A few months back I got into a conversation about beer reviews and ratings with Brent Osborn of Osborn Brewing. I’ve been simmering on this, trying to formulate it into an article, and finally resolving to change the error of my ways.
The Problems With Reviews
Let’s start at the start with what Brent said to get this ball rolling:
Love Untappd, I can see what’s around me locally, what my friends are drinking where and if they thought it was any good. My brewer friends HATE it because people down rate beers they don’t like, not because the beer is bad, because they don’t like IPAs or stouts or spice beers.
I like Untappd because of its ratings, and I can quickly tell if I have had a beer before and what I thought of it. Problem is, I can’t tell if I didn’t like it because of the style, for me that’s spice beers – like these pumpkin beers. I have had enough to know if they’re good or not, and I do not like the spices so I don’t like the beers.
BUT there is a huge difference between that and the beer was old, infected, neglected, brewed bad, etc.
The problem with Beer Advocate, and why I’ve never used it, is they make everyone a judge regardless and there is no way to rate the raters. Joe Dumbass’ shit rating of Edmund Fitzgerald because it’s a poor stout is just as valid as Tom’s raving review.
I discussed this with my fellow Cincy Beer Bloggers and want to share Brew Prof‘s thoughts:
Personally, I use Untappd as a reference and discovery tool. I think “uneducated” beer drinkers use it in a similar fashion. If they put too much stock in ratings they will be lead to generally safer beers. However, like any data source it needs to be credible and that generally means volume. A beer with a 3.5 and 165K rating has a higher probability of being an accurate representation than one with 165 ratings. All that being said, all ratings (BJCP, RateBeer, BA) should be taken with a grain of salt and used as an informal reference.
Helping Those New to Beer
What really pushed me to get this article published was a conversation with a coworker beginning to tumble-down the rabbit hole of craft beer. Everyone in my department knows I’m into beer so if there is a beer question of any level I’m the guy everyone goes to.
This coworker, let’s call him Chris, has been slowly getting into craft beer and asked me about Zombie Dust two weeks back. My initial response was something along the lines of “Welcome to the hunt, good luck!” but in a random stroke of coincidence a friend had two six-packs of Zombie Dust and gave me one to pass on to Chris.
Chris came back this morning relaying how much he loved Zombie Dust. More importantly he said he was at The Party Source looking for more beers and was researching every beer on BeerAdvocate to find out if it was good or not. I told him what I’ll tell you…
Relying on other people’s opinions is a good way to find beer that other people like, but that’s no guarantee that you’ll like it.
Here’s the real takeaway for me whenever you look to BeerAdvocate, RateBeer, Untappd, BJCP score sheets, this blog, or anywhere else remember that it’s some person’s opinion of what they perceived. Maybe that person has a hatred of piney hops, a tongue that’s super sensitive to cinnamon, or is a smoker and their nose is dull to everything.
The best thing to do is find reviews that lay out exactly what that person gets and isn’t just 3.5/5 stars. Look for reviews like this:
Not like this:
With the top review you can say, yeah I like chocolate notes and spicy rye, I’ll try that beer. With the bottom review all you can wonder is what the hell “stouty” is and what is “too stouty” for that person?
New Year’s Resolution
Now we get to my goal for next year. In the end we have only ourselves to blame for our actions but we can initiate change with those actions. It’s like Gandhi said, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” So…
No longer shall I just leave a star rating on Untappd and move along. I shall henceforth be as verbose as possible. My comments on Untappd will be unbiased but my rating is my personal opinion.
If everyone treats every Untappd check-ins, RateBeer reviews, or Facebook comments this way the trend will catch and all reviews will become more useful to everyone.
What are your thoughts on people who only post how many stars they give a thing? Are you one of them? Are you ready to help me make a change?