Sh*t Online Beer Raters Do (But Shouldn’t)

C’mon, admit it, you know it happens…

1. Split a 12 ounce bottle of beer with eight or nine other people and make a rating out of it. If there isn’t more than one bottle to go around, it’s great that you share and your mother would be proud, but beer is not meant to be assessed by the ounce. And speaking of which…

2. Emerge from the GABF or any other festival that limits you to tiny servings with a notebook full of ratings. That’s compounding the sin of the small pour rating with the added issue of making reasonable tasting notes while being jostled on all sides by crowds of merry drinkers.

3. Rate a barley wine at a beer fest on a July afternoon. Beer is contextual, as much or likely more so than any other food or drink, and a monster brew meant for cold nights in front of the fireplace just isn’t going to translate to a stinking hot summer’s day.

4. Expect local bars and breweries to treat you specially because you’re a top rater. Really, get over yourself.

5. Wax poetic over the latest barrel-aged and woefully out-of-balance limited edition alcoholic mess while trashing a beautifully executed take on a kölsch or pilsner simply because it’s golden and people might be able to drink more than one at a time.

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75 Comments

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75 responses to “Sh*t Online Beer Raters Do (But Shouldn’t)

  1. Mike

    You’ve created an excellent list of some of the many flaws in the concept of beer rating. Beer raters should communicate with their friends and not the world at large.

    If I want to go see a new film, I do not scan the Oscar awards for possibilities nor, if I want to try a beer, am I interested in what some high school kid in Oklahoma thought of beer X.

    A countryman of mine wrote a very good blog post on the subject here: http://bierentrein.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/overrated/

    • Jeremy

      “Beer raters should communicate with their friends and not the world at large.” Seriously? lol

      The “What’s wrong with ratebeer/BA has been beaten to death already so I won’t do it here. Many of the points in that post misunderstand how those sites work. http://worldofbeer.wordpress.com/2011/01/28/why-brewers-make-so-many-strong-beers/

      • Mike

        Beer raters are posting nothing more than there personal taste. Are you interested in my personal taste? No? Well, you’ve proved my point.

      • Jeremy

        Am I interested in your taste? No, I have no idea who you are. I have no idea what you like and dislike or why. Am I interested in the tastes of specific online raters/writers whose tastes and interests I have taken the time to understand? Yes. (I read Stephen’s blog, but not John’s, I read RaterGuy12’s ratings but not RaterGuy14’s).

        Am I interested in the aggregate ratings of thousands of beer drinkers? Yes. Why? Because with a high degree of accuracy, they are useful predictors of whether or not I will like a beer – at least within certain styles. If a beer scores higher than a 4.0 on Ratebeer, and its an IPA, or a sour for example. It’s a pretty safe bet that I will at least like it. Scores for Imperial stouts, and smoked beers don’t tend to match my own tastes. The same applies for Rottentomatoes.com – Aggregate scores are far more useful than individual reviews.

  2. Zak

    ” …people might be able to drink more than one at a time.”

    Great to see you coming out in support of double-fisted drinking, Stephen.

  3. I’m only going to get myself in trouble, since I’m not really standing in defense of rating a barley wine on a July afternoon (because I’m not a fan of rating).

    However, re #3: Don’t drinkers get to pick their own context? I don’t favor a barley wine on a humid summer day, but I have been known to crave an unfiltered hell on a blustery winter evening. By the fire, even.

    • stephenbeaumont

      Trust you to emerge as the sh*t disturber, Stan. Preference is one thing, I’ll admit, but evaluation (ie: rating) is quite another. I might enjoy a glass of single malt when I’m feeling under the weather, for instance, but I’m not going to evaluate it on that basis.

      • That’s not the same thing, though. I doubt I’d go judging a barley wine when I’m unwell either (I’m not a rater, btw). I think separating the beer from the context is what good critics do. A good critic should be able to judge (or rate, if you will) a barley wine the same whether it’s on a hot summer’s day in a brewery parking lot or by the fire in an alpine lodge during a snowstorm.

