Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Drinking again ... for the first time

Beer Advocate and Rate Beer are two well-frequented on-line everyman review repositories. I've posted a grand total of seven reviews at the former. Here at YFGF, I've written an occasional review, and I have few up at Flickr as well, but for the most part, I've abstained.

Anyone can write a beer review; we all have our opinions. De gustibus non disputandum.

As someone who in the past has brewed beer professionally, and who now sells it, I must tread carefully. Saying something derogatory about a beer I do not sell, or flattering about a beer I do sell, would be patently unethical if I did not clearly declare my association.

For those who wish to describe beer, there are certain commonly accepted 'rules' —a stout is dark, a pilsner not— but taste is inherently subjective. Nebulous qualities such as, say, balance or, ugh, 'drinkability' are fungible targets. What was perceived of as harshly bitter last year could, this year, be praised as delicately poised between malt and hops.

And, the vocabulary! One hears testosterone-driven claims to superior sniffing abilities conjoined with a surfeit of absurd metaphors and adjectives. I challenge anyone to describe the flavor salty without, in circular fashion, referring to salt. Likewise sweet with sugar, and so forth.

I appreciate and understand the skill in making a beer, but I (and you) don't taste the technology; I taste the beer. Particular beer flavors have particular identifying words. Tying the right word to the perception of a flavor compound —an ester, aldehyde, fusel alcohol, tactile sensation, or ingredient— is the not-so-mysterious route to achieving a good beer palate. And proffering a good review.

A good review, however, a useful beer review, should overtly display the reviewer's prejudices. With that filter, a reader can better determine whether he or she might like the beer assayed. Without that filter, there's a lack of context that can render the review unhelpful at best, pernicious at worst.

What are my prejudices?

I prefer beer that is both flavorful and refreshing. I prefer beer of elegance, beauty, and charm over beer created for flummery and look-what-I-did-ma. I prefer my beer to be a friend rather than an adversary. Although I do enjoy aged beer, I prefer beer that is fresh. I prefer beer drawn from a cask over that pushed from a keg. I often prefer draft to bottle. I enjoy beers from elsewhere; I prefer beers that are local. I prefer beer that has a reason to be, that has a liquid logic, over a beer created with a because-I-could genesis. I prefer beer that has a back story. I prefer beer that plays well with food. I prefer beer that encourages a second pint. I prefer beer in company rather than isolation.

For me, beer is not simply a product or a number. Beer is a thing of beauty, and a thing that brings beauty. When it's quantified as a numbered score, or as a price-point, or as a demographic category, beer is rendered as a formalistic, non-aesthetic, quotidian thing. If rating beauty, what really is the difference between a 92 and a 93?

I'm DRINKING, AGAIN, and writing of it. I've overcome my reticence. But here, you'll find no scores.


1 comment:

  1. Good news for all! Looking forward to some of your reviews.

    On a related note, for a slight twist on the everyday beer review - check out Hoptopia.com and read some of his insane tasting notes. His review of Hopslam, for example:

    THE ABV. 10.0%


    THE NOSE: Beeswax, Pine, Peach Sorbet, Cream Cheese, Candy Apple, Golden Syrup, Strawberry Ice Cream, Pineapple

    THE TASTE: Pink Grapefruit Juice, Cucumber, Starfruit, Hot Buttered Toast, Maraschino Cherry, Fresh Jalapeño, Black Licorice

    THE BOTTOMLINE: Hoptea would also be an apt name for this ridiculously refined bottle conditioned IPA. Pouring a fresh bottle of Hopslam into a glass unleashes a literal mushroom cloud of distilled pine needle and citrus peel aromas the likes of which most noses have never experienced. Upon first sip the mouth is overtaken to the point of numbness by possibly the most domineering pure hop character this side of actually chewing a handful of freshly plucked hop flowers. It’s easy to see why this ale of utter excellence and limited availability, is considered a rite of passage for hopheads proclaiming their love of the hop juice. Rightly mythologized, revered and exulted, this to my palate comes but within a hair's-breadth of the truly blissful and equally heralded, Pliny The Elder by Russian River

    THE BACKBONE: Honey, Loads of Hops

    PRICE POINT: $17 | 6x 12oz bottles

    ... much more of an entertaining read than the everyday BA and RB reviews, at least in my opinion.


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