Thursday, 28 January 2010

Thoughts on Beer Rating.

This post started as a comment in reply box to this post. It grew and grew and I thought it deserved a space of it's own.

You see for me, the one fatal flaw with any kind of beer rating is that beer, by nature beer is variable. As brewers we spend most of our life trying to eliminate as much of that variability as possible but there are things outside of our control. Take hops for example. English hops are a seasonal crop, picked and dried in September. Naturally they degrade and oxidise over the course of the year, the beer you drink in August will have nearly year old hops in. Recipes can be adjusted to compensate, but the exact same beer can never be generated. Shortages in hops can also have a ruinous effect on the consistency.

Once the beer is out of the brewer's hands there are many more variables that can have an effect on the beer. Whether cask or bottle, age plays a large factor. Massive U.S. style hopping in a bottled beer that is sat on a shelf in a shop for six months is not going to taste the same as one stored cool for a month and then drunk. By the same token, an imperial stout is not going to taste the same if drunk fresh rather than suitably aged in a cool, dark place. Casks also change in flavour profile depending on how long they have been tapped and spiled. Certainly with the beers I produce, hop character mellows over the life of the cask.

I think it is unfair to rate the 'same' beer that is in different condition. Also I would like to know how much of this beer rating is a numbers game. This guy, RateBeer's top rater claims to have drunk 15,862 since 2002. That is 5.4 new beers every day. How is that possibe? Does he/she do nothing other that sit around opening bottle after bottle? How do they pay for it? If they have had 5.4 beers every day, I'd argue that theyre probably wasn't enough quantity of the beer to get a sense of what it was actually like. I think a 3rd of a pint for session beer, maybe a little less for stronger stuff is about the minimum quantity needed to get a real idea of how a beer tastes.

This list has been published. Who cares? Not me really. I know a lot of people enjoy the fun of seeking out new beers, hallowed and legendary beers, myself included. But please don't take it too seriously.


  1. 5 beers a day is some achievement! Even if u did a twissup style beer bender ud still struggle.

    I also think the whole rating system is rather subjective at the end of the day u like what u like and not eveyone likes the same thing so what should it matter?

    However I like lists, provided they are just a bit of fun, a bit like those top ten programs you get at Christmas they always being back memories and stir up opinions and discussion!

  2. I agree that rating the 'same' beer in different locations and ages it not a fair rating.

    My 'baron ratings' are not quite so harsh, just a personal indication to myself about whether I want to spend my money on that bottled ale again or not.

    I don't even dare to rate cask ales as they can vary so much.

    Although my ratings are public they are really just one amateur's view of what he thinks tastes nice (or not).

  3. There is only one rating worth the salt. Would you have another?

  4. Andy-Fair point, one man's nectar is another man's poison.

    Baron-I don't have a problem if people want to rate beer, I just don't like the way some beer gets blown out of proportion Westy 12 for example. Exclusivity and beer raters have blown its importance out of all proportion.

    Cookie-Totally agree.

  5. There are lots of things wrong with the list. Variability is one of them. Drinking a beer in the brewery bar will taste very different to drinking it at home from a bottle. I also agree about the minimum amounts needed to taste - a mouthful is not enough and I have no time for aggressive raters, what's the point. That guy with 5.4 a day is nothing... last years highest rater averaged about 13 a day. That's just ridiculous if you ask me!

    Still, as a massive beer geek, this points me towards the beers that I should be trying, if I get a chance. Afterall, it's nothing more than a bit of fun, like the FHM Top 100 women list - beer porn vs babes.

  6. if only you got to try all the top 100 women in the fhm pole ;o)

  7. I'm with Cookie. No more words needed. And it's all subjective anyway although technical skill in brewing should be recognised).

    Lists will always be a good way of finding out new beers (that I am compelled to try, not that I should try).

    Take rate beer with a pinch of salt. Best its for is just finding out what other people think. Pinch of salt and all that.