        A bad critic says Mythos is the best beer EVAH based on their time drinking it while island-hopping in the Aegean.

        Real human beings don’t actually do 4, though, do they? I mean.. Jesus…

      • stephenbeaumont

        I agree with the removal of context — it’s what I strive for in every review — but I also don’t think that’s possible under all conditions. The barley wine example is an ideal one, IMO: no amount of mental conditioning will divorce that beer from the scorching conditions surrounding it. We are all, after all, but mere mortals.

        And I have personally witnessed all five of the above in action, including #4.

  4. With point 4, the key word is “expect”.

    You could insert “CAMRA member” or “Beer Blogger” in point 4 and it would still be true.

  5. there was a “duck and run for cover” but I guess it got filtered out as an invalid HTML tag…..

  6. I really like number 5, it was something that I was probably quite guilty of before I started homebrewing. Seeing the ingredients come together, and brewing some of the cleaner or simpler styles that I didn’t enjoy as much really helped me learn to appreciate the subtleties of the styles and when they are done well.

  7. Dean B

    My pet peeve is raters who will enter a rating for a beer that is not sold in their home market and has therefore been subject to less than ideal shipping conditions – and is invariably older than the shelf life intended by the brewer. Raters also tend to be militaristic about style guidelines while shouting out the other side of their mouth for brewers to be more “extreme”.

    To be fair the whole concept of beer and wine rating pisses me off.

    • Jeremy

      Dean how do you feel about brewers who intentionally ship their beer to a market knowing that it will not be in good shape by the time it gets there?

  8. Jeremy

    I tend to agree with most of your points Stephen but have elaborations on them. My first post disappeared on me so here is the bullet points:
    #1 I have split bottles a lot of ways before, imho it is more appropriate for some beers than others. Most seasoned beer drinkers can tell you if something is awful or amazing from a small sample. Obviously many beers fall somewhere in between. Also this would apply to the vast majority of professional wine writers as well right?

    #2 If 1oz is not enough to form an opinion at GABF, why is that the serving size? Either its appropriate serving size, or GABF is a booze up disguising itself as a beer festival. Discuss :)

    #3 Subjective.

    #5 Neither balanced nor unbalanced flavours are inherently virtuous. It is subjective. RB/BA tells us that statistically that subset of beer geeks like big and bold. Global sales tell us that most people prefer fizzy and bland. I’m sure I have been guilty of both, but “I find this kind of boring” does not equal “this is crap”. A point both raters and brewers could take to heart.

    • stephenbeaumont

      1. I don’t believe you can discern nuance in beer from a tiny mouthful, Jeremy, and by “nuance” I mean the complex flavours found in many a fine ale or lager. As for wine writers: a) They are dealing with something that is normally more alcoholic than beer; and b) Those I know labour long and hard over their notes, often returning to a bottle two or even three times before they are satisfied.

      2. It’s a stupid serving size that diminishes both beer and taster. I have no idea why they continue to use it.

      5. Indeed.

      • Jeremy

        The lack of nuance in some beers is sort of the point isn’t it. How many ounces of “the latest barrel-aged and woefully out-of-balance limited edition alcoholic mess” or Molbatts Microcarbonated Double Ice do I need to decide that there isn’t much in the way of nuance?

        I suppose the reverse argument would be that if the beers are that bad why are you drinking them in the first place, but at least in the case of the barrel aged mess you have to try it before you know that.

      • Doesn’t GABF use 1oz simply to avoid people from getting trashed? And, more importantly, I believe the judges are trying more than 1oz. to award medals.

      • A competition is a different thing, is not about how much a judge likes the beer, but how well the beer fits into its category, in that case, a 0.1l sample is enough.

      • Jeremy

        So you think it takes a smaller sample for a person to decide how accurately a beer matches a relatively complex set of style guidelines, than it does for some one to say “I like this and this is why”? That seems VERY counter intuitive.

