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Reaching 1,000 Ratings

A Machiavellian Guide for New Raters
Fun & Humour July 24, 2003      
Written by Nuffield

Roseville, MINNESOTA -

Rating beer changes your outlook on beer. If you have become a rater, the hunt can be as important as the kill—a great beer only whets an appetite for the next great discovery. In this pursuit, you can measure success in many ways. One way is the numbers, the ever-increasing total number of beers tried, like ticks on the odometer on a never-ending journey. And with this hobby having been made global through Ratebeer, the pursuit of numbers becomes even more important. Why? First, it is easy to be drawn into direct competition. After years of enjoying beer but never taking notes, my best friend and I began on Ratebeer at the same time. For the first year on the site together, we would log in each day to see what the other had been drinking. He in Michigan, me in England, we were driving each other on to greater numbers of beers. Additionally, and importantly, the significance of <U>numbers</u> is that in an Internet community, the total number of beers rated is an important way that people assess one another. In a virtual community one needs a shorthand way to assess the status and credibility of one another, either as a potential trader or when assessing the value of their ratings or forum posts. Like it or not, the number of ratings tends to serve as that guide.

Now, many have criticized—sometimes for noble reasons and sometimes in a moralizing way—being too “number oriented”. Fair enough. One can risk putting the cart before the horse, of pursuing and drinking beers so quickly that one misses out on the subtle and slow pleasures of beer. Others have argued that the number of beers rated should not be a mark of one’s knowledge or contribution to the community. I agree with the ideal, but in practice numbers matter. Further, there are some benefits of the relentless pursuit of numbers, in that by drinking large numbers of beer you can put yourself further along the learning curve. One simply has to taste a lot of beer to have an informed picture of the wide world of beer.

So, with that understanding, comes the question. Assuming that you don’t have thousands of beer ratings stored in notebooks and just waiting to be entered—for those people we can have only envy—how can a new member of the community pursue large numbers of ratings in a short period of time? As I write this I have the 1,000 mark within my sights, perhaps within a month, so let me share with you a simple, completely Machiavellian, scruples-free, and only partly tongue-in-cheek guide for rating 1,000 beers.

There are two basic principles to follow, and a number of points that follow from that. The principles are:

Principle Number One: Size matters. My wife is polite enough to insist that size doesn’t matter, but I know that for beer it definitely does. Your bloodstream is a finite system. You can only drink so much beer in a day. Those 750 ml Belgian corked bottles and 22 ounce American “bombers” look so attractive on the shelf, but if you can choose a 33 cl/12 oz. single, hands down choose the smaller one. Perhaps this is an obvious point, but I know at least a couple people who have held principled stands in favor of larger measures. This appears particularly common in Britain where “the pint” (20 ounces) is standard and ordering “halves” is a threat to the manhood of everyone in the pub. A number of people at Ratebeer have discovered that if they order half-pints they can rate twice the number of beers in the same amount of time. What insight!

Though I personally do not subscribe to this approach, if you are truly ruthless, you will rate beers on the basis of a sip. Rating beer is a lot like grading college student exams (which I do for a living): once you get to know your subject, you can grade with reasonable accuracy after reading the first paragraph. Within a sip or two of most basic beers, you know where it is going. And for some things like Cave Creek Chili Beer or that bottle of Milwaukee’s Best your friend has at a party, go ahead, have one sip and refuse the rest while you run to the toilet to vomit it back up. Save yourself for beers of known complexity or quality, when a full bottle will really change and morph in one sitting.

Principle Number Two: Beer tastes good, cheap beer tastes better. The other great constraint of most people is the size of the wallet (or purse, for our women raters). To make it to 1,000 ratings, either you will have to go slowly or find ways to make it affordable.

Now, what lessons can we yield from this? With careful work, you can make your friends, family, and job help you to reduce the sample size, lower the cost, and ultimately increase the rate at which you rate beer.

1. Use (and abuse) your friends. Your friends will be one of your greatest sources of new ratings, so know how to make your friends do their part.

