Craft Beer Introduction
December 9, 2004 Written by SilkTork
Southampton, United Kingdom, ENGLAND -
You’re sipping on a nice glass of Westy 12. The liquid musicians are putting down some sweet grooves on your tongue, and your beer soul has just reached the 10th state of nirvana. “Mmmmm,” you murmur. In front of you is your keyboard, and on the screen is a blank box beneath the words: Rate This Beer. Ah! Hm. Well... Just how do you go about writing a good beer comment - what does make a perfect rating?
Don’t go looking at my ratings. I’ve been here for over two years and written over 2,000 ratings, and in that time I have experimented with so many different approaches. Look at my stuff and you’ll be confused because you’ll see a mix of daft, humourous ratings, attempts at poetry, as well as short, terse details. I have taken ideas from a variety of other raters during my first two years. And I’m still learning.
The legendary MartinT was an early influence - and his style should be standard study for any RateBeer newbie. Martin’s classic period was late 2002 going through most of 2003. Three lines of poetry each paused with a series of dots:-
“Little minty hops...Spyglasses reveal some wheat...An easy session...”;
“Venerable sweet honey bees are caressing thousands of burgeoning hop flower…A piece of toast dipped in thick molasses…Maybe an apple with that…”;
“Timeless rich chocolate truffles filled with red wine and a single nut…On the side, some roasted coffee beans heated on coal…Do you hear the waltz?…”
It should be noted, however, that Martin’s writing style is too unique and individual to be copied. What should be learned from Martin is the importance of capturing the beer moment, and the sense that it is possible to be creative and poetic; indeed, that sometimes it is necessary to be creative in order to let the beer speak.
My next major influence was the genius that is krisbierjaeger. He is not afraid to write long comments. He includes personal details that surround the drinking of the beer so that the beer is put into context. A beer is not drunk in isolation. There are influences on you as you drink the beer: the reputation of the brewer, the price you paid, your own mood and the company you are with. Chris includes that detail. The detailed length of his commentary, the inclusion of his varied thoughts, and the general very readable and always witty writing often puts the beer right in your mouth. You are there with him, you are smiling and happy, and you can picture the scene so vividly that you end up tasting the beer.
There are faults, of course; sometimes the comic side of the writing takes over so that there is too much humour compared to beer description. But what a newbie should take away from a study of Chris is that a little bit of personality in the rating can bring the beer to life. And that joined up sentences are more readable than a series of terse and technical notes.
But it was the now long departed VENOM who really got to the heart of beer commenting for me. Appearance, aroma, flavour, mouthfeel, summing up. An average of four lines. No messing about. Done deal. There’s the beer in front of you. There are few who do it better. There’s a solid, calm authority about his writing that is underpinned by a genuine beer knowledge and commitment.
“Clear golden straw. Thick and frothy alabaster head. Very light carbonation. Smooth, creamy with loads of toasty Vienna malts. Dryish. Medium body. Mild German bitterness and florally spicy hop finish. Great version.”
The body of VENOM’s work on RateBeer is a masterclass of beer commentary that should be compulsory reading for everyone. Though, obviously, not many would be expected to bring to their rating the degree of beer knowledge that VENOM displays.
So, at this point I had poetry, personal detail and humour to bring the beer alive, and a format of how to quickly and confidently describe the appearance, aroma, flavour, mouthfeel and overall experience. But I still felt something was missing. And then reading Omhper’s comments filled in that missing space.
Omhper would note if he had drunk a beer from a cask, and - most importantly - where he had drunk that beer. It may seem like a small detail, but it opened up for me the whole point and purpose of RateBeer: the recording of information.
We use RateBeer because we want to keep a record of our beer drinking - what we have drunk, what we thought of it, what it tasted like, and perhaps some personal details to bring it to life both for ourselves and for others reading. We also use RateBeer to see what other people thought of a beer we are drinking or might want to drink. We look for useful information. That’s what RateBeer is about - the sharing of beer information.
Omhper’s idea has now been copied by many raters. Many of us record if we had the beer from the cask, and which pub it was (because the quality of cask ale varies from pub to pub). And developing from that we’ll record if it was a bottle, and if the bottle was live, filtered or pasteurised. And developing from that some people are recording the Best Before dates on the bottles as that provides useful information.
So. How do we write the perfect rating? Simply by recording useful information. “Goes down quicker than a $2 whore,” is not useful information. It’s just a silly and unoriginal joke. “Best/ Worse beer in the world,” is not useful information. Especially when written by BudLover or BudHater. “I drank this 20 years ago,” is utterly pointless. If you didn’t make tasting notes at the time, then don’t bother to enter your vague memories on the site now.