      • No, because it’s a different thing. Beers at a competition have to be within certain parameters, a properly trained judge can tell in one sip whether a sample is flawed and whether and how it fits within those parameters, it’s not, or shouldn’t be, about how much the judge likes that beer, but about how well that beer fits into its category. Not to mention that each round they must taste quite a few samples.

        Anyway, as a consumer, I believe that competitions are quite pointless mainly because of the conditions in which the beers are judged.

      • stephenbeaumont

        Amazingly, people somehow still manage to get drunk at the GABF. It baffles me. On a Saturday night, you’d be lucky to get through the crowds quickly enough to get a sample every three minutes or so, which would translate to 20 and hour, which is an Imperial pint. (And I really can’t imagine anyone keeping up that pace in the madhouse that is the Friday or Saturday night session.) So, tasting full out, you might manage 4 1/2 pints if you sample at breakneck speed from the very start until the very end.

        The answer, of course, is that they think they are drinking more, so their minds convince them they they’re getting drunk even if their blood alcohol level stays relatively low.

      • Fri and Sat night session seem to gather the most drunks. And as the session goes on some of the pours get more and more generous. I have seen a few trash cans used in ways I would rather not, so I would guess some people really do kick them back quickly.

  9. You must have read this post of mine: http://www.pivni-filosof.com/2011/12/its-obvious-but.html

    I really don’t understand how a rater can say “I don’t like Pils” without ever having been to Central Europe or claim that this or that beer is the “best in the world” after only having tasted a small sample from a bottle he (is more often than not a he) shared with four or five of his friends after having “tasted” (never drunk) and rated several other beers.

    Nonsense, really. If you want to rate or review beers, you should drink a full portion of them (what “full portion” means is another thing) revising your notes as you empty the bottle and then, just then, if you think is absolutely necessary, assign a score to said beer, but not before considering whether it’d be good to have another go at it.

    • Stephen Heaton

      Well said. And of course you know Micheal Jackson basically invented the term style right? There are really no styles or beer. Of course BJCP comes along and decides there is a guideline. AS one who HAS been to the source of every beer type I have drank I still feel it takes many beers to “know” them well.

  10. Let’s be honest, Beaumont: you judge a beer the second it enters your mouth. Hell, you probably judge it before you’ve even sipped it; maybe after the first sniff, but more likely, since you are (probably) human, you judge a beer *the second you lay your eyes on it*. You may have even formed an opinion of the beer when you just read about it on the internet, reading one of Calignione’s mouth-watering sounding recipe schpiels (that always turn out disastrous).

    We all have opinions that start from the very second we learn of a beer through when we drink our first sip, drink our first 12oz, and finish off our 50th case after 10 years of drinking it. The only difference is when we feel comfortable sharing that opinion with others. Some of us only do so once we’ve finished an arbitrary measurement of 12oz, such as you. Others do so when they’ve had two ounces, and some others only after they’ve drank a case. Who are you to decide for the world when an opinion goes from invalid to valid? You hold yourself back on accepting your judgement because you don’t trust your palate yet, and that’s fine; others don’t, and you need to learn to accept that. Your bi-monthly rants on beer rating is, frankly, getting tired. Some may look down on you for giving judgement without yet having drank a case; how do you respond to them? Why are you so much more right than anyone else?

    • stephenbeaumont

      Wow, Andy, that’s a lot of vitriol. Where do I start?

      I guess your first sentence is as good a place as any, and no, I do not judge a beer the second it enters my mouth. I start thinking about it, yes, but judging it takes longer. Sometimes that means three or four ounces; sometimes it means a couple of bottles. It’s not arbitrary at all; I taste until i understand the beer.