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<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’>
Become the “social organizer” of your circle of friends. You need to be ready for Friday night. When someone says “what should we do tonight”, be ready to say, “well…there’s a new restaurant across town that is getting great reviews”. Don’t tell them that it is a brewpub. Since many brewpubs have decent food, there is no lie here, and they’ll probably have a good time anyway. If they hate it, so what? Once you’ve had the sampler you won’t need to go back to most brewpubs. </li></ul>

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<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’>
Order last. When you go to a bar with new beers, order your beer last. That way you can see what they get and you can then order something different. When the beer comes, ask if you can have a sip of theirs (and then take a very big gulp). I have had some friends who are a bit squeamish about sharing drinks, and there will be those friends-of-friends who you may not feel comfortable asking, so plan ahead. Sit in a spot at the table where it is difficult to get out, and then “accidentally” drop your napkin on the floor. Ask that person if they would be kind enough to get up and get you another one, and then when they’ve turned their back, dive in and get that gulp. Lay the groundwork for this by having studied the beer from across the table—color, head, etc., all the things you need to describe its appearance. </li></ul>

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<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’>
The Seven Steps to Kevin Bacon Theory. Another way to take advantage of your friends on the quest for ratings involves travel. You may not travel much, but someone you know, or someone they know, or someone who knows someone who… (you get the picture) will be going someplace where you can get new or rare beers. Always know where your friends are going on vacation, where their parents on going on vacation, who is visiting them from afar, and where their plumber’s sister’s former roommate’s cousin is going on a business trip. You’ll then be in a position to raise in light conversation, “oh, Venezuela, what a beautiful country with a spectacular beer tradition. You can’t believe how much I would love a bottle of Polar someday, but it is just so difficult to find here.” If you’re lucky—and good—two weeks later you may be sipping a bottle of some rancid international lager. </li></ul>

2. Your family is fair game, too. You might feel more remorse about it, but use these strategies with your family too.

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<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’>
Plan the family vacation around beer destinations. Practice so that you don’t reveal your motives: “Honey, I’ve heard San Diego is lovely this time of year [i.e. the Stone annual festival]” or “Hey kids, wouldn’t you love to go to the beach [like near Dogfish Head]?!” For short days out, an increasing number of brewpubs have activities for kids, so order that sampler tray without worrying about either the kids or the size of the samples (see Principle Number 1). </li></ul>

<ul style=’margin-top:0in’ type=disc>
<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’> Use family as an excuse to go drinking. When visiting your sister in a different city, tell your sister that you want to get to know her husband (your brother-in-law) a bit better. She’ll love it and will gladly let you go out for an evening. If you like him, great, and if you hate him you can make him be the designated driver as you guide him to all of the city’s brewpubs in one night. </li></ul>

3. Make beer the focus. This piece of advice is an extension of the advice about making the most of your friends. Beer is a trendy thing. A lot of people out there think they like beer and would like the rewards of knowing more about it. This might be your co-workers, family members, or the neighborhood ladies who usually attend Tupperware or Avon parties. Convert this latent interest with your new-found enthusiasm to increase your rating opportunities. Offer to host a beer party. Charge them a fee that will cover the costs of the beer for N + 1 people. You’re that one. As the informed host and selector of the beers, you get to drink for free while supplying them with tasting advice. Since you’re serving in large quantities, only serve beers that are available only in large bottles. And, need it be said, only serve beers you haven’t had before. Sure, a “beginner’s tasting” might include standards like Chimay, Duvel, Fullers Porter, and the like, but why not opt for that slightly expensive saison you’ve always wanted? </li></ul>

4. Make others subsidize your beer rating. If you are fortunate, you will have a job that will enhance your ability to rate large numbers of beer. Some of the most successful raters here have jobs that directly or indirectly aid this. Those who work in the industry as distributors or retailers can convince their employers to send them for site visits at breweries or “research trips” to beer festivals. But that’s easy. For the rest of us, there are these lessons:

<ul style=’margin-top:0in’ type=disc>
<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’>
Make choices strategically. I often go to a national academic conference in my field and a regional one, and the regional conference of choice (the “Midwest” association) always holds its meeting in Chicago. But, lo and behold, next year the national conference is also in Chicago. Chicago is a great city with great beer selection, but I’ve already hit many of the microbrews, so two conferences in one year might be a bit of a waste. I recently dug a little deeper and found that the “Western” regional association happens to be having its meeting in…Portland! Beer Nirvana! 17,246 brewpubs in one city! </li></ul>

