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Perfection in a Beer
THE PHILOSOPHY BEHIND RATING A 5.0
June 9, 2005
When rating a good but not great beer, the 0.1 difference between a 3.4 and 3.5 seems so minor as to almost not be worth the distinction (and when it’s between 1.3 and 1.4 it truly isn’t worth the distinction). But when the 0.1 is between 4.9 and 5.0, the difference seems enormous -- it is the difference between excellence and perfection. This difference transcends beer rating and moves into philosophy. After all, what separates one person’s 5.0 from another’s is how each person defines perfection.
I have tried many beers, but have given out only one 5.0. For a time I wondered if I ever would find a beer worthy of a 5.0. When drinking a beer, I’m always thinking that it can be improved by a tweak here or pinch there, but when I tried Dark Lord Imperial Stout, aged for several months and served on tap at Three Floyds during the RBSG 2003, I couldn’t see how to improve upon it. It was perfection.
When it comes to giving a 5.0, there are many types of raters, and the categories are by no means mutually exclusive. Here are some of them:
• Worshipers of the Moment. WotMs recognize that context and condition play a role in quality, even assuming it’s possible to separate the subjectivity inherent in taste. Thus, WotMs will give a perfect score even though they have no assurance that they would ever again give the same beer a 5.0. WotMs may avoid tasting a beer to which they had previously given a 5.0, so as not to ruin their memory of the moment.
• Perfectionists. Some raters seem incapable of giving out a perfect score. For example, the dean of raters, omhper, has never given out a 5.0. Perhaps for such people, the quest is for the Holy Grail, a quest whose prize is mythical rather than housed in reality. In a thread on the subject, aspidites stated, “I do not believe there is a perfect 5 at all. How could anyone say a beer is Perfect [with] no flaws, off flavors[, and with] perfect color and flavor. Not possible in my book. Always have to leave room for better.”
• Highlanders. Some raters only give out one 5.0, and might even lower the score of a beer that previously attained a 5.0 if they find a more worthy brew. For these raters, there can be only one. A variant of the Highlander is the Stylander – this type of rater will give no more than one 5.0 within a particular beer style.
• Testers. Some raters consider repeatability a factor in giving a 5.0. If the beer doesn’t taste as good every time, it can’t get the highest score possible. Such raters may change a rating upward once such a beer has proven its worth. Or, they might lower a beer’s score if it fails to meet its previous levels.
• Fogey Nostalgists. Think of that old man sitting on the rocker on the porch, starting off each sentence with a creaky, “I remember….” Fogey Nostalgists remember when a particular beer tasted like the nectar of the gods, whereas now the same beer just isn’t as good as it was back in the “good old days.” They keep the 5.0 unchanged, and complain about what the beer has become.
• Newbie Nostalgists. Some raters give a 5.0 to a beer very early in their ratings. Such a beer often would not measure up to later ratings, as the rater gets a better sense of what makes a beer truly great to him/her. Nevertheless, the rater keeps the early high rating intact in recognition that the particular beer was his/her first indication of how great a beer could be.
• Doers. There is a time for philosophizing and a time for action. Doers think philosophizing is best accomplished over a great beer, not over how great a beer is. These raters don’t consider the meaning of perfection, or whether they’ve given out a perfect score before (or to how many beers). Instead, a Doer simply hands out a 5.0 whenever s/he encounters a beer s/he loves.
I think of myself as both a Worshiper of the Moment and a Doer. As a WotM, I know that there’s almost no way I would have given Dark Lord a 5.0 if I had tried it in a smoky bar, if I were congested, or if I had already tasted 50 beers that day. The fact that I was among my fellow Ratebeerians in good cheer and great beer may also have played a role. That the beer had aged a bit rather than been served “fresh” almost certainly did. I have yet to try Dark Lord since that day, and I admit that reports of the ’04 bottle version having sludge had an impact on how hard I tried to get one of those bottles. As for being a Doer, if I tried a beer that blew me away the way Dark Lord did, I wouldn’t hesitate to hand out another 5.0.
As for when that might be, I can only dream.
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