Drink Responsibly: Rating Beers without Malice

Rating beers

The internet has gone a long way toward killing rating systems. Thanks to social apps from Facebook to Yelp we now have undeniable proof that everyone, indeed, is an expert. This isn’t to say that ratings don’t have value, but they really only have value after the fact. That is, we can only agree with them or not after we have had the experience. It’s one of the main reasons I’m against rating beers, especially among non-professionals.

And, to be clear, I am not a professional. I write about beer professionally and drink it as if it were my job, but I’m not trained in tasting or evaluating. I like things or I don’t based on my experience, not based on a rigorous point scale used by people who are responsible for rating beers for brewers. And even then, judges are responsible for matching up what a beer says it is, with what it actually is based on a point scale. The aesthetic judgment of “good” or “not really that great” still belongs to the drinker.

Rating Beers Gently If at All

I was inspired recently by this fantastic article about changing your beer drinking habits. The author had a couple of points that I really loved, and many that I’m already down to do myself, but among my favorites was “Treat Every Beer with Respect.”

It’s weird that in craft beer circles there can be this injunction to try and protect people from beer that a drinker didn’t really like. It is as if there is an award for rating beers while being mean at the same time. I’ve never gotten it. My negatively vicious reviews usually tend toward, “It’s not my favorite.”  There are a couple of reasons that I bottom out there.

The first is, as I’ve said, I don’t have the palate to evaluate a beer in a productive way. Clarity and color are essentially meaningless to me, so they don’t affect my beer enjoyment. Whether or not they are “to style” isn’t that critical to me, either. Mostly, I evaluate beer on whether or not I found it pleasing. I find eating muskrat pleasing, some people find eating at Applebee’s pleasing. There is no accounting for taste. So what about me saying a beer is a “drain pour” and rating it a “1” is going to prevent people from trying it? Moreover, how is my life or the world any better if I prevent someone from trying a beer I didn’t like?

Secondly, my taste changes over time. I have new experiences, I learn things. Increasingly, people are embracing IPAs not out of exhaustion, but because they can be an acquired taste. I don’t see the point in rating beers super low under the assumption that my experience of the beer is frozen in time. If you try something often enough it very well might grow on you.

I think that’s how so many “bad” movies became popular with the rise of cable. If you watch something enough times, eventually you start to see why people like it, even if you still don’t like it yourself. Beer isn’t that different.

Creating Your Own System

For starters, I use UnTappd for rating beers. It’s user friendly and fun, plus it helps me keep track of what I’ve tried and what I haven’t. The lowest rating I’ll give a beer on that is a “3” for the reasons I’ve already stated. That way I don’t have an effect on the overall score, but I also know I wasn’t nuts about the beer if I check before I try it again.

And that’s the thing. Rating beers should be for you more than for other people. If you really hate a beer, you’ll remember, there’s no point in trashing it. And it is OK for people to like things that you don’t.

Drink what you like and be happy.


About Tony Russo

Tony Russo has worked as a print and digital journalist for the better part of the 21st century, writing for and editing regional weeklies, dailies and destination websites. Tony has been producing news, leisure and entertainment podcasts since. 2007. In addition he has written two books on beer for the History Press. Eastern Shore Beer was published in 2014 and Delaware Beer in 2016. He lives in Delmar, Md. with his wife Kelly and the only of his four daughters who hasn't moved out. Together they keep their dog and cat comfortable.

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