Happy HolidaySs Giveaway - Last Sponsor Giveaway of the Year!

Come Enter the BrewDeals/FastFerment Giveaway!


Home Brew Forums > Home Brewing Beer > General Beer Discussion > The politics of beer rating
Reply
 
LinkBack Thread Tools
Old 05-09-2012, 02:01 PM   #1
boist
HBT_LIFETIMESUPPORTER.png
Feedback Score: 0 reviews
 
boist's Avatar
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: K. Byalik, Israel
Posts: 191
Liked 4 Times on 4 Posts
Likes Given: 4

Default The politics of beer rating

I've been working on my beer tasting and evaluation skills a lot lately. You see part of it here on the blog in that I've started to publish tasting notes for my own brews. I've also been doing a lot of things like listening to podcast and reading about beer judging methods, and trying to incorporate these ideas into my own evaluation process. It's been a highly rewarding experience, where I found myself suddenly discovering new smells and tastes in beer that I have not noticed before. There's nothing like the first time that you smell a beer differently and you go "By Gad! This doesn't just smell of hopes, it smells like Mango! There's no mango in it, but I smell it!" (It's a little hard to engineer such a moment, but if you can achieve it in the presence of someone else, the startled looks are worth the effort).

In this quest to expand and train my palate I've been tasting a fair amount of Israeli beers. I have two reasons for this:
1. I live in Israel, so I never know how fresh is the imported beer I drink. Local beer, on the other hand, is fairly consistent.
2. There's a fairly small number of Israeli beer raters on ratebeer.com, so I get to know the way they rate fairly well. It also means that a typical Israeli beer doesn't have nearly as many ratings as an international brand, which lets me read a few reviews by people who's spectrum of ratings I know, and helps me calibrate my palate against a fairly consistent sample.

I also taste a lot of beer made by other home brewers, and try to have as many people taste my beer and give me feedback. It is, in my opinion, a crucial part of becoming a better brewer.

But lately I've been noticing something: Israeli raters rate Israeli beers higher, on average, than import beers.

It's a well known problem: A guy hands you a beer that he made. He's very excited about it. He thinks it's great. He looks at you with big dewy eyes as you take your sip, excited to hear your praise. But the beer sucks. Or maybe it doesn't suck, but it's just not that good. Maybe you detect the hot-fermentation byproducts, the mash tannins, or just the recipe flaws, doesn't matter. The point is that he's your friend and you don't want to offend him. So you tone it down. You don't tell him that his beer sucks (and by gad, I've had homebrew beer that actually made me want to say "yuck") You say it's "interesting" and "complex" and that you can really taste that special ingredient that he put in. He worked so hard on this thing, and it's his own hand-crafted creation. So you don't want to crush his spirit, you want to let him down easy.

And I think that's a problem. Yes, if someone spat out my beer and said "yuck" I'd be offended. But at the same time, if someone spent five minutes telling me how great it is I'd call him a liar (maybe not to his face, but I wouldn't believe him.) The greatest thing you can do for me, as a brewer, is to tell me what you taste in my beer. How it feels in your nose, and mouth, and throat. THAT'S what I want to know: your honest impression. One of the biggest compliments I've ever got for my beer was from a woman who sipped my Pilsner and exclaimed "I taste saffron!" I don't know where the hell she got that, I certainly didn't put any saffron in the beer, but the fact she tasted it meant that she was actually taking the time to really taste and evaluate my beer critically. And I really appreciated that.

The big problem with this kind of false feedback is that people believe it. And if you keep getting this kind of feedback consistently (and you probably will, because you keep asking the same people - your friends) It may lead you to believe that your beer is, and has always been, great. And that's bad, because it can mean that you never strive to improve. What's the point in trying to tweak your process, in improving your sanitation, in refining your control points,and in controlling your fermentation if your beer is already "perfect"? Why learn, invest, research, test, evaluate, and respond if you "don't need to change anything"? It's a trap. At best, if you buy into these kind of accolades they will lead you to being a mediocre brewer. At worse, it can lead you to think that you are so good that you can go pro.

