Friday, June 20, 2008

The Purpose of Reviewing Beer

Along with the growing popularity of craft beer comes the rising number of fan-based websites and personal blogs. These websites range from online diaries to sophisticated collective ratings systems, from very private first-person accounts to semi-professional and certified beer judges to encyclopedic communities of beer reviewers.

If you have spent any time at all looking up the details of your favorite craft beer, then you are probably familiar if not already a member of many of these websites. Two of the most prominent are Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, both of which have complex scoring scales and product rankings. Others include the Oxford Bottled Beer Database, BeerPal and dozens of other home-spun efforts to emulate the largest of these. With the low threshold of scripting and database tools available on the cheap, new beer-rating websites are developed all the time.

To the interactive websites, we can add the personal beer blogs. These run the full gamut of quality and experience, from the novice just discovering craft beer and stringing together dangling participles with blurry digital photos to the seasoned craft beer consumers, homebrewers and judges to the professional columnists and writers for whom their blog is just another media outlet for their work. But what is the purpose behind all this online beer rating, ranking, wrangling and reviewing?

Some of these websites, especially the larger ones, have developed into both online and actual public communities of like-minded craft beer hobbyists. A few have even gone so far as to develop rivalries and conflicting factions, with their published “best of” lists being picked up by the general media investigating this craft beer phenomenon — which are all topics for another time. However, our focus here is on the purpose of actually writing a personal review of a single craft beer.

First, more writing is always a good thing. In our digital age of e-communication and a thousand channels of pap on the television, it is good to focus on our language skills again. Writing (about any topic, not just beer) is an exercise for the brain. One should work out their mental muscles no less than their physical muscles, and a goal of a sharp mind should be just as important as the definition of your abs.

Along that same argument, writing a review of a craft beer forces you to really think about that beer. Instead of gulping down a beverage, or even slowly sipping one of your faves, you are required to pay close attention to the sensations coming from your palate and translate these signals into understandable prose. You will have to analyze aromas, flavors, textures and even colors that are ordinarily amalgamated parts of the complete craft beer product.

With the analysis, you must also bring your personal beer experience. You attempt to isolate tastes and aromatics and connect each of them with brewing ingredients, other beers, even foods and chemicals. You make links with events, places and memories, both associated with the beer or with unrelated yet similar sensations. Some craft beer reviews can be turn out to be surprisingly personal.

In short, reviewing craft beer makes you think about what you are consuming, which in essence is the entire motivation behind the craft beer movement. Bland products are fit only for a quick, cursory consumption, and are so by willful product design. But if you are spending your money and adding those calories, there should be more to it than just a forgettable experience. Make sure to leave a record of that.

1 comment:

matt said...

I just pound em down and write whatever comes to mind!