On Ratings

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.

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Coastal Extreme Brewing Company – Cyclone Vlad

  • Style: Russian Imperial Stout
  • ABV: 9.0%

This was a great find! Poured from 12oz bottle into a snifter. The beer pours very dark; not quite as black as some other stouts I’ve seen, but about the color of real dark chocolate. It’s very thick and cascades into the glass, creating just a covering layer of rich, brown head that dissipates very quickly. The aroma is a blast of chocolate, with some roasted malt to back it up. The taste is quite similar and first hits you with big dark chocolate flavor, then roasted malt and a little bit of coffee with just hints of dark fruit. There is also a light lingering bitterness, kind of a mixture of hops and tannins. This beer hides its 9.0% ABV well and almost no taste of alcohol is discernible. Unlike many stouts, this has very little bitterness and is exceptionally smooth. Vlad is quite thick and coats the mouth, leaving a bit of an oily mouthfeel. Definitely recommended to any who are fans of stouts, Vlad drinks great on its own and would certainly do well with hearty cuisine.

If you like Cyclone Vlad, you might also like Alaskan Brewing Company’s Alaskan Stout and Stone Brewing Company’s Imperial Russian Stout (or their recent limited edition version aged on espresso beans).

More on Vlad:

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Brouwerij Lindemans – Framboise

  • Style: Fruit Lambic
  • ABV: 2.5%

Poured from the bottle into the Lindemans flute that came as a package deal with this beer and the Lindemans Pomme. Unfortunately some of the sediment was left at the bottom of the bottle which came out when I rinsed it, so my notes may be lacking on this beer and I could tell from the darkness and more tart taste of my second pour that I may have missed out on the full experience of this one. Nonetheless, this beer pours a deep reddish-pink color, pretty much what you would expect of raspberries. There is a small, one-finger head of pink foam that dissipates to a light dusting of bubbles atop the beer. The aroma is remarkable (though perhaps not for those who are more familiar with lambics) in that it is just straight raspberries. It’s hard to believe this is beer, though the lambic style is very different from the way most beer is made today. The taste is all raspberry as well, with a bit of tartness, though more would be welcome. It’s almost like drinking sparkling raspberry cider, especially with an ABV so low. The mouthfeel is unremarkable and has the same consistency as carbonated juice. All in all, I have to say that I did enjoy this beer, and it paired perfectly with the salad I had at dinner. But if you’re looking for a sour fruit beer or anything really resembling beer at all, you might want to look elsewhere as this appears to me to be not much more than expensive and slightly tart sparkling raspberry cider with a tiny bit of a kick.

Further reading on Lindemans Framboise:

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Boulevard Brewing Company – Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale

Style: Saison
ABV: 8.5%

Poured from a 12oz bottle into a Sam Adams Perfect Pint. This beer has a crazy three-finger bulbous head that dissipates into a one finger head with some nice lacing fairly quickly. The appearance at the bottom of the glass is mostly clear and straw-colored, while the upper part of the beer is more orange and cloudy. Lots of carbonation in this one. The aroma has the yeast up front with some more farmhouse-ish funky odors, tropical fruit esters and a remote aroma of hops. The taste melds together very well with the yeast, funk, herbal character, tropical fruits along with floral hops, bready malt and the slightest hint of alcohol heat. Rather than the flavors coming in waves like with some beers, this one hits you almost all at once, but the tropical fruits and citrusy hops along with the yeast are the heavy hitters. The hop flavor lingers on the palette and gives the beer a bit of a dry finish. The herbs are harder to detect in this beer than other saisons I’ve had where you can really pick out what plays a role and in general are pretty subdued. This beer is medium-bodied and not necessarily light, but definitely would be nice on a hot summer day; and though I enjoyed this beer on its own, I can see it going well with cheese. While not my favorite saison, I enjoyed this beer and would have it again. I procured some to try before I break out one of my birthday gifts: a March 2012 bottle of Boulevard’s Saison Brett (barrel-aged Tank 7 with brettanomyces). It’ll be interesting to see how the brett affects this one and I’m looking forward to that funkiness playing a more prominent role.

Check it out elsewhere:

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Allagash Brewing Company – Interlude 2012

On Saturday, March 30th, the girlfriend and I took a trip up to Maine for various reasons, one of which was to go on a tour of the Allagash Brewing Company’s brewery in Portland. We were lucky enough to sample four of Allagash’s fantastic offerings: House (a 4.5% session ale), Odyssey (an aged dunkelweizen), Curieux (a barrel-aged tripel) and Interlude. The brewery tour was great, and I went home with a bottle of Curieux and Interlude, spending much more money than I would have liked, but nonetheless happy with my purchase of these exceptional beers.

For Easter dinner, I decided to open my bottle of Interlude and serve it with the leg of lamb, potatoes and brussels sprouts that we had, and thought this would be a good first review for my beer review blog.

Interlude is a yearly release saison from Allagash. This release was bottled in October 2012 after being aged in French Merlot and Syrah oak barrels. According to Allagash’s website, Interlude is made with two types of yeast: a Belgian farmhouse yeast for that distinctive saison flavor, and a house strain of Brettanomyces, a yeast known for funking up beers and adding other nice esters.

The beer’s appearance is quite light, more on the orange side than straight yellow. The beer pours with little head and what head there is dissipates rather quickly. The beer is clear, though some of the other glasses I poured may have had some floaties since I had the first glass. There is some carbonation in the beer, but not too much. The aroma has lots of yeast and tropical fruit esters up front and some herbal quality though hard to pick out any herbs in particular. Upon tasting, the big flavor up front is the farmhouse yeast and tropical fruit esters, but also playing a major role is the red wine, oaky and tannin flavor imparted from the barrel aging. These wine-related flavors are a perfect accompaniment to this beer, especially with the flavors from the brett that are a little more subtle. There is some light tartness from the wine barrel and a little funkiness from the brett yeast, and just a hint of bready malt. While this is not exactly a sour ale, the fruit, tart and funky flavors all feel like notes in a chord that resonate together harmoniously. The finish leaves a bit of the tannins on the palette, giving the beer a dry finish. Unfortunately my tasting notes from yesterday were not extensive and here the mouthfeel gets short shrift.

To summarize, this beer is a masterfully subtle harmony of yeast, tropical fruit and wine tartness. I paid $20 for this bottle and I would do it again, though this is definitely a special occasion beer. While I am not a huge fan of Allagash’s White or Black, their tasting has proved to me that they are far more than their typical offerings. I look forward to my bottle of Curieux that I am now aging for when the time comes to break that out as well.

Check out Interlude elsewhere:

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