Why I Don't Rank Beer
On this blog, you may have noticed that I don’t really talk about “beer”. I talk about breweries, bikes, “The Smell”, and whatever pointless trivia crosses my mind, but I very infrequently say anything about if this brewery has better beer than that one. Sure, the occasional place consistently lets me down so they might get a call out. If you are Lucky Envelope Brewery then you get the pleasure of me gushing like a dirty bottle about how good your beer is at the mere mention of your name, but this post is going to be about why it’s total shenanigans when I do that. Here we go.
Whether or not you like a beer depends on so many more factors than how it tastes. You read that right, and no I’m not just gonna say “oh there’s color, carbonation, smell, mouthfeel…” Those are all the same thing, they merely add up to how “good” a beer is. Let me demonstrate. My favorite beer of all time is brewed in Texas at a little brewery near the house I grew up in. Every time I go back to Texas, I drive out to that old rice field to get some of it, and it’s been my favorite year after year. Disregard the fact that each time I’ve had it in the last four years, it tastes wildly different despite allegedly being the same Amber Ale. It simply tastes better and remains my favorite because of the moment, because of nostalgia, because I am in a dope-ass repurposed rice silo and that dog is wearing a scarf. Or maybe because that beer essentially cost just a slice more than a plane ticket. The first beer you have coming out of prison (or Dry January) could be a Rolling Rock and still have you beaming with delight. Untappd would like you to think that every beer can be put on a 1 to 5 scale, but the reality of it is even if you pretend you are ranking a beer against others of its own style, you are in all likelihood merely ranking how good your mood is at that moment. Sure, drinking good beer puts you a good mood and bad beer makes you mad, but Brian is over there shredding Happy Birthday to me on his fiddle, so this Budweiser Chelada gets 5 stars.
It’s impossible to objectively rate beers, no matter what Untappd would have you think. Just like wine, it depends on personal taste. Your favorite beer won’t be mine. Brewing is an art and what appeals to me won’t always appeal to you. Blondes consistently get lower ratings on Untappd even though sometimes they are the brewery’s best seller . To oversimplify, that’s because “seasoned” drinkers have graduated from blondes to IPAs, while the casual drinker is more likely to try the blonde. A seasoned drinker (and Untappd user) goes back, tries a blonde, finds it bland to his very serious pallet and rates it a bland 3 stars. Maybe all blondes are bad, but more likely the average beer rater probably can’t separate their personal tastes as well as they want to believe they can. Even actual competitive beer judges aren’t trained to say what beer they “like” more. They’re trained to tell if a beer matches what it says it is. Does it hit the style guidelines? Is it technically brewed well? A single well-made beer can be entered into multiple categories in a competition, given different descriptions, and win medals in one or more.
Of course “bad beer” can be objective as well; this is, if it is technically flawed. As a Certified Cicerone, I am(often, but certainly not in all cases) qualified to point out exactly what is wrong with a beer, be it a brewing fault, a flavor arising from mishandling (“the defect in that one is bleach”), or perhaps just a total mislabeling of the style. Real, actual beer judges are adept at pointing this kind of stuff out. Every brewer has the occasional bad batch. Some bad multiplication when scaling up a pilot recipe, a mistimed mash temperature adjustment, a dirty keg, or any number of things will throw off a single batch. Growing pains are a real thing for brewers; new equipment might shit all over a new brew basically lighting thousands of dollars on fire. What’s a young brewery to do in that situation? Often they call it a sour and sell it anyway to protect the bottom line - you can’t keep making beer if you can’t pay the bills. Some breweries consistently pipe out flawed beer and will earn themselves a call out, but even then they get another chance in a few months once they’ve burned through their bad stock and have had another go.
So because no one knows their own tastes, because beer tastes better with a dog with a scarf, and because the occasional bad beer could spoil a review, I am uncomfortable saying whether a brewery has good beer or not. It simply isn’t a deciding factor in whether or not you will like a brewery. I like breweries that are right around the corner, have capital ‘S’ Smell, and cornhole. Bottom line is that most breweries make great beer and that beer will rarely be worth making it very far outside your orbit for. So this blog is about the other factors that make breweries worth visiting (oh so many). Quick, bring it back around to biking...uhh... Biking makes that orbit so much wider. By expanding how far you can go for good beer, you get better beer, are supporting local businesses, and getting healthier for it! Nailed it.
Think I’m full of it? Are you a real beer judge and wanna weigh in? Are you an avid Untappd user and think you are better than I say you are? Join (or start) the discussion in the comments below or on Facebook. Thanks for reading!