The perfect rating:
Is made at the time of drinking the beer so all thoughts and impressions are fresh;
Records useful information such as freshness of the beer or serving method;
Might include where the beer was bought if outlets are limited;
Would include a description of some aspects of the beer such as appearance, aroma, mouthfeel, drinkability, flavour, enjoyment, difference between the initial mouthful and the experience after the beer has been swallowed (the finish), alcohol impact, etc;
Captures the beer moment;
Is written in readable sentences, and is always spell checked;
Doesn’t contain hostile or abusive language or opinions;
Might have personal details and/or humour to bring the beer drinking experience to life;
Would show some awareness of the beer’s context - that it is a brand new beer, or a beer with a huge reputation, or a much sought after beer;
And if the beer is highly regarded with a high score, that a full explanation is given for low scores.
The last point is very important. It is good that we have differences of opinion. In fact I am suspicious of any beer that is adored by everyone who drinks it (apart from the heavenly Westy 12 - over 500 ratings and still top of the pops!). But to just say “I think this beer is crap” of a highly regarded beer without backing up that statement with a reason is just like coming into a residential area and spraying graffiti on the walls. If you don’t like a beer there is a reason you don’t like it - it’s too sweet, too bitter, too bland, too alcoholic, too dry, too sour, or is unbalanced, wild, vulgar and farts in lifts. Tell us why you don’t like it. There may be other people who end up agreeing with you. You may be the start of a new appreciation of an over-rated beer. Give the reason and start the revolution. Just don’t spray “crap” in our RateBeer pub.
Another element of a perfect rating is beer knowledge. If, like VENOM, Oakes and JorisPPattyn, you have beer knowledge, that knowledge will seep through your comments. Their beer knowledge and understanding is never forced on the reader - these guys don’t flex their beer muscles and lecture you on beer technicalities. If you have some beer knowledge, let it inform your comments, rather than replace them. Use your beer knowledge and experience to understand what the beer is, rather than what it isn’t. Complaints on how a beer has slipped out of a BJCP style guide are probably not appropriate for RateBeer. Most of us actually cherish those beers which push the envelope a little bit.
On the other hand, it’s best not to display your beer ignorance too much. For example, the smoothness of beers like Guinness Draught is down to the nitrogen - it is not a quality of the beer itself. While, as a newbie, you’ll be forgiven for making simple blunders, we would expect you to start learning a bit about beer so that our database is a repository of beer knowledge not beer ignorance. The first time you have a British IPA and notice it’s not very hoppy you’ll be forgiven. The tenth time you have a British IPA we would have hoped you’d have noticed a pattern emerging and not continue to record (in exasperated tones) that British IPA’s are not very hoppy!
A good way to increase your beer knowledge, apart from reading other people’s comments and trying many diffferent beers, is to continually re-rate the beers you’ve already tried. Keep the information fresh, and keep your opinions up to date. Compare and contrast beers you’ve already rated and record your impressions. Is Murphy’s really better than Guinness? Why exactly is Budvar better than Budweiser? Keep your ratings alive and up to date with fresh impressions.
OK. You’ve read the above and you are still sitting at your desk with the beer bottle in front of you and a blank box to fill in. Let’s start:
Check the details on your bottle with that on the beer page. You’d be surprised at how many people put their beer details in the wrong place! If you are certain you are on the right page, but there are minor details that are different, then record the difference. If you feel the difference is important enough, then send a message via the Send Corrections link. Note the Best Before End date if you feel it relevant (ie. the beer is past the BBE but it still tastes good, or it still has a year to go yet it tastes off).
So you may now have: “Bottle Conditioned - one year past sell by date. Abv showing 9.2%”
You open the bottle. Nothing unusual happens. It pours normally. It looks attractive in the glass, and has a decent head. You write: “Attractive mahogany glow topped with shaving foam.” But you don’t mention the pouring because it wasn’t noteworthy.
You drink the beer. Now call it like it is - not all beers are about how many flavours you can spot. Just describe the experience of the beer. Thirst-quenching, exciting, dull, tangy, creamy, boring. If you noted flavours, then put them down, but don’t struggle for them. Some people are keen on flavours, but others regard the drinkability of the beer as more important. And some beers like pale lagers and Pilsners are about cool, crisp, refreshing drinkability rather than assorted flavours. You write: “Tastes brown, heavy and sweet with noticeable alcohol.”
You’ve drunk the beer. Now, what do you think of it? Did you like it? Did the Earth move for you? If you did like it, why did you like it? You write: “The sweetness is enjoyable, but there is no balance. Beer becomes a bit cloying and unexciting.”
You now have your basic rating: “Bottle Conditioned - one year past sell by date. Abv showing 9.2%. Attractive mahogany glow topped with shaving foam. Tastes brown, heavy and sweet with noticeable alcohol. The sweetness is enjoyable, but there is no balance. Beer becomes a bit cloying and unexciting.”
It wasn’t a famous beer, nor was it a new or unusual beer, so you have nothing to add regarding that. The beer was simply drunk at your desk so you have nothing to add regarding that. But it was your birthday. So put that it. Put it after the abv and before the rating proper: “Drunk on my 27th birthday.”
Now do a spell check. If you use Internet Explorer then iespell.com is good. You can download the spellchecker to sit on your browser.
Everything’s correct? Put in the scores, check the availability box and click Add Rating.