It’s time to examine the belief, held by many in Craft beer, that all opinions are valid.
The rather comforting philosophy that all opinions are equal can be applied to a variety of topics in Craft beer, and we will consider a couple in due course. But first, it is of benefit to examine the political and ideological landscape that has encouraged this slippery slope of thought.
North American (and to a degree Western) society in recent years has moved to address many of its errors and faults. We’ve seen progress in equal rights and giving more of a voice to minorities and the underprivileged. Any rational person can see that these are positive contributions to society, yet at the same time these movements have led to an unforeseen consequence.
The desire to have others be heard has led to the sometimes mistaken belief that all opinions are equally valid. While this belief system is thought by many to be inclusive, it is a flawed position to take. It is true that all people are deserving of equal rights, but their thoughts, ideas and opinions are not equally valid and critical thinking should back this up.
All opinions are not equal. Some are a very great deal more robust, sophisticated and well supported in logic and argument than others. Douglas Adams
Before looking at a couple of Craft beer examples of this, we should point out that significant expert research has been done on the topic of cognitive bias and its effects. While this research is hard for many to take, the take away that we get from looking at a few sources is that not all opinions are valid, not all people recognize this, and furthermore people often greatly over-estimate their competence when they are underqualified.
The Dunning-Kruger Effect essentially says that those that lack significant knowledge in an area falsely believe that their ability and understanding is equal to others. For those that would cry that this is some form of elitism please consider that there is an opposite (perhaps a parallel if you will) sort of bias as well, known as the Curse of Knowledge. It states that those of advanced knowledge often find it difficult to consider issues from the perspective(and by extension opinion) of those with less knowledge.
With this brief explanation in mind, we can look at some examples in Craft beer.
At a beer tasting that someone I know was at, a trained beer judge (the knowledgeable “expert”) was asked to sample a particular beer and provide feedback to some novice Craft beer fans. The experienced and educated taster quickly responded that the beer in question was oxidized and that the taste of this flaw was rather substantial. The two less experienced tasters were then quick to demonstrate two principles discussed here when they argued that the “expert” was wrong in his analysis and that they both rather enjoyed the beer. Lest we assume that perhaps the beer judge was wrong, as others joined the tasting some more experienced tasters echoed his evaluation.
The scenario above demonstrates the point of this piece. When the experienced taster was asked for an expert opinion, he was opposed on this by those possessed of less experience and training. They mistakenly believed that their opinion was as valid and when faced with others that opposed them, they resorted to the old Craft beer standard of “well I like it”. There is nothing wrong (or even up for debate) with someone liking a particular beer. There is a problem though with a lack of experience in diagnosing a technical flaw that is more a matter of ‘right or wrong’.
If you like oxidized beer, there is plenty to go around. But is a flaw nonetheless.
To take another look at this, we can examine a post on Twitter that I came across recently that started a substantial amount of debate both online and (we can imagine) in the real world. To mention this tweet’s popularity, I entered the words JAMIL, TWITTER and YEAST and it was the third hit on a Google search a week and an half after it was posted. (and the same man authored a book on YEAST!)
In the tweet a picture of a rather opaque beer was included, and the author (a noted expert) mentioned that there was substantial yeast left in the beer. If one follows the thread, we can see the trends mentioned in this article followed. Posters imply that the original tweeter Jamil Zainasheff was somehow mistaken in his assessment. Some claim that he was unaware of the beer style (which he later identified as not the one that was expected by some of the critics) and thus was unqualified to comment. He later goes on to comment on other technical problems with the beer that were process and yeast derived.
With a cooler head and critical thinking we can see that the naysayers in this case were quick to outrage and speak up, and with later analysis of the tweet thread we can see that they were clearly wrong in offering their thoughts without getting clarification. Plainly said, the expert was doubted without a good reason and when he clarified for the doubters the debate was over.
One last example that the author has seen in some form or another is an appeal to commonality used by many in craft beer. When introducing someone new to Craft beer, some people will ask the new taster what flavours they are experiencing. One beer sales Rep that I know used this technique frequently, offering up that “everyone’s palate is different”. This response has elements that are correct, yet in other ways this is incorrect and I would argue a poor way to bring someone into the fold of Craft beer.
We know from the studies on flavour and taste that people are more or less sensitive to certain substances. Super tasters do exist, and genetic studies also confirm that cilantro is like soap to some people for example. But we also know from studies that beginning tasters are often wrong at first but can become experienced with time, effort and exposure to many flavours. See this post for some links and discussion on becoming a better taster.
So where was all of this headed? To a simple summary. We need to realize what we don’t know, give true experts the credit that they deserve, to up the level of discourse in Craft beer and to be realistic to ourselves and our abilities.