Like it or Not [guest post]
Greetings! I’m thrilled to be filling in for Paige during her trip. My name is Ian Finch, I’m a Certified Cicerone® and I work at The Four Firkins Specialty Beer Store in St. Louis Park, MN. I have gotten to know Paige as a customer at our store and through her blog, so it’s exciting to step across the boundary into her world. The general topic that has been bouncing around in my head for a while now is about how people (myself included) approach critiquing and evaluating beer.
It has been a while since I’ve done a blog post, so excuse any of my cyber rust. It’s odd to be posting for someone else when I used to do my own beer blog, if you’re curious at looking at some relics, check out Brightbeer. It’s been over a year since I’ve posted, as my interests in beer education took a turn towards developing the educational program at the store, which now occupies most of my beer writing and research time. I now get the pleasure of putting together unique and original educational tastings to host once a month in the store, if you get a chance, come join me for one!
One of the great joys of my job, aside from the obvious perk of being required to drink a lot of incredible beer, is getting to interact with customers and share a mutual passion and excitement for craft beer. While essentially all of these interactions are very pleasant and uplifting, there are a small portion of interactions that can be frustrating and tense, which brought me to this topic. Let me be very clear here before I dig in, I enthusiastically support critical evaluation of beer and the people who make it, this is how the state of craft beer improves. Honest, well informed critique is highly valuable to everyone involved with craft beer.
The most common scenario I encounter this frustration with sound something like this “I had (insert beer name here) and it was terrible”. There are many variations on this sentiment, but I think the core issue is similar, a bad experience was had. With the world of craft beer being so transparent through social media and beer rating websites, the thoughts and comments of anyone with an internet connection can become rather powerful. Obviously not everyone agrees on how certain beers should taste or if they are good or not, but opinions on these matters do count, for better or for worse.
My thoughts on the subject are fairly simple, and like a good Midwestern boy, I’ll try to keep the peace.
One question I often ask someone who tells me that they dislike a certain beer is “Was there something wrong with it, or did you just not enjoy it?” In the majority of these situations I’ve encountered, people take a second to think and often say that it was just not a beer that they cared for. There are certainly situations in which a beer is flawed or brewed poorly, so it is worth your effort (if you have a strong passion for craft beer) to learn about the brewing process and what off-flavors taste like; Randy Mosher’s book Tasting Beer is a great resource for this and general beer knowledge. Also, the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP) has an easy to use online style guideline to learn about how certain beer styles generally taste and how they are brewed.
It happens to the best of us
Other things can account for your lack of enjoyment of a beer. The food you have just eaten may affect your palate and turn a beer you may normally enjoy into something offensive. Your setting; if you have poor service or an unpleasant environment an otherwise good beer just may not taste right. And, you might just not be a fan of that style of beer, I am not much of a fan of black IPA, and I don’t particularly care for spiced holiday or fall beers. That said, I can appreciate them for what they are (especially since many people enjoy them and I have to be able to offer recommendations for customers), but I don’t seek them out. Once you have tried every style of beer you can get your hands on, you’ll know what you like and what you don’t, so don’t be too harsh on a beer that is a style you know you’re not a fan of.
With phone apps like Untappd, websites like Ratebeer.com and BeerAdvocate.com, there is a culture of evaluating beer in a quick, impersonal way through the internet. I would advise using these resources as a very general guide, and not as a definite source of information upon which to base your decision of which bottles to pick up or which taps to try. The internet is littered with enough poorly thought out, ill informed, nasty beer reviews that don’t do anyone any good. I think that mom’s advice can be useful when you come across a beer you just don’t like (as opposed to a beer that has technical flaws that you can at least generally identify), which is “If you don’t have something nice to say…” well, you know the rest.
There are so many wonderful beers available to us today, that there is no need to waste time speaking ill of beers you don’t care for, just keep moving on to find beers you do enjoy. Don’t let the snobbery that has been so divisive with wine become a part of the great beer culture we have. If you find yourself talking more about the beers that you don’t like than the ones that you do, take a moment and think about why you drink good beer in the first place. If your friends try to act cool by saying that a beer isn’t any good, when you don’t notice anything off with it, ask them if there is something wrong with it, or if they just don’t like it. It’s good to question people when they are being judgmental or negative; maybe they’re just having a bad day.
I am a hair animorph (it’s on my business card) so I may or may not look like this when you come in
So the next time you’re in to the store, if you’re going to tell me about how much you disliked a beer, be prepared to back it up. Regardless of if you rate every beer you have on the internet, or if you just share your thoughts occasionally with friends, arm yourself with education. The more you know, the more you will appreciate the really great beers in the world, and the less likely you are to tear down beers you don’t care for. Enjoy your beer and enjoy yourself, because there has truly never been a better time to be a drinker of good beer. Cheers!