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.
This bloooog is my main outlet for most the words I stick on the internet. When I’m not writing this though, I’m frequently tapping keys for other publications. For instance, I’ve written a couple of short pieces for the Society of Beer Advocates Magazine: The Pursuit of Hoppiness. I’ve also penned quite a few Golding’s press releases for craftbeercapital.com.
But you know what my favourite publication to write for is? Salient Magazine. Yep that’s right, Victoria University’s Student publication. I’ve been co-writing it with Dave the Beer Guy for a number of years, which means that, owing to the rather irregular publishing schedule, I’ve only actually written a few columns, which can be found here.
Salient can be quite fun to write for. You can take a more relaxed attitude to other publications. on the other hand, you do need to temper your beer-geekery for what you might call an ‘introductory audience,’ or in other words, students, who frequently can’t afford to drink lots of exciting Mikkeller beers or the like.
So far I’ve refrained from crossing my Salient work to my blog, for reasons I can’t quite explain. A while back though, I wrote one that I’m a little proud of, so I thought I’d share it here. My column on extremophilia:
I originally started writing about my own love for extreme beers and the way they seem to be looked down on by a certain section of the beer and brewing community (a subject I would like to return to sometime). However, I found it morphing into another, more positive and ultimately more useful column for this particular medium.
For the record, I actually seriously believe that a tour through the more extreme sections of the Hashigo Zake fridge can often be an effective way to get someone interested in beer. It’s a hell of a lot better than pissing-around in the sub-5% lager category with someone who clearly needs a little rock’n roll to get them excited.
I think I might start cross-referencing my Salient columns to my blog. If only for the sake of extending their audience.
That’s all for now.
This blog exists because Jo Wood told me I needed to start one, and when Jo Wood tells you to pull your socks up you have to listen.1
This whole thing started over a year ago when I began co-writing writing the Beer Column for Victoria Uni’s Salient Magazine. For several reasons, that finished after only two columns. Unfortunately however, I’d developed a taste for foisting my opinions on the unsuspecting masses. I’m back co-writing that again with my colleague Dave the Beer Guy, but it’s only once a month and my need to put pen to paper (or 1s and 0s to silicon) is strong.
The real catalyst for this blog though came from me achieving the impossible: winning an argument on the internet. You see, in the early days of 2013 I attended a beer tasting. This one to be exact. The whole thing was a bit controversial and kicked off a bit of a kerfuffle.2 Terms like ‘elitist’ and ‘wanker’ got thrown around a bit and I decided to throw in my $0.02, with what I hoped to be a considered and (fairly) polite response.
Long story short, I found myself with an apology and a deal of notoriety around Wellington. I was also gathering praise, both from people at the tasting and strangely, people who weren’t The thing that really got to me though, was the number of people telling me I should take up blogging.
Now I won’t lie, I’ve considered it before. But it seems like every Man, his dog and his dog’s fleas are writing blogs at the moment.3 So you might understand why I was reluctant to start this whole thing.
The kicker came when Sean from the Thirsty Boys asked me to write a guest entry for their blog (pending). What is this? Is the whole world conspiring against me? To write a blog? I asked Phil Cook this and he said “Yes, we had a meeting. It’s been decided.” Well, ok world. You want me to write, I’ll write. Qué será, será. Just remember world, you asked for it.
I don’t know precisely what form this beast will take. It’s been suggested I do a beer-for-a-year style thingamy, but I’m reluctant.4 I want it to be a beer log-cum-reviewing exercise but who knows? Maybe it’ll go the way of most other blogs: half-a-dozen updates then eerie silence that makes you wonder it the author died and was eaten by their cat. I guess it’s time to find out. Pass me the bottle opener please!
1. Miss-quote, Jo Wood quoted by Michael Donaldson in A Beer Nation (Penguin Books, 2012: 213). Credit/blame should also go to Phil Cook, who mentored me, often by proxy.
2. I considered writing a blog post about the tasting as my opener, but I have very little to add and didn’t want to stir up that shit-storm again.
3. Pardon the excessive gendering of those pronouns, but it’s an old saying that loses punch with “hirs” or “xe’s”.
4. The updating schedule is the main impediment, but also because working in the somewhat-ivory-tower that is Hashigo, finding a new beer that I’ve never had before every day is a bit of a challenge.