Why is it that some people have never had a bad beer? I mean other than the oft maligned mass market lagers, why is all beer good?
This is a subject that I think hasn’t really been brought forward in the beer community, but is long overdue.
I read a tweet from “Tasty” McDole the Brewing Network personality and award winning homebrewer. (I should note that while I don’t always agree with him, I do applaud his willingness to state real opinions whether or not they are echoed by the majority). In his small statement he says an awful lot about beer reviews as they are often done these days.
We’ve all read reviews that trip over themselves to describe the characteristics of beer.
lacing, quaffable, quenching, pale, dark
and the like. But it is truly rare to see anyone outside of the uber beer geek actually say much about a beer that is negative.
If we look at craft beer as a whole it stands to reason that it can’t all be good. (I’m not very good at math, but even I have a rough understanding of normal distribution, which is often called the bell curve and how it applies to this situation.
I think it’s safe to assume that with over two thousand breweries in the U.S. alone there are beers being made that are everywhere from excellent to terrible. I think we can also assume that if we plotted every craft beer available then we would approach a distribution that mirrors the aforementioned bell curve.
So, you ask, what does that matter? The answer is painfully simple. Approximately half of all craft beer should be considered somewhere between awful and average. Conversely, half should be between average and awesome. (See what I did with the alliteration for your reading pleasure)
Yet I challenge anyone to survey published beer reviews and sample a variety of them. In my experience these reviews mirror what Mr. McDole stated, that they lack any real credibility if they don’t address the plethora of average and outright bad beer out there.
I’ve given this a fair bit of thought, and I believe that there are two main reasons for the lack “negative” reviews.
First of all, I think there is a cultural component to blame. Many people experience at least some level of discomfort with the negative, be it giving or receiving. We’ve all seen people who represent an extreme version of this characteristic. Many people simply wouldn’t want to write reviews that are seen as being quite negative. As well, there are a large number of people that wouldn’t want to read negative reviews.
The second reason that I can come up with for a lack of “negative reviews” is cultural as well, but in a far different way.
Craft beer culture in North America is about 30 years old. It stands to reason then that it lacks a certain level of seasoned maturity that other food and drink products have enjoyed for far longer. With this young culture that is still developing, there is a lack of trained and experienced experts to review these beers. To me, this is what leads to a significant problem in reading beer reviews.
To highlight one of my pet peeves, I bring up the common obsession over head (froth,suds,bubbles) on beer. Many reviews make much of this expression of protein-based carbon dioxide bubbles. But my rebuttal is simple: given enough time and desire one can get a large head or very few bubbles on top of a beer. Don’t believe me? Take a few of the same beer at the same temperature and pour them in different ways: splash them, pour fast, pour slow etc.
We could go on with many more examples, but that is more akin to flogging the proverbial dead horse.
It’s time to be more critical about beer. Not to hurt the producers, but to help them improve. Demand more of producers, but also of those reviewing their products.
How can people fix something if they don’t know what’s wrong? Tell them. In the long run we’ll all be better off.
For the record, I reported this beer to the producers of it.