      Do I really rant bi-monthly about beer rating? I should probably schedule it better then, since I can’t recall writing on this subject for quite some time. But this whole series of “Sh*t (people) Do” posts have been fun and don’t apply to everyone, obviously, or even the majority of those in the stated occupation/hobby. Without exception, they are all actions I have witnessed more than once, and judging from the large degree of agreement I’m receiving, I guess they are things others have witnessed, too. Sorry that you take such exception to them, or at least these particular ones, but if indeed I’m tiring you I suggest you stop reading what I write.

      And one final thing: I can assure you that I am most definitely human.

    • Andy, that’s the funniest bit of trolling nonsense I’ve read in a while. To be fair, I judged your post after the first sentence.

    • The Joker

      Andy, have you got something up there? Calm down.

  11. Grant Carson

    It is amazing how much rarity has to do with the context of tasting. It can be something as simple as effort justification that leads a reviewer to give a higher score, because they went through so much effort to get said special beer. I am either really dumb to have drove 150miles to buy a 22oz at $20 a bottle, or this beer must be the best beer ever! I know I am not dumb… ITS THE BEST BEER EVER!

    • Jeremy

      I find it interesting that the conventional wisdom on rarity and cost is that the drinker will then justify it and perceive it to be better… whereas my own experience is that I tend to be harsher on beers that I went out of my way to acquire, or spent a lot of money on. Perhaps I am just a born cynic?

      • Grant Carson

        I would have to fall into the same cynical category. Perception is a significant part of the flavor experience. I suppose it depends on how you approach the sample in any case. It is an issue of predetermination, an experienced taster tries their best to keep these factors at bay, but perhaps on the other end you may give a beer a lower rating then it deserves due to you trying to balance the hype. That is why blind tastings are so important. I can not deny that I am an east coast cynic.

      • I’m pretty much the same here, and that is one of the reasons I tend to avoid buying very expensive/rare beers, I’m afraid I will be disappointed.

      • Me too. And don’t even start that talk about wine!!! (you want to talk about a waste of money?)

  12. Dave Bowers

    Back when I was in college (in the time of Henry VIII) it was an urban myth that you couldn’t finish a 12 oz. beer by drinking it 1 oz. at a time, one drink per minute — you’d be blitzed. The idea was that the intermittent 1 oz. doses were optimal for getting the alcohol into your blood stream.

    I can’t say that I knew anyone who’d tried it; everyone just KNEW it was true.

  13. Kyhwana

    Re number 3, July is winter, not summer :)

  14. In general, I agree with the points in the post, however, one must not forget that the “ratings” made of beers at judging tables in contests are perhaps the most out of context ratings in existence. Unless you drink all your beer with 8-10 others of the same style to compare to, and only in the company of “experts”, without food, music, or often, humour.
    The formal judging of any food product is always lacking context. This is essentially why I don’t rate, on BA or RateBeer. The art of enjoyment is lost. And, frankly, I drink beer because I enjoy it.
    Competitions are different, and we all know that some beers show better in that context than they do “in real life”, and vice versa.

  15. GaBe

    Well well said, and i have to agree with it all. Thats why i usually take each rating with a grain of salt, especially when it comes to the lower alcohol session type beers. Not everything over an 8% abv should automatically be a 99/A rated beer.

  16. What’s your take on the Thornbridge Kolsch beer? I couldn’t get the hang of it and I love pils.

  17. Daniel

    I think one should remember that raters on RB/BA are *not* beer writers or experts, nor are they trying to be. They are simply consumers who can express their opinions regarding the enjoyment of the beers they drink, which more often than not occurs in a perfectly reasonable context, despite the infamy of the beer tasting sessions and small samples. They are not expressing a judgment intended as professional feedback to the brewer. Like any other consumer expressing their opinion of their treatment at a hotel or restaurant on any number of “consumer-review” websites, opinions may be expressed freely, even though some may be more valid than others. I don’t believe that one should ever look at any one particular rating and take it seriously, but in the aggregate, the ratings can be interesting, provocative, etc. When a large enough sample of ratings has been aggregated, the cream invariably rises to the top, and that’s not to say that, e.g., the ratebeer Top50 is truly the 50 best beers in the world, but rather that in the end, truly good beers will gain more positive ratings than not.

