Saturday, August 24, 2013

Defining Bad Beer, Part 2

In the last post, I made the argument that unspoiled mass produced beer that did not taste bad was not enough to define bad beer. I suppose, I could have said that small, handcrafted brews made by dedicated guys drank by three people are not necessarily good beer, as well.

So rather than worry about one person's definition of "bad" beer, (that's me!), let's see what is out there for a whole bunch of people saying what is bad beer.

Crowd sourcing or the wisdom of crowds is a big deal nowadays. There are different levels of ability of each individual adjudging beer but the hope is that somehow the overall approach evens out.

The Beer Club for Drinkers
An instance of the clubby kind of bar room chat and discussions is The Bar Towel.  The people running the show there also do the Golden Tap awards and Canadian Beer News. Frequent contributors are beer bloggers, beer writers, brewers, drinkers and thinkers. There are some beer reviews and it can be a little inside baseball. There is little total panning of a beer and it is hard to get at what makes a bad beer by reading the reviews. The whole thing feels like sitting at the bar and asking the scruffy regular what he thinks of the beer. Except, it is in a bar like the Only or Bar Volo and the scruffmeister may have even brewed some beer at some time and loves to shake up the youngsters. It is a cool place to hang out and get and give tips on events, breweries, and homebrews and all sorts of beer business. Hard to find anything out about bad beer.

Social Drinkers
So, if you can't figure out what those people are saying on the discussion boards maybe something like the tweeter can help. Untappd comes the closest to that type of experience. You can add friends, 140 characters of info, check in where you are... sound familiar? There are differences of course, chief being a badge system. You get badges for drinking. Drinking a beer on a special day, kinds of beer, beer events, and ... just go look at the options. There are both micro/macro beer tabs so that you can track whatever in the hell you are drinking. The badge system moves you mostly towards variety and craft brews. Although there are some badges that would only be fulfilled by drinking from the same brewery and the 'lite' brews of the world, so I suppose there is some claim to be serving the macro market.

It is hard to try to figure out bad beer as all the bits are organized to get you your next good beer. You can get the top beer by the style by country. If you want to see if a particular beer rating, if you type it in, it will give you how many people have drank it and what the average score out of five is. So, Coors Light doesn't end up scoring bad.

Full disclosure, this is the application that I use to track my beer likes and consumption. The standard ranking system is out of five stars. My ranking works on three stars being average, two being a beverage that I don't want to taste again and one star being please "God, no, don't make me taste this again". If something has no stars assigned, it is just that I was too drunk or my taste buds are messed up or I'm just not sure yet. Given that type of idiosyncratic ranking from myself, I know better than to trust what I see.

If you can find a beer that you think is bad and it is confirmed as a one star by a large number of drinkers then that might be a bad beer. I have not been able to find one of those yet. Not sure if it is the madness of crowds but even something like Coors Light Iced T gets 2.5 stars. Maybe plebes don't know what they are drinking? So if we can't trust the ordinary people, who can we trust?

Okay, let's get a bit more elitist.

What Do You Call a Group of Beer Nerds?
Two sites where self selected beer nerds gather are ratebeer and Beeradvocate. These sites are primarily for 'sharing beer information' and 'respect(ing) beer'. There are articles on how to judge and taste beer. A lot of the material is good but there is a fine line between liking the finer things in life and judging other people's taste because they aren't yours. Snobs versus nerds is the way it is put on Beer Advocate.

There is a standard judging criteria that is followed by beer nerds wanting to be judges. Both these sites users will use this rubric often. This is helpful for you to understand what makes a good beer and indeed what kind of tastes are not to the style of beer or desirable in a beer. This makes for good understanding of relative merits of beers within categories. There are helpful guides on both sites to help the process.

So, onto the bad beer ranking on Beer Advocate. Handily, here is their bottom of the list. Their top of list for American Adjunct Lager includes PBR which is not one of my favourites but that may be a factor of where I tried it. Regardless, the brothers who run the site gave PBR a healthy mark and others on the site panned it. There may be a little play between beer nerds and snobs at work. If you take a look at some of the discussions, you get stuff about shelf turds, deviation ratios and questions on why would you like PBR. The deviation stuff is cool. It shows what the range of difference in the marks for any beer is and also an individual's deviation from the review average. The funny thing is that some people obsess how far away they are from the average mark as if it is some type of black mark on their ability to taste beer. It is possible that some beer is not universal and will strike someone's palate differently. It rings a little bit of I want to be different in the same way that those people are different. There is that fine elitist line.

Rate beer has a little bit of difference on their site. They have a list of the worst beers. Olde English 800 appears there and the brothers of Beer Advocate agree. On untappd, Olde English Canada gets a decent score but the American one seems to be about equal across the board. So, we have one candidate for a bad beer. Rate beer has a system of ranking a beer within a style. This exists in Beer Advocate but it is not as explicit. The explanation is here. This idea may explain why I wasn't able to find American Adjunct Lager as a style. That's one of those macro type beers. There even have a link for top macros that is broken. Not sure if they have noticed or care.

So what can we draw from these two? The problem with the lists on the two beer nerd sites is that there seems to be a bias towards micro ales and a bias against macro lagers, even though some of the more reputable tasters would rate some of the beer higher than the general users. The elitists can't agree on a bad beer as a group. Since there seems to be little agreement between the four sites listed above, maybe the crowd isn't enough? Democracy is the worst system except for all the others we have tried. Yup, that is a bastardized quote that I am not even going to look up. Check the google.

So, is this just the misinterpretation of self selected beer people and their understanding of judging? I guess to answer that we will have to wait for Part 3. That one may take a while because I want to do a little on the history of judging. Not something that I am an expert on. Vetted judges work, more or less, for the legal system. Some people make the bad quip about the system being a LEGAL system, not a JUSTICE system but we will wait until next time to chime in.

If you want to revisit Part 1 on what is not to be considered bad beer then go back and click earlier in the sentence.

1 comment:

  1. I kind of feel like posting this here, rather than part three, I guess it could go to either though. You touch on this, but I think it does to reiterate: There are two different types of "bad" beer, beer that is badly made and beer that the taster doesn't like. The latter doesn't bear much discussion, aside from presenting interesting facts about the taster. The former is where people get all tied in knots, but actually requires some level of experience to enter into. The beer is bad, was it badly made, badly shipped/stored or badly served? And more specifically, how so?

    Getting to a place where you appreciate that a beer you personally don't like, can still be considered "good" (as in, well made), is a big part in "growing up" in terms of beer. Or really, any hobby. I generally don't love Tim Burton movies (with a few exceptions), but I don't think they're bad.

    That being said, if you want to know a truly bad beer (as in, badly made), I couldn't agree with Garrett Oliver more: Saigon from Vietnam.

    Thanks for the share of my post in part three!