"I still maintain that there should be "A+" beers in every category."

This is the fundamental philosophical schism within the beer-rating community. ;)

3:18 AM  

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