  18. Smitty

    So I guess folks who live in Texas or Florida can’t evaluate or rate Barleywines. Sucks to be them.

    • Sam C.

      I think Stephen pretty much nailed it on the head. The only thing I would add is that the raters will never ever criticize a beer from certain breweries such as Russian River, New Glarus or Cigar City because of fear of being lambasted themselves. Seriously, is everything these certain breweries make really that much better than anyone else. I think not.

      • Jeremy

        There are any number of threads on Ratebeer ripping into Cigar City, I assume BA probably has similar threads.

        While I haven’t had everything from RR & NG, if someone said I have to pick one brewery in the world and I can only ever drink beers from that one brewery, those two would certainly be in contention!

        I think the nature of any rabid fanbase is that any product or company that reaches a certain level of success has fan that will love it unconditionally, (eg. Apple) or hate it regardless of what they put out.

  19. CJaynes

    Interesting take, and yet true. Having at least 2 BCJP judges in our brew club can attest to that. An OZ just isn’t enough!

  20. Ricky Bobby

    Maybe i will buy one of your books, rip out all the pages and send out one page per person to a few hundred people. Then, we could all have a small sample of it and get the feeling of what it would be like.

    Then we could go on Amazon and rate it and say it was shit and poorly written.

  21. Gary Gillman

    I find for myself that a half-ounce tells me what I need to know. I’ve gotten into the habit of tasting half-ounces via asking for a sample at a bar before I commit to full measure. Wanting to encourage an affirmative reply, I always say, pour just a little, I only want a little. This works for me but I can understand not for everyone, and I don’t write reviews on BA or Ratebeer (both of which I consult more and more though, I find them helpful and accurate if you consider the reviews as a totality).

    As far as beer fests go where only very small measures are served, it’s good for the reason suggested above, i.e., if you don’t like the beer, there is no need to drink up 5 or 8 ounces, or discard it (which is wasteful). It is the flip side which concerns me, if I really like it, it would be good to be able to order a half-pint minimum! (I always liked CAMRA’s approach to this at their festivals). But I guess it depends on the perspective, and the small measure approach at a festival does facilitate tasting a very large number of things, which many enjoy the chance to do.

    Gary

  22. Stephen. I wonder whether you could let me know exactly what your correct volume for assessing a beer is? Obviously it would be wrong to be forming an opinion without having consumed sufficient quantity, And, by the same token, it obviously wouldn’t be optimal to be drinking so much of the stuff as to impair the critical faculties. And perhaps you would also be good enough to explain why that is the correct volume? And, of course, whether the correct volume for you would necessarily be the same for me?

    • There is no “correct” answer for this, as different people require different amounts of beer to properly evaluate them. I can say from experience that 3-4 ounces should be sufficient for most people. This is what is served to the judges at the Great American Beer Festival and few of us ever finish our samples.
      Depending on what it is I’m judging, I may be able to evaluate a beer in just a couple of sips; for other beers I may need several to get a complete evaluation. It’s definitely situational.
      When I host beer tastings, I want attendees to be served at least 4 ounces and I suggest that they space out their sipping so they can experience the beer at various temperatures.
      Cheers!
      -Marty Nachel, author, “Beer for Dummies”

  23. Joris Pattyn

    One little remark on Nrs. 1 and 2, Stephen.
    On how much of beer/fluid do you sort out beers in a flight of an official competition, keeping up during a day or a couple of days? 25cl on every beer? Or…

  24. stephenbeaumont

    For those who have asked, no, I don’t believe that there is a magic amount of beer necessary for the making of a responsible review. What I do believe is that, with very, very few exceptions, beer is not a beverage that is easy to understand in a sip or two. The majority of the world’s beers are plus or minus 95% water, which means that their flavour elements are in much smaller concentration than are those of wine or whisky, which in turn makes their subtleties that much more difficult to discern. (Even an average doppelbock or IPA has about half the flavour concentration of a typical Californian zin.)