I know at least one brewery like this: It started with a homebrewer who caught the bug and started brewing in his back yard. Within a year, speared on by a chorus of adoring fans, he opened a brewery. He put in a lot of time and effort into professional equipment, advertising, innovative business plan, and a dozen other things. There's just one problem: The beer isn't good.

Don't get me wrong, the beer is not bad for homebrew, and it has potential. But it's not good enough for a commercial product. The guy spends a lot of effort trying to be a "cool and innovative" brewery, which means that he does a lot of gimmicky beers (something I will talk more about in part II of the judgment series) and is involved in the brewing community in his area. The constant stream of "new, innovative beers" that comes out of the brewery keeps up customer interest and drums up business. But if you ask any of the local drinkers in his area who know how to taste beer, and aren't fooled by dumping a massive amount of hops into a mediocre beer, they'll tell you "he's great, he's a good guy, he does everything right, except for the beer..."

And the sad part about that, and I think the dangerous part, is that when you have a bunch of friends and casual drinkers singing hosannas to your brew, you tend not to accept the few who do try to give you honest advice. I have a friend. A brewer of great beers, greatly educated in the theory and practice of brewing, and (unfortunately) an arrogant bastard. (I think anyone who knows who I'm talking about will agree with that statement. In fact, I think he himself would). There's no way around it: This guy is convinced that he knows the only way to make beer, and that anyone who doesn't do it his way is an idiot. But for all his personality shortcomings, he has a great palate, and he knows how to taste beer. This is the kind of person I want feedback from.

My friend is a bit of a pariah in some parts of the local homebrewing community because of his abrasive nature. But I ask you: If you truly want to improve as a brewer. If you truly want to make great beer. If you truly want feedback on your brew. Who would you rather ask, the guy who's trying to be your friend, or the guy who'll give you his honest opinion and doesn't give a crap if you never talk to him again?

We all have egos. And when you craft something as personal as a home brew. When you put in all the time and effort and do it "the best way you know how", it sucks to have someone take one sip of this thing that you worked so hard on and tell you what's wrong with it. But if we truly want to improve we must put our egos aside and allow our beers to be tasted critically. By ourselves, and by others. Otherwise, we will never be more than the sum of our accolades.

--------------
Find this and other beer-related posts on my beer blog!
http://threecatsbrewery.blogspot.com

__________________
boist is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 05-09-2012, 02:25 PM   #2
dbhokie
Feedback Score: 1 reviews
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Lynchburg, Virginia
Posts: 407
Liked 8 Times on 8 Posts

Default

This is a very difficult and frustrating issue, as many times as I get frustrated with others I have tried to channel that and make my opinion to my friends less "blunted".

I love to cook, I like to make all kinds of sauces and foods, that is why I got into brewing beer. I figured, I like beer, beer is kind of like sauces, I like making sauces, why wouldn't I like making beer...

I digress, hot sauce is my current game. I had a lot of friends taste hot sauce over the years and rant and rave, but I never believed them. I at least took them with a grain of salt. Then a local guy that owns an upper scale restauraunt tried it and liked it. Well I knew him too well, then he started asking to use it at his establishment. Then he started asking me for recipes, then his customers started requesting to purchase the sauce. Then their friends came in and tried it and requested to purchase it. In the first couple months I sold cases through there. For the first time, even though for 5 years I had been getting adulating comments about the sauce, now for the first time, I thought you know what, maybe my palate is ok, finally I started thinking, people like what I make. Not until then did I think that.

Even still I have a lot of friends who blow things up in that area, and I find myself constantly the skeptic.

So I decided to try something different, for my next sauce, I got five of my well-meaning loving friends (whose opinions I couldn't trust), and blindfolded them. I then did a blind taste test with my new sauce, and a few other similar gourmet blends. That's the way to get a true opinion out of a friend, the question is, do you really want it?

__________________
On Deck
Abbey Ale #2
Rye Imperial Pale Ale
Primary
20 Gallons of Apple Cider
Secondary
Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter
Conditioning (Bottle)
---So Sad
dbhokie is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 05-09-2012, 02:41 PM   #3
boist
HBT_LIFETIMESUPPORTER.png
Feedback Score: 0 reviews
 
boist's Avatar
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: K. Byalik, Israel
Posts: 191
Liked 4 Times on 4 Posts
Likes Given: 4

Default

I definitely want it. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that a friend who doesn't give me an honest opinion is no friend at all.

