Let’s talk about beer reviews.
A friend and I have a running joke: if she was ever to start a beer blog, it would be called “This Beer is Nice”. Every single post would be the name of the beer with a single sentence: “This beer is nice”. Alternatively, if she didn’t like it, it would say “This beer is not nice”.
And when you get down to brass tacks, that’s kind of what all beer reviews do. Some do it with more words, some with fewer. Some with greater technical acumen, others with less. But in the end, it all comes down to a subjective opinion on whether someone likes a beer or not (“This beer is nice”).
And you know what? That’s fine. I don’t want to put anyone off contributing to the public discourse of beer in New Zealand. But beer reviews definitely need to be taken with a grain of salt, and a fairly large one at that.
Brewers reading beer reviews should consider the relative reliability of the source. A reviewer who has spent years in the industry, has brewing experience, or has beer judging experience/certified BJCP or Cicerone (I’m thinking of Phil Cook of The Beer Diary and Greig McGill from the short lived Awkward Beer Reviews), will probably give more accurate and constructive feedback than some schmo who’s decided to put their opinions on the internet.
Likewise, consumers need to be wary of taking any reviewer’s opinions as gospel. There are writers out there (like Greig and Phil) whose opinions I regard highly. At the same time, I know that my particular palate is quite different to both of theirs, so just because one of them likes a beer, I don’t automatically assume I will as well.
I recommend either finding a beer reviewer whose particular tastes overlap with your own. Or better yet, try everything and decide for yourself. Be your own beer reviewer. Start a blog even. I encourage everyone to take part in the conversation about beer in this country.
But you really do need to be wary of and acknowledge the limits of your own subjectivity (and I’m talking to the writers out there, both present and future). I’ve always struggled with writers who give reviews without qualifying them as opinion, particularly if they’re using a numerical/star rating.
If you want to assign beers a score according to your own system, that’s fine, but keep in mind one thing: In the end, someone writing “this beer scores 4.3 bottlecaps out of 5,” may sound intelligent, but it really isn’t any more valid than some loon, on his knees behind a table, burbling into a can of Kauri Falls.
Just for the record, I think Kauri Falls is pretty excellent. Ten ‘gurgles’ out of ‘hurgh’. But that’s just my opinion. Your mileage may vary.