Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rating Beer “In The Moment”- It’s Really All About the Beer!

Have you ever considered the circumstances you find yourself in while you’re rating beer and how it may affect your ability to remain objective? Rating beer, or in my case, "researching" beer is an additional activity attached to the actual act of examining and consuming the product. It should be an enjoyable part of the beer-drinking process, but it should be taken seriously as well. There are many different reasons to rate beer. Some, like me for instance, like to keep track of all the different beers we have sampled. After over twenty-five-hundred beers, (not all at one sitting) it’s not always easy to recollect with any degree of accuracy exactly how each beer looked, smelled, and tasted. Another good reason to rate is to track year-to-year quality consistencies of breweries. Certain beers are well suited for cellaring. As these vintage-type beers age, they evolve in flavor, aroma, and appearance. So rating beers of this nature can get very interesting. Of course it’s of vital importance to maintain these vintage brews in a light and temperature-controlled (around 55°F) environment. But I digress. Vintage and cellaring is a topic worthy of a separate article.

Anyone who takes rating beer seriously understands that ratings can be somewhat subjective, with personal preferences coming into play. Raters who prefer rich stouts and porters may, for instance, need to raise their objectivity level to fully appreciate and describe a delicate pilsner or crisp clean lager. The flavors and aromas of the lighter beers are naturally subtler and require an increased amount of concentration to identify specific brew characteristics.

Which brings me to the point. As we rate beers we have a responsibility to the reader to remain objective in spite of personal preferences. A less obvious factor that may create bias in our writings- is what Co-founder, Todd Alström refers to as, "The Moment", or the current circumstances we find ourselves in while we are rating.

For instance, I was laboring with heavy video gear in the sweltering 105° F humid heat of smoggy Bangkok, Thailand. I had no idea my hotel could be so well hidden and frustratingly distant. As I was about to ask for directions ... again, or worse, hail a tuk-tuk (little rear-seated, open-air, death-trap scooters with awnings), I spotted my hotel.

Dripping with sweat, I entered the lobby. The staff, astutely sensing my extreme discomfort, relieved me of my gear and provided me a hot, scented washcloth. The inviting teak and mahogany bar's A-C was blowing Arctic quality air. Freshly chilled prawns with a spicy dipping sauce and jumbo salted peanuts were promptly delivered to me at the bar. "Welcome back mistah Don", chirped the cute barmaid in the tight silk dress, as she handed me an ice-cold Singha Beer in a frosted mug. "Ahhh"!

Now fellow beer raters, I pose to you the following question; given my extreme change in fortune and most excellent surroundings, should I be allowed to bestow the non-existent “10” overall rating on Singha? The answer, of course, is no. Let’s face it; embalming fluid (if it was cold and had a head) would be tempting in the aforementioned circumstances. By the way, Singha is a pretty good beer and it needn't be served tongue- numbingly cold to enjoy. No beer deserves near freezing conditions.

Remember, though, objectivity is key. Although that beer you're about to consume with your favorite special pizza may seem to taste better, don't be fooled. Beer can improve a dinner, but the dinner cannot improve the beer. Conversely, a bad meal should not reflect poorly on the beer. That promotion at work will not make your beer taste better. You will, naturally, enjoy it way more. That tasty ale you just enjoyed will not make your mate more attractive ... it may, however, seem that way. Beer IS magic like that! And the magic of beer can be tricky!

So, please, for the sake of our readers, and for our own benefit, let’s try to remain focused on the beer. We are, after all rating the beer, not the “moment”.

Happy Rating!


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