You just gave me an interesting idea, though: I have a ton of commercial beer labels floating around (they come off in water when I recycle the bottles, usually in one piece). I should get two bottles of one my brews, and slap a commercial label on one of them. Then give them to my friend to taste, and see how he thinks my beer compares to the "commercial" example...

__________________

My Beer and Brewing Blog:
http://threecatsbrewery.blogspot.com

boist is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 05-09-2012, 02:43 PM   #4
dbhokie
Feedback Score: 1 reviews
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: Lynchburg, Virginia
Posts: 407
Liked 8 Times on 8 Posts

Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by boist View Post
I definitely want it. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that a friend who doesn't give me an honest opinion is no friend at all.

You just gave me an interesting idea, though: I have a ton of commercial beer labels floating around (they come off in water when I recycle the bottles, usually in one piece). I should get two bottles of one my brews, and slap a commercial label on one of them. Then give them to my friend to taste, and see how he thinks my beer compares to the "commercial" example...
Precisely! Hehe, or have 2 of your beers, and 3 different commercial beers, blindfold him and have him taste them all.
__________________
On Deck
Abbey Ale #2
Rye Imperial Pale Ale
Primary
20 Gallons of Apple Cider
Secondary
Bourbon Vanilla Imperial Porter
Conditioning (Bottle)
---So Sad
dbhokie is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 05-09-2012, 02:57 PM   #5
Headley_Lamarr
Feedback Score: 0 reviews
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Sep 2011
Location: Chicago, il
Posts: 29
Default

I totally get what you're saying. I have a couple buddies who are what I'd consider beer aficionados. But, as they don't homebrew, I don't think I get real feedback when they taste my beer. They try to be nice. Good thing, I'm my own worst critic. But, I'd love 3rd party feedback.

One good thing, the LHBS right by my place intends to have sanctioned judges come in occasionally and do a tasting/evaluation of the store's customers. I definitely plan to leverage that.

__________________
Headley_Lamarr is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 05-09-2012, 02:59 PM   #6
whitehause
Feedback Score: 1 reviews
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: Fleetwood, Pa
Posts: 1,109
Liked 140 Times on 103 Posts
Likes Given: 28

Default

I agree 100% that I would rather have an honest opinion than someone blowing smoke up my racking cane.
I think the biggest problem is finding people that drink more than BMC on a constant basis.(or local brews in your case)
A guy at work found out I was a homebrewer and asked what kind I make. When I ran down the list and got to Hefe, he said he'd like to try a couple. I brought him a Hefe and a Belgian. He loved the Hefe, but was so-so about the Belgian. After talking some more, he said he always drinks Hefe's, but never really liked Belgians to begin with.
I think that's the trick to an honest opinion......find someone who really likes the style you want an opinion about. You could hand me a bottle of the best sour in the world, and I still wouldn't really care for it because I'm not a fan of sours and don't drink them often enough to form a good opinion of it.
On the other hand, give me an IPA,APA or Hefe and I cant almost break down the percentage of what grain, the yeast, and the Hop used.
Craft brews (and homebrewing) have come a LONG way in the last 10 years, but people will always have different tastes.

__________________
Screw it, Lets brew it

Primary 1- BM's Cream of three crops.
Primary 2- Paleface Scalper
Primary 3- Monks Reward (Kreuzberg)
Kegged - Honey Badger, Heady topper clone 1, Indian Paleface Scalper
Bottled- Skeptical Dog winter Lager, Hell's Belgian, Old Dutch Hiefer Hefe,Aphlewein, Chocolate Thunder porter, Jacked up lantern
whitehause is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 05-09-2012, 03:05 PM   #7
whitehause
Feedback Score: 1 reviews
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Oct 2011
Location: Fleetwood, Pa
Posts: 1,109
Liked 140 Times on 103 Posts
Likes Given: 28

Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by Headley_Lamarr View Post
One good thing, the LHBS right by my place intends to have sanctioned judges come in occasionally and do a tasting/evaluation of the store's customers. I definitely plan to leverage that.
This is a great idea, and resource, if it's available to you.
__________________
Screw it, Lets brew it