    When I’m setting up a tasting, whether in my office or as a judge in competition, I frequently return to the same beer repeatedly, consuming 100 ml or more in the process, and for a panel tasting like those I do for TAPS or All About Beer, I have second bottle to reassess at a later time.It is why I limit the number of beers I taste as a given time rather dramatically.

    I will also defer completely to Daniel’s comment above, that RB and BA users are doing their own thing for their own fun and should be taken as such. As I hope the Alstroms and Joe Tucker will attest, I quite like and respect both sites, even when critical of some of the users or the lists they produce, and would describe many of the most prolific users as friends. This post was written for the small minority who take themselves far more seriously than they should.

  25. We are putting a lot of things in the same bag here. Drinking a small sample can be enough to know whether there’s something wrong with a given beer or even if you will like it, but it’s not enough to understand the beer and if you can’t properly rate or review a beer if you don’t understand it.

    Judges at a competition work at a different level, one which I believe doesn’t apply to what Mr. B. has said. Professional reviewers are another thing, though, and perhaps some should consider reviewing fewer beers on a given day.

    About festivals. I prefer festivals where you can drink and not just taste. To me it’s not anymore about how many different beers you can drink, but how good a time you are having.

  26. Agree with most of the points. I think the larger question is whether the aggregate ratings act as a useful predictor for what consumers will enjoy in the face of overwhelming choice.

    • Jeremy

      Depends how you define consumer. Are you the type of consumer whose tastes are similar to the aggregate tastes of “people who like beer enough to take tasting notes and post them on the internet”, then yeah they should be pretty accurate. If you go to http://www.ratebeer.com/beer/top-50-custom/, sort by 600+ Ratings. If you like “good beer”, you are probably going to be happy if a six pack of any of these shows up at your door. If you can’t find at least one beer on that least that you consider great… well perhaps you don’t like beer as much as you think you do.

      If I am the type of person who hates the barrel aged whatever, but holds much love for the pilseners and kolschs of the world, then Ratebeer tells me that Christoffel Blond and Prima Pils are considered to be excellent by more than 500 people, and that the only kolschs that have that many ratings (e.g. are widely available) are not considered to be particularly good.

      Personally I find that my own ratings are often comparable to Ratebeer scores for styles like IPA, lambics, and barleywines, quite different for imperial stouts and anything involving a barrel, smoke, or noble hops.

  27. Personally I like the “15 cl” one gets at most of the Belgian festivals. I put “15 cl” in quotes because that’s the official amount, but usually it’s more. I’d already been spoiled by Belgian fests when I learned that many American ones only provide 1 oz. What’s the point? Then I went to a couple of British fests with pints and half-pints. Heaven.

    15 cl is a very civilized amount, and usually enough to get a handle on it… though I’ve been known to go back for a second or a third (and then to hunt down a case later) if it’s one I find intriguing.

    I often know if I’ll hate a beer within 1 oz. If I like the beer, it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than that to decide how much I like it. With some beers it takes gallons and gallons consumed over many years. Now that I think about it, I’m not really decided on any of them, to be honest. Better keep trying.

    • stephenbeaumont

      Well put, Joe! I am likewise a fan of the 150 ml (approx. 5 US fl. oz) servings at Belgian fests. Enough to get a decent grasp on the beer; not so much as to make you feel cheated if it sucks and you need to dump it; sufficient to give your friend a taste of it so that he or she can decide whether or not to try it on their own. Civilized, indeed.

  28. Jeremy

    To summarize the comments to save people some time “You are passionate about beer in a way that is different than the way I am passionate about beer. Your way is clearly wrong and you should stop.”

