As a disclaimer, I will state upfront that I like to taste things with other people. I like to talk about the merits of the beverage or food and how they work (or don’t) together. I am a member of more than one online beer website and visit as often as time allows. I was at a friends last night and he served me a beer that he wanted to share with me. The beer, a Shock Top Honey Bourbon Wheat was fairly strongly flavoured, sweet and fairly complex for a wheat beer. While far from traditional, it was quite pleasant. We decided that the fairly big flavours on the beer would be suited to food and were a little strong to be truly session-able on their own.
He asked some questions about the beer and we did what many people do nowadays and referred to a cellphone. This lead to the bigger discussion and the main idea of this column: beer is a beverage that brings people together but not always for the best. I was asked about what online resources were available and reliable for beer. I thought carefully about my answer before I spoke.
I don’t think many of the online social resources for beer are very good at reviewing beer. I do, however, think that they are excellent places for discussion, and basic facts about beer. There are two main problems that I have with three of the most commonly known online beer rating sites. Sites like Ratebeer BeerAdvocate and Untappd are commonly populated with folks in search of the
and they tend to value the big styles of beer. A simple beer such as a Dark Mild rarely sees a
because a high alcohol content is needed to score well. Simply put, the big beer fans rule these sites, and small, simple session strength beer are not well respected no matter how well made. There are obviously several reasons for this, but there is one that I think is often overlooked. Many people who submit reviews to these sites are not well trained in tasting and evaluating things. As a result of this, the less experienced palate searches out the novel and
over the top
flavour and alcohol content and ignores subtlety and complexity as well as the long overlooked characteristic – session- ability (the characteristic of being session-able).
I admit I love the occasional big flavoured, high alcohol beer. But if I’m buying a few beer to stock a fridge, it is always with a few novel beer and one- offs but most importantly I have to have several low alcohol and easier drinking beers for everyone to enjoy. This is not to say that I generally buy mass market lagers, but rather that I have a few beers of easy drinking styles ready to go. A bitter, a wheat beer, a pale ale and a porter or stout are almost always good choices to please most palates and go with many foods. Moreover, over the course of the evening these simple beer are great social lubricants that don’t tend to numb the mind or the body.
In short, online beer sites give you great information such as ABV, brewery, IBU etc, but the scores and reviews are better off left for those who are well trained, or better yet, for those that you are with. Why read about the beer when you can talk about it with those who really matter.