Beer ratings. Whether it’s RateBeer, Untappd, BeerAdvocate or the ratings given by beer journos or bloggers/podcasters, Beer Ratings I think today are now due a proper discussion. A come-to-jesus-meeting type discussion.
For some time now, it’s been part of marketing for many breweries to revel in how their beers are rated on one or more of the aforementioned resources or outlets carrying reviews. I, as a beer blogger find myself lately in an incredibly odd quandary. On one hand, the primary reason I write about beer is I love writing & beer equally. On the other hand, what I write as a beer review increasingly has led to the realisation any reviews or ratings I give are more about me & my preferences taste-wise than the beers being blogged about.
Let me explain that for a moment. ‘Beer’ is massively subjective. Most people taste a beer in a fairly rudimentary way (which is neither wrong nor right – it is afterall, unique to each individual’s taste preferences), then there’s supertasters, beer cicerones & pretentious wankers/shills. I fall across a few of those categories. Yes, even including the ‘beer wanker’ one. I like to write about the experience of beers for me, & how it makes me feel rather than an anodyne, soul-less technical review of a beer favoured by some other bloggers such as John ‘The Beernut’ Duffy (who if you don’t follow his reviews, you really really should – his aren’t soul-less, but he does love to get into the technical reviews of beers, & he’s awesome at it).
From a young age, food was taught to me as not just sustenance but as something that can connect to memories & more importantly, stories. I’d bake bread with my mother using a ceramic bowl she herself used with her own grandmother. She’d tell me funny stories about her own childhood & memories of baking. The same happened when I’d help her make wine or beer. She’d tell me stories of our family’s workings in Guinness, Robert Emmetts, the Tasmanian Hop Board & the Tasmanian Wine board.
This is why I like to tell stories as I write. In one respect, I like stories to help relay a context beyond a technical critique or a binary ‘good’ or ‘bad’. And in amongst much of this self-examination, especially in the wake of Black Donkey’s Richard Sibery’s comments on my review of their TKO IPA, the penny dropped.
Many of us review beers, we do so based off our own yardsticks of our preferences. And while that’s not wrong in itself, it does in fact devalue those reviews & ratings. Let me explain this a little further.
A brewery busts their collective asses to put out the best quality product they can. Once they’ve bottled it/key-kegged it/canned it, it leaves their hands & goes to their warehouse or their distro’s warehouse. Once beer leaves the brewer’s custody, how it arrives to you & its condition often is out of a brewer’s hands.
For example, if you’ve bought a hoppy beer from a supermarket, there’s a good chance it could be sitting in one of their warehouses alongside palettes of fizzy piss, which is chemically designed to outlast nuclear fallouts. Those warehouse areas because of this fizzy-p(h)istory may not necessarily be the kind of environmentals really required to ensure such a beer remains pristine as the brewer intended so it reaches your tastebuds.
As a result, consumers buy said hoppy beer often not realising it could be almost a year old (I’ve seen this in supermarkets & in some off-licenses), & the person who popped the bottle in their weekly shop trolley tries it, & gives it a ‘meh’ rating on Untappd. The brewer takes the hit for poor stock management or unsuitable warehousing by either a middle-man distro, or the supermarket warehousing because the beer has been treated like your average commercial fizzy yellow stuff.
Always remember this – the vast majority of craft beer being bought today in our local markets is not buy us blogging/podcasting neckbeards or tweetamaniacs. It’s by regular Joe/Joanna who craftbeer-by-craftbeer is learning their way around craft beer. Some breweries are just not big enough to try enforce chain-of-custody on their products like Stone Brewing does.
Now, I’m not saying this particular example is why some beers don’t jive with people, but I believe it serves as an example of just how every single touchpoint of a can/bottle of craftbeer can impact how a beer gets rated by the drinker alongside the drinker’s own personal preferences.
If anything, the true ratings a brewery should concern themselves with is not just their own internal QA (Quality Assurance) & QC (Quality Consistency/Control) marks are being met consistently & exceeded, but their pre-sales/sales numbers, & revenues, along with EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, & amortisation; i.e. how much profit it makes with its present assets and its operations on the products it produces & sells, as well as providing a proxy for cash flow for operational costs like paying the bills).
Beer is, always has been & always will be completely & utterly subjective, just like movies. As we’ve learned with movie reviews, we shouldn’t really put too much stock in the reviews/ratings of bloggers, podcasters, twitterati or bookfacers who put out alot of content. Nor, should we wholly put all our chips on ratings we see on apps such as Untappd as people buying craft beer.
If anything, they should merely act as a guideline for folks who are going online to find out more about beers & to see if something has tickled their fancy they maybe saw on an off-license’s shelf or fridge, or in a supermarket & it’s given them an impetus to pick up a bottle & try it. Look, if you see a beer you think interests you whether its the name, the branding, its style or whatever it is that gets your attention; try it. If you like it, great. If you don’t, try a different one. Just enjoy the experience for what it is; a beer.