Do beer ratings matter?

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Do Beer Ratings Matter?

This past Tuesday I walked into Mahaffey’s Pub filled with pride. A few hours later, I left feeling emotionally bruised and deflated.

I had just experienced a small taste of what it feels like to have a bad review. In my case, it wasn’t like my homebrew club was telling me that my beer was bad. In fact there were a lot of positives to come away with, if I could just see it that way. Here it was partially my fault, because I may have not selected the correct style to be judged on.

Since I am speaking about styles, I would like to take a small tangent. Do styles matter? The answer to that is a definite maybe. Styles help guide the consumer. Styles allow you to construct in your head what a particular beer should taste like. Styles are also something built out of tradition.

These traditions have been built over centuries of brewing. And I am sure every time someone deviates from the known styles of the time, it is considered radical. Imagine the first time a stout was produced. Porter was the defacto dark ale of the time, but it was more of a dark brown with mild roast. Then someone decided to add even more roast, and therefore add color to it as well. This was somewhat radical. For a long time stout was referred to as a Stout Porter.

Today, the lines between beer styles has become so blurred, that events like the Great American Beer Festival or even the National Homebrewers Conference have become littered with hybrid crossbreeds that the judges have a difficult time understanding how to score. Or they land in the “Specialty Beer” category. And often those beers do not score well. But, if they are good enough, they will then become imitated, and will soon be the pioneers of a new style of beer.

But in my case, I certainly wasn’t doing anything particularly ground breaking. I just chose the wrong style while filling out the entry form. Or at least that is what I would like to believe.

Of course dealing with ratings is something that affects all brewers, whether home brewers or professional brewers. So of the professional brewers absolutely hate ratings sites like and Beer Advocate.

This distaste for ratings has produced some comical quotes from brewers.

“These seemingly alcoholic losers wouldn’t know a good beer if it was delivered by the gods themselves.”

“Apologize for trying my beer? No way Jose.. At least you had more brains than the Majority of the Beer Advocate and Rate Beer morons. (I did say majority) You ate what resembled pizza and drank the beer.. Nice to see someone who understands that you are not knocking back a 40 of Old English or Mickey’s but having a beer with a meal and then jumping back into “session” beer. Thanks, you do need to make the pizza, you will freak at how god it is”

While researching what has been said over the years, I came upon this great quote from a forum contributor on the topic:

“It’s amazing judging with masters and grandmasters of BJCP and the amount that they really do not know outside of the guidelines. I swear, they become even more jaded and non-hedonistic. They just stop caring at some point because they have to taste a ton of shitty homebrew (and I am BJCP). Comparing a homebrew judge and a hobbyist taster like us is like comparing apples and oranges. They’d probably be even more pissed if it was all BJCP ratings in all honesty. It’s easier for me to overlook a minor fault in a good commercial beer than it is to overlook a minor fault in a slightly out of category homebrew. It’s just the nature of the systems.”

This was referring to statements made by professional brewer who felt that RateBeer and Beer Advocates ratings should be restricted to BJCP certified judges.

The professional brewers have some valid points. Do all contributors on these sites know what they are doing? No. Is every review on Yelp! done by a trained chef? No. Is every contractor review on Angie’s List done by a master carpenter? No. So maybe their points aren’t valid. Or maybe they just shouldn’t care. If got into the beer industry to make a boat load of money, well that is a situation where you really do need to care what the public thinks. In that case you have no business being critical here. If you got into the beer industry as a means of self-expression, and to make something you consider art then you can bitch all you want about the public. How many painters were ever appreciated while they were still alive? Don’t know the answer to that, but I know it wasn’t very many.

Of course there is the flip side of this conversation. How awesome is life if the hordes of beer enthusiasts on the ratings sites love your beer? I imagine the reaction here is mixed as well. Sure it will really help you grow your business, but it can create a kind of instant celebrity that isn’t a comfortable feel either.

The Best Brewery in the World according to this year is Hill Farmstead out of Vermont. A recent interview he had with Vanity Fair shed some light on what this kind of success brings:

“Oh man, I can’t even go out there. It’s just too much. I wish it wasn’t like that. My driveway is completely full. Someday hopefully I can build a house down in the woods. . . . And it’s only one o’clock—it’s just going to keep getting worse. Is the line out the door?”

I am sure that many of us don’t feel sorry for him. And I am pretty sure that most of the time he is happy to be receiving the praise his work is getting.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Shaun Hill really doesn’t care about ratings. And he probably only cares a little about awards like Brewery of the Year. He seems to be a guy cut from the category of brewer I described earlier as one that does it as a means of self-expression. The funny part is that those that go into brewing with that attitude seem to be the ones that get better ratings.

So back to the original question. Do ratings matter? Not really. Budweiser scores a 0 from, and it’s sibling Bud Light, which is the best selling beer in the world, got what has to be a score below 0 of N/A. On the other side, Hill Farmstead has 65 beers that have scored a 98 or greater. Then somewhere between the two is one of my favorite new American Pale Ales, Duckpin from Baltimore’s Union Craft Brewing. It scored only a 57 on, but I can tell you it is a wonderful Pale Ale.

My final answer is ratings matter in the exact same way styles matter. It helps guide the consumer. But beyond that they don’t really offer much value.

Where I’ll Be

Friday May 17th – It’s a Firkin Friday, so that means a fresh firkin of Flying Dog will be available at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. There is a Flying Dog location on the lower lever at section 23 and the new Roof Deck behind the Centerfield wall. I will be heading to the Centerfield location.

Only a few days left of Frederick Beer Week, and for those that don’t live near Frederick there are only a few days left of American Craft Beer Week. There are great beer events all week this week. Check them out.

Upcoming Events

May 11th – 18th – Frederick Beer Week
May 13th – 19th – American Craft Beer Week
May 11th – FBW BeerFest @ Stillpoint Farm
May 18th – Maryland Craft Beer Festival
une 1st – Annual Victoria Beer Fest @ Victoria Gastropub

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