Saturday, October 26, 2013

Defining Bad Beer, Part 4


It has been a while since posts, so for those who can't follow the bouncing red ball or do not have photographic memories or are just showing up now, here is the recap. In the first part of this series on trying to define bad beer, I made the argument that unspoiled mass produced beer that did not taste bad was not enough to define bad beer. In the second part, I argued that aggregate sites such as bulletin boards, beeradvocate, ratebeer and untappd were biased towards micro and craft brews and at best could help you find a candidate for bad beer. In the third part, I took a look at beer judging and how its focus was to help brewers get better by judging the beer by the category that the brewer said it was looking to achieve.

Wow, that last post is a month past. I've had some time to reflect on where I thought this series was going to go and... well, it has been interesting. Two other bits that have added to my reflections are the study that came out about ratebeer and beeradvocate. Bunch o' links here...
Amateurs to Connoisseurs ,
Amateurs to Connoisseurs - The Powerpoint,
Understanding Rating Dimensions,
Understanding Rating Dimensions - The Slides
The papers are more on product and product recommendations but some of the conclusion of the first paper resonate with what was posted in the second part of this series.

The other bit adding to my reflections was a comment made by David Ort on his trailer for his Canadian Craft Beer Cookbook. He makes the personal observation that craft beer " delicious beer that's made by people who are proud to drink the beer and emphasize flavour over any other goal."

These two bits nicely bookend where I thought I was going with this series when I began it. At the end of the day, there is the drinker and the drink in front of them. What affects the individual drinker when drinking the brew and what affects the brewer when brewing the brew?


I suppose that a lot of what a person decides is based on their own experience and where they are in their journey towards expert drinkers. That is some of what the above papers are looking at but there is a whole raft of perceptual biases that affect one's ability to judge. In a large group, I suppose that biases will be dampened down somewhat. This isn't to defend the tyranny of the majority but it is to say that it is mostly inoffensive.

One of the more interesting experiments that I heard of recently (and can't find the link) where a person was given the same product and tasted both, would develop a preference between the two. It's just something we do as human beings.

The other factor that has perked my interest has been the idea of educating palates, whether it be ratebeer or a buddy telling you that you have to try this, and craft beer is a little about that. It drives the idea that anything in opposition to that is not good.

So for a drinker to define a bad beer, it will be:

  • in regards to the lowest thing that they have tasted, 
  • where they are in their experience, 
  • a bunch of other bias such as what was their first beer, last beer, worst beer memory, 
  • and what level of expertise they are at.

Why do brewer's brew beer? To drink and to make a profit. To suggest that craft beer exists only in terms of taste is to ignore a truth. If they can't make money, they won't be there long. Most small brewers charge a premium for their product because the market will pay it, the brewery is at capacity and the ingredients require a mark up.

Craft brewers often make a bad batch of beer due to issues of experiments gone wrong or production line issues. This doesn't make their beer bad.

A lot of words in this essay have been spilled on intention, as in does the beer meet the intention of the style or the brewer. On the whole, a beer can't be bad if it meets the style requirements. There are always exceptions and the most obvious one to this statement is wild beers. If you are making a brew based totally on the environmental factors, well, things might turn out the way the brewer intended but still taste good.

There are basically three considerations for the brewer in terms of this bad beer discussion: ingredients, profit, and taste. I figure that if some aspect is ignored, the result is bad beer or bankrupt brewer. So big corporations that look for the cheapest ingredients to maximize profits and decide mostly by boardroom then we are definitely looking at bad beer possibility.

What makes a beer bad?

I guess I have dithered long enough on this question, so here is my answer:

  • first priority profit with little regard to taste (beer by committee),
  • a good number of "ordinary" drinkers actively dislike beer with few people who like it,
  • and will probably not be on the shelf for long
So there it is. It seems that by this definition there is very little bad beer but probably a lot of mediocre brews. 

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