  29. Rob

    Wow. Lots of cool people and comments here. Guess I’ll see if I can keep up. I consider myself a reviewer, but not a rater, giving as detailed a description as possible and perhaps a thumbs up or down. Of course I’ve been to beer advocate and ratebeer though I’ve never written one review on either.

    Splitting a 12er is awesome, but offering a review on a 1 ounce pour is dumb. I usually do it when I go to any mass tasting, but make a lot of notes about being incomplete and having a burned palate after just a handful of beers. You really need a bottle and some privacy to do a review, which is why I mostly drink alone.

    Barley wine on a July afternoon? LOL. I live in S. Florida and it was really fu**ing hot today, same as July. I like what the Beer Nut said. Experiences surrounding the drinking matter, but my house is 75 degrees every month of the year, indoors where I drink them.

    I never ask for favoritism in a bar. And I rarely ask for beers from a brewery. I PREFER to pay for them, but the beer laws in this country suck donkey balls so much, if I want some particular beer/brewery, I need to and have asked. Sometimes they don’t return my email/call. I don’t take it personally, at least publicly, but rather cry alone into my pillow. Move on.

    I hate the #5ers. They can bite me.

    Nice list. They are all true (except for the barley wine one)

  30. Pingback: Appellation Beer: Beer From a Good Home » Blog Archive » Why the old beer conversations are new again

  31. Stephen – some of the problems surrounding beer rating online are actually unconnected to beer per se, and are really a symptom of a much more general problem. The internet has created two significant problems that pervade many areas of intellectual endeavor;

    1. It has made a bunch of ‘overnight experts’ who feel that a simple Google search followed by a blog post or two turns them into all knowing fountains of knowledge, and

    2. A whole generation of people are growing up thinking that EVERYTHING is subjective, and all opinions are equal. The internet has also given the impression to those people that somehow their opinions are valid, AND people want to hear them – most of the time, neither are true.

    As someone with a beer blog that includes lots of ratings myself (www.dingsbeerblog.com), one might think that the same could be applied to my own opinions and musings, and I suppose that’s true, BUT I was making notes on beer in hardcopy notebooks purely for my own entertainment years before the internet was even invented. Literally nobody except myself saw these, and the only reason for switching to digital for me was my own benefit, and not necessarily for broadcast purposes. It’s my impression that many beer bloggers and reviewers are doing what they’re doing for the love of broadcast rather than a love of beer, i.e., they’re bloggers before they are beer folk.

  32. Mr Man

    Well, Ding, I think the real problem is that people care about what others do and say, online and in general. I personally subscribe to the idea that you can say or do whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t impinge on others’ ability to do the same. If you don’t like beer rating sites, don’t go to them, but don’t try to tell me it’s okay for you to do it because you kept private notebooks for years but newcomers can bugger off. It’s true, like a**holes, everyone has an opinion, but you don’t have to care about others’ opinions. You have yours, I have mine, he has his, etc.

    I like BA, for example, because it can give me some quick inklings of style, taste and aroma notes, etc. when I’m in a store and considering one beer over another. But ultimately the opinion I form is the only one that matters to me and it may be opposite to those expressed on BA. Do I hold others accountable or lambast them? No. What’s the point?

    And I had to laugh at your comments–you think your opinion is more valid because it’s backed by more experience or because you kept it to yourself in your notebook, but you criticize others who post their opinions? Well, now you’re posting on sites like this and linking to your review site, which also includes your Twitter feed, Untapped activity, and a RSS link for subscribing to your reviews. Height of hypocrisy. Why not just live and let live?

    • >you think your opinion is more valid because it’s backed by more experience

      In what world would that NOT be the case?? You see, this is exactly what I’m talking about!

      • Mr Man

        Point taken and I’ll admit to a poorly-worded statement, but my intent was to say that taste is subjective and time served alone doesn’t make you an expert. I bristled at the notion that your solitary writings in notebooks qualifies your opinion more than others who may have developed standards in collaboration with others online even if for a shorter period. All of us here probably consider ourselves experts (or aspiring ones) based on our mutual interest on this topic, but I don’t know that I would trust your opinion on a beer more than I would others here unless I had compared our mutual assessments of many samples over time.