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<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’>
Use expense accounts wisely. When I travel, my work gives me a per diem budget that is set to a U.S. government scale for how much it should cost in food per day. This is a decent sum but not inexhaustible. In New York City, I recently had $46/day. If you have two halfway decent meals in Manhattan, you’re quickly up to (or even over) $46. But wait, what is that across the street from my hotel? A White Castle hamburger restaurant, an American chain famous for cheap burgers so bad that they are known as “gut bombs” and “sliders”—truly terrible stuff. $3.99 for lunch, $3.99 for dinner, and that leaves me $38 to spend on samplers at brewpubs and exciting rarities at the best beer bars in New York. I just need to tolerate those bouts with flatulence the next morning….</li></ul>

<ul style=’margin-top:0in’ type=disc>
<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’>
“Disappear” if necessary. At times you may need to “disappear” from the job to get the ratings in. I was recently in Pittsburgh for a conference. I was there just 48 hours, giving a talk and meeting colleagues from around the world. Yet, because I had done my homework—always, always do your homework—I knew the Pennsylvania Microbrewers Festival was on. The conference was fading into the Saturday night chit-chat and boring cocktail parties where the only beer available was Heineken and Yuengling’s lager. After one bottle of Yuengling’s (free, because I slipped into a sponsored cocktail party for some group of which I was not a member), I headed out to enjoy a evening of fine sampling at the beer festival, and a few hours later I wandered back to the conference hotel and rejoined the socializing, barely missing a beat. </li></ul>

5. Keep your eyes on the prize.

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<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’>
The prize is the number of ratings. Don’t waste effort going out of your way or spending gobs of money on one or two beers. Trading and mail-order beer suppliers can be great—and perhaps even essential—if you have a lot of money, are located a thousand miles from new beers, or have friends who make a hermit look like a world traveler. And trading beers can vital for other reasons, say, if the beer is about to go extinct or you need something to share with local Ratebeerians so that you can share theirs (see below). But if money is limited, think about your PPR—your price per rating. I am convinced that if the cards are played right, many people can keep their PPR under $1.50 and perhaps even under $1.00. </li></ul>

<ul style=’margin-top:0in’ type=disc>
<li class=MsoNormal style=’mso-list:l0 level1 lfo1;tab-stops:list .5in’>
Know how to “work” a beer festival. Beer festivals are one of the greatest opportunities for ratings. You can have dozens, even hundreds of beers available in one large room. Remember: size matters. British beer festivals mostly insist on pouring out half-pint or whole pint measures. If necessary, bring along an empty plastic water jug so that you can dump off some of those beers when you’ve tasted enough. U.S. festivals give smaller measures (four or five ounces is common) but some servers get generous and give you more than they should. Don’t be ashamed to throw it out. It only takes a bit too much barleywine and your head (not to mention your palate) will be wasted. Better yet, bring your friends and let them get drunk on your remainders. And never, never drink a beer you’ve already rated just because it is on tap. It might be glorious, but if you’ve already rated it, those extra four ounces aren’t going to rock your world hard enough to justify wasting the opportunity to sample something else. </li></ul>

6. Make Ratebeer work for you. One last piece of advice ends on a very upbeat note. One of the best ways of increasing your rating power is to seek out other Ratebeerians. I have had the enormous pleasure of drinking with a number of Ratebeerians. They are fun to be with because they don’t think you’re weird when you take notes in public, and most take as a given that you’ll want to share their drinks. Developing a good local community of Ratebeerians can be the best way to get new beers coming through your door. If everybody brings new beers, you’ll have some amazing local tastings for a low, low price. You won’t just be drinking what you picked up at the local store, you’ll be drinking what your local Ratebeerian’s plumber’s sister’s former roommate’s cousin bought on their recent business trip.



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start quote Rating beer is a lot like grading college student exams: once you get to know your subject, you can grade with reasonable accuracy after reading the first paragraph. end quote
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