First of all, I apologize for the lack of reviews lately as I have been taking tasting notes on my phone for the last few weeks, and my phone has lost the information that I have entered. For some quick notes about beers I have tasted lately, here is a list.
- Jack’s Abby – Bourbon Barrel-Aged Framinghammer (Baltic Porter) = Recommended, especially for fans of the style and/or bourbon drinkers.
- Boulevard – Saison Brett 2012 (Saison) = Ambivalent. Not much difference between this and Tank 7, so maybe pick it up if you can find it for less than full price.
- Dogfish Head – Positive Contact (Witbier) = Recommended.
- Stone – Oaked Arrogant Bastard Ale (Strong Ale) = Recommended.
- Lagunitas – Lagunitas Sucks (IPA) = Recommended.
As you may have noticed from the few posts on this review blog, I do not give ratings to beers on any sort of scale and instead opt for descriptive means of suggesting the quality of the beer, such as not recommended, ambivalence, recommended, and any of the previous qualities plus certain words to amplify their message. I have been thinking about this more recently as I have been reading more and more of the articles by a favorite music critic, Piero Scaruffi. I figured I should give an explanation as to why there is no easy way to simply sort out posts by which ones get a high score as opposed to a low score. The reason I do this rather than giving a number for a rating is because I believe that there is no way for ratings of any type, for anything, to be objective. I can, however, give a number rating based on my inherently subjective rating method, but for someone to feel the same way would mean that they would have to share my tastes and beliefs which is nearly impossible.
The reasons that ratings are subjective are varied, but the most important is that ratings do not have a single decided-upon criteria of variables to be incorporated and others to be left aside. Beer specifically does have a number of factors that are to be considered to compose a review, but I will return to this later. Even if this were the case, many critics would find it difficult to separate their own opinions of the work (beer, music or otherwise) from the strict criterion that they rate on. Though there are less external variables with beer than works of art, I still find it hard to give a strict number rating because I have to consider the other beers that I have had as a point of reference, both inside and outside the style. How does it stand up to beer in general and how does it compare to other beers within the style? With music this is the single hardest point for me, because I feel that external factors are important as music should not be reviewed in a vacuum. What went into composing the album and who it has influenced, among other things are important in considering music but less so with beer. For example, the Velvet Underground may be the most influential band of all time, but there are many bands that have taken their music and (in my opinion) improved on the style in a number of ways within the last forty or so years, but the Velvet Underground still deserve loads of praise because they were the inventors of that sound whereas the others used it as a jumping-off point to move forward. In addition, Captain Beefheart’s album Trout Mask Replica is considered by many to be the best rock album of all time and I know that when I think about it I may consider it more highly because I know that so many others take it in such high regard and that I believe that the circumstances that led to the creation of the album were so amazing and incredibly strange that I think more highly of the album as a result while others may not. I think that this outside information with regard to the album should have an effect on how the album is regarded, but in order for ratings to be objective one would need to have perfect information on each album so that certain ratings are not skewed by factors that others are not. With regard to beer, some may for example think more highly of a beer from a brewery they already like, perhaps think more highly of it based on how it was made, especially for limited releases and collaboration beers, etc.
Let’s rein this back in and talk about beer. When rating beer, we are told to use four criteria: appearance, aroma, taste and mouthfeel. These are helpful guidelines in reviewing beer but cannot make up the entirety of a review. If everyone were to simply review beer based on how complex or true to the style these factors were, we could have very high ratings for complex beers that are not as enjoyable as others. However, I do understand that in general, the more complex or true to style that these criteria are means that you will have a more enjoyable beer, but how much the beer is enjoyed needs to be included as a fifth element in reviews because part of the success of a beer is based on how much it is enjoyed by its imbibing customer base. This element, while necessary, adds the subjectivity into the review. For example, there are styles that I generally do not enjoy, such as pilsners, wheat beers and barleywines. I can appreciate the complexity in these beers but do not enjoy drinking most of them, which means that I can try to pinpoint a number where I think the beer would lie in terms of how much I appreciate it, but cannot really ascertain a rating window based on enjoyment. By this, I mean that I can generally say that if I like a beer and I’m trying to rate it on a scale of 1-10, I can usually place it in the 6-10 range, eliminating half of my choices before I even get to the appearance, aroma, taste and mouthfeel. Further, how much weight are we to give these four? I know I wouldn’t judge them equally. I know I generally weigh these in this order: taste, aroma, appearance, mouthfeel.
So I do not see how any person can be objective without perfect information with regard to all external factors involved with the beer as well as all beers created before it to place this new beer in the existing body of work to give it a proper rating. As people get closer to this knowledge, there are definitely differing qualities of reviewers, so those who have had more experience with drinking and rating beer will have a better idea of how to rate beers accurately. Some people on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate have written thousands of reviews, so they necessarily will have a better opinion of what kind of rating it deserves.
So in light of this, I invite you to read through my reviews and make your own judgments about what beers you would like to try. For the sake of quick information about which beers are recommended and which are not, I may eventually tag my posts with recommended, not definitive (or some other better term to describe how I can see this beer being recommended to some but not all), not recommended, and also tagging by style. I invite you to comment on this entry if you agree, but especially if you disagree. Happy drinking and hopefully I will have a new review soon.