        In general, I believe assigning quantitative values to beer, wine, and other consumables is folly unless there is mutual consensus or an accepted standard to base a score against; that’s why I, like some others above, tend to focus more on opinions I come to trust and identify with rather than numerical scores alone.

        I agree that experience may help you develop a vocabulary for identifying taste and aroma qualifiers, but some of these are fairly unique (corn, rotten eggs) while others are more open to interpretation (roasty, balanced, hoppy). Stan H. wrote about this last year when he asked participants to describe what “estery” was–answers were all over the place and many came from self-professed experts/

        You can quibble about accuracy and adherence to style and focused, educated experience could help you learn that, but:
        – beer styles, as others have pointed out, are not written in stone, unless you live and die by BJCP guidelines. Brewers often change recipes over time based on taste, ingredient availability, cost or other factors.
        – not all experience is equal: tasting 40 examples of pilsner for 10 years regularly is very different than trying 1 example each of 40 styles. And what if you’ve been drinking American pilsners vs. Czech?
        (And if I ate McDonald’s Big Macs all my life am I qualified to evaluate a Zuni Cafe burger?)
        – taste perception varies: a recent Splendid Table story looked at the science of taste and how people are predisposed to like/dislike certain flavors. Sometimes aversions can be ameliorated through exposure, but “what might be right for you, may not be right for some”. I may love the herbal qualities of cilantro while you find it soapy and offensive…who’s right?

  33. Pingback: Quinta Link | 19/01/2012

  34. I got into beer using beeradvocate.com. So I can’t completely write it off. It helped guide me towards things that were worth spending the few dollars I had in college. A lot of times though, either reviewers palates are wrong or the beer I bought was in bad shape.

    I still go on every once in a while to see what some people say about a particular beer I’ve heard about, tried, or considered buying. There is a LOT of reviews that don’t even make sense. And a strong corellation to the Alstrom brothers scores. If they say a beer tastes like “x” all of the reviews that follow say the beer tastes like “x” . I can agree on some of the brother’s reviews, but a lot of times they don’t match my assesment. You can’t discredit anybody’s perception of anything. If I taste melon, you can’t tell me I’m not tasting melon! We may disagree but we don’t have the same tounges, brains, or lifetime of experiences.

    Everything is relative as well. That can of Budweiser tasted funny the first time you drank it. Same with that first Sierra Nevada. Hell, the first Flander’s Red Ale was really interesting. All depends on what you’ve had before and how you’ve changed since then.

    We are all on our own beer journeys. Sometimes we are at a similar point, other times not. Its a hell of a fun ride though.

    Mostly unrelated to the topic of the original blog post. Just my thoughts on beer reviewing.

  35. Hi – supportive of the message here in the OP, but think the communication would be more effective if it were stated as a positive rather than a negative, i.e. “5 Things Online Beer Raters Should Do (but probably don’t).”

    That said, I’d throw in a #6. Homebrew, at least once. I used to be active on RB and BA, but since starting to homebrew far less so. My passion for beer is as strong as ever, but my passion in critiquing the brewing work of others has waned.

  36. Gotta start posting things that piss the online reviewers off. Clearly drives the old traffic!

    • Treinjan

      As an older post of mine was linked to by Mike, got a lot of extra traffic as well. In fact that was the thing that led me to the post on this blog in the first place!

  37. Kristen England

    Stephen,
    You left out a really big one. #6. Just because you live near the brewery, know the brewer, your cat’s uncle’s nephew Jimmy is BFFs with a staff member at the brewery, you distribute the beer or have been to the brewery doesn’t make the beer any better. aka the ‘Homer’ clause.

  38. i especially love #5.

    couldn’t have put it better myself.

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