The Subjective Side of Beer Reviewing
Posted on 11/9/2012 by Chops
One of BrewChief's core tenants is that beer reviewing is a subjective experience. There are many beer enthusiasts who would disagree with that statement, and it's actually a highly debated topic in the world of craft beer. So, I thought it would be beneficial to our readers to explain exactly how we came to this conclusion and why we structured the website around it.

Beer reviewing is in stark contrast to beer education, which is an objective experience. If you want to lean about beer history, the brewing process, and what defines a particular style, then stylistic traits are important (appearance, aroma, flavor, mouthfeel). But when it comes down to your own opinion on what tastes good, these traits aren't very meaningful at all. As we were growing this website, we would often come across fantastic brews that failed to fit into any predetermined stylistic definition. As a reviewer, it seemed unfair to ding these beers just because they pushed stylistic boundaries.

Then we came across the following response from Sam Calagione (founder of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery) addressing a forum thread on about overrated breweries:

It's pretty depressing to frequently visit this site and see the most negative threads among the most popular. This didn't happen much ten years ago when craft beer had something like a 3 percent market share. Flash forward to today, and true indie craft beer now has a still-tiny but growing market share of just over 5 percent. Yet so many folks that post here still spend their time knocking down breweries that dare to grow. It's like that old joke: ''Nobody eats at that restaurant anymore, it's too crowded.'' Except the ''restaurants'' that people shit on here aren't exactly juggernauts. In fact, aside from Boston Beer, none of them have anything even close to half of one percent market share. The more that retailers, distributors, and large industrial brewers consolidate the more fragile the current growth momentum of the craft segment becomes. The more often the Beer Advocate community becomes a soap box for outing breweries for daring to grow beyond its insider ranks the more it will be marginalized in the movement to support, promote, and protect independent, American craft breweries.

It's interesting how many posts that refer to Dogfish being over-rated include a caveat like ''except for Palo…except for Immort…etc.'' We all have different palettes which is why it's a great thing that there are so many different beers. At Dogfish we've been focused on making “weird” beers since we opened and have taken our lumps for being stylistically indifferent since day one. I bet a lot of folks agree that beers like Punkin Ale (since 1995) , Immort Ale (wood aged smoked beer) since 1995, Chicory Stout (coffee stout) since 1995 , Raison D'être (Belgian brown) since 1996, , Indian Brown Ale (dark IPA) since 1997, and 90 Minute (DIPA) since 2000 don't seem very weird anymore. That's in large part because so many people who have been part of this community over the years championed them and helped us put them on the map.These beers, and all of our more recent releases like Palo Santo, Burton Baton, Bitches Brew continue to grow every year. We could have taken the easy way out and just sold the bejeezus out of 60 Minute to grow but we like to experiment and create and follow our own muse. Obviously there is an audience that appreciates this as we continue to grow. We put no more ''hype'' or ''expert marketing'' behind our best selling beers than we do our occasionals. We only advertise in a few beer magazines and my wife Mariah oversees all of our twitter/Facebook/ stuff. We have mostly grown by just sharing our beer with people who are into it (at our pub, great beer bars, beer dinners, and fests) and let them decide for themselves if they like it. If they do we hope they tell their friends about. We hope a bunch of you that are going to EBF will stop by our booth and try some of the very unique new beers we are proudly bringing to market like Tweason'ale (a champagne-esque, gluten-free beer fermented with buckwheat honey and strawberries) and Noble Rot (a sort of saison brewed with Botrytis-infected Viognier Grape must). One of these beers is on the sweeter side and one is more sour. Knowing each of your palettes is unique you will probably prefer one over the other. That doesn't mean the one you didn't prefer sucked. And the breweries you don't prefer but are growing don't suck either. Respect Beer. The below was my favorite post thus far.

This thread is hilarious. Seriously, Bells, Founders, FFF, Surly, RR, DFH, Bruery, Avery, Cigar City, Mikkeller are all overrated? Since I'm from Ohio, I'll pile on and add Great Lakes, Hoppin Frog, and Brew Kettle to the list. Your welcome.

Hopefully soon we will have every craft brewery in the US on the list.

As avid beer fans, we felt like standing up and cheering. Who were any of us to discount great beers based on stylistic limitations? Subjective opinions truly matter and should carry a lot of weight in the discussion. This is why we decided to focus on a subjective scale instead of a stylized grading scale. But, we also acknowledge the value of beer education. So in order to promote that side as well, we decided to offer style-based grading scales as optional fields that appear only as review subtext.

So to all you would-be reviewers, join us at BrewChief and enjoy our subjective approach to beer reviewing. Think a beer is delicious? Then just say so. No need to pick it apart like a frog in biology class... unless of course you really want to.

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