Beer Reviews – Good taste down the drain?

One of the beauties of the internet is that it can be very empowering. This empowerment comes from a combination of things. The ability to speak your mind in a way in which it is seen and heard. And of course, anonymity.

I bet every one of my readers has done an online review. I would also venture to bet that most if not all of you has written a negative review. People are really more likely to write a negative review than a positive one. You have a bad experience it can be emotional, and you want to share that with others. Whether it’s to warn them, so they may not make the same mistake, or just a way to vent and get that off your chest.

And if you are reading my blog there’s at least a decent chance that you visit RateBeer or BeerAdvocate from time to time. You may have even written a review or two of beer while you were there.

Many professional brewers hate these sites. Maybe I shouldn’t say professional brewers hate these sites as a broad reaching statement, but many do. The professional brewing community really feels that there are certain people that know how to judge a beer, they are called BJCP Certified Beer Judges.

The consumer base that makes up these sites defends them as a way for the consumer to share information, and create a better experience for all in craft beer. This is certainly true. And I use both RateBeer and BeerAdvocate all the time. I like to see how my perception of a beer lines up with others. But some of the reviews take things a little too far.

A few nights ago I was out having a beer with Dan Baumiller, co-founder of Full Tilt Brewing. The topic of user reviews came up, and he mentioned he had been reading some of the feedback about Jailbreak Brewing Co.

He told me there was one, where the user, we’ll call him Paul, went on a huge diatribe about Jailbreak’s beer The Big Punisher.

I have to admit, it was an entertaining read. Filled with expletives, and reference to bodily functions. It was perfect for someone with the sense of humor of a 4th grader. But some of the statements were downright mean.

For example, he states, “I’ve had better experiences being locked in a fucking holding cell with a guy bigger than my mother-in-law wearing only a pair of urine-soaked socks.”

But let me back up a little. This “review” begins comparing the Double IPA of a brewery that is less than a month old to Double Sunshine from Lawson’s Finest Liquids a beer that is considered to be one of the best Double IPAs made from a brewery that is considered one of the finer artisan breweries in the country. Seems fair, right?

I’m not saying give them a pass because they are a new brewery. But it does seem a little ridiculous to hold them up next to one of the most talked about beers of the last few years. But then again, that is what a lot of these reviewers will do. They have highly hyped beers, and write a review that supports the hype. So trying a beer can create a bit of a quandary. They don’t know how to rate something that hasn’t been hyped and reviewed by thousands of others.

Now of course, I did find some constructive items in this particular review. Hidden amongst the toilet humor flanked by expletives, there were a few good thoughts. I don’t think the goal of this review was to provide constructive criticism, I think this was purely accidental. I believe the primary goal was to shame and embarrass. Which is always the best thing to do to an upstart local business.

Writing scathing reviews can be a risky endeavor these days too. Earlier this year a contractor sued a former customer for $750,000 over a bad Yelp! review. While the contractor in this case did not get any of the damages he was seeking, it is not fun or cheap to defend yourself in such a case. There have been other cases where the plaintiff was much more successful. In one an entire website was created in order to bash a pair of surgeons in Arizona over a claimed botched surgery. The outcome in that case? $12 million to the doctors.

I am not trying to discredit the value of RateBeer or BeerAdvocate. They certainly play a service to the beer consumers of the world. There is certainly a place for bad reviews, constructive reviews, and funny reviews. But when you combine bad and funny, you might want to make sure your Digital Media Libel Insurance is up to date. Because defining funny changes depending on which seat you are in.