Primary 1- BM's Cream of three crops.
Primary 2- Paleface Scalper
Primary 3- Monks Reward (Kreuzberg)
Kegged - Honey Badger, Heady topper clone 1, Indian Paleface Scalper
Bottled- Skeptical Dog winter Lager, Hell's Belgian, Old Dutch Hiefer Hefe,Aphlewein, Chocolate Thunder porter, Jacked up lantern
whitehause is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 05-09-2012, 03:22 PM   #8
homebrewdad
Feedback Score: 0 reviews
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Jan 2012
Location: Birmingham, AL
Posts: 3,131
Liked 343 Times on 252 Posts
Likes Given: 236

Default

This is an excellent read, OP, and you bring up some very interesting - and valid - points.

__________________
Homebrew Dad - blogging about making my own beer and raising a lot of kids.
Check out the priming sugar calculator, yeast starter calculator, and the beer calorie calculator.
homebrewdad is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 05-09-2012, 03:31 PM   #9
boist
HBT_LIFETIMESUPPORTER.png
Feedback Score: 0 reviews
 
boist's Avatar
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Aug 2011
Location: K. Byalik, Israel
Posts: 191
Liked 4 Times on 4 Posts
Likes Given: 4

Default

Quote:
Originally Posted by whitehause View Post
I think that's the trick to an honest opinion......find someone who really likes the style you want an opinion about. You could hand me a bottle of the best sour in the world, and I still wouldn't really care for it because I'm not a fan of sours and don't drink them often enough to form a good opinion of it.
On the other hand, give me an IPA,APA or Hefe and I cant almost break down the percentage of what grain, the yeast, and the Hop used.
I agree to a point. One of the things required of a beer judge is to be able to evaluate a beer objectively, according to style, while putting their own bias aside. I'm not saying we should become beer judges (though that would definitely raise the bar for homebrews!) but the concept is the same. For example: I don't particularly like wheat beer. But I've drunk enough of it, and I've studied the guidelines, and have tasted enough best-example-of-style commercial versions that I know what it SHOULD taste like. So I can take that knowledge and use it to evaluate a wheat beer someone gives me, and do fair job of it. (I'd still preface my comments with "bare in mind I'm not a big wheat drinker...) I may not "care" for the beer, but I should be able to tell if it's a good beer, a great beer, or a mediocre beer, and why.
__________________

My Beer and Brewing Blog:
http://threecatsbrewery.blogspot.com

boist is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Old 05-09-2012, 03:34 PM   #10
fredthecat
Feedback Score: 0 reviews
Recipes 
 
Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: the world
Posts: 432
Liked 7 Times on 7 Posts
Likes Given: 85

Default

i like the thread, and i agree, i know who will give me real feedback and try to stick with them for independent tastings of my stuff.

ha, about an "okay" quality homebrewer turning into a commercial brewer. not to just bash (but i am going to bash) an example that really pisses me off, in canada there is a terrible microbrewery that was a very early canadian microbrewery. trafalgar "meads and ales". to fill some kind of made in canada quota the government liquor store would ALWAYS have some new **** they produced at their absurd prices, and like the one you mention, always a horrible gimmicky product. i think their products are finally starting to get a bit better judging by ratebeer ratings of newer products, but for more than 5 years they had notoriously bad, mediocre-homebrewy tasting batches

__________________
fredthecat is offline
 
Reply With Quote Quick reply to this message
Reply



Quick Reply
Message:
Options
Thread Tools


Similar Threads
Thread Thread Starter Forum Replies Last Post
From History Channel, Did Beer Spur the Rise of Agriculture and Politics? gatorbrew713 General Beer Discussion 2 02-08-2012 02:47 PM
Adjusting hops for % rating sneeden General Beer Discussion 5 02-07-2011 11:29 PM
Dirty Chicago beer politics. febbrewro General Beer Discussion 21 12-20-2010 01:09 AM
Beer Rating Scale Pommy General Beer Discussion 8 05-06-2010 04:03 AM
Beer rating resource jason9000 General Beer Discussion 2 09-01-2006 07:06 PM



Newest Threads

LATEST SPONSOR DEALS