October 11, 2007
Written by Rastacouere
So I woke up the other morning just like I try to do every other day. It was a morning of serenity this time. Everything fitted and I thought of nothing. Moreover, it was a morning of serenity because I thought of nothing.
Then, stepping out of the shower, I rammed opened the curtains and as the bright sun hit me in the face, I remained shocked by the sudden thought that haunted me since being back from the UK: What’s the point again in rating beer, actually stepping out and saying “That beer is better than that one to me” when the experience is so variable from sample to sample?
Companies are fond on those multi-stepped 1-Action/2-Results analysis/3-comparison with prior results/4-questioning the process cycles. Perhaps I’m a corporation in a way as it seems I need to justify and question the rating process from time to time. The outcome is always the same, I keep doing it for the same reason, always. It is a simple reason as far as I’m concerned and as much a fan of literature as I am, I’m afraid it’s not so much for prosaic purposes as for clean and pure statistical ones.
One may easily question the many different entries which mostly have well under 10 ratings under their belt. The one-offs case is particularly blatant in the UK, where my troubled mind was especially uneasy from the self-proclaimed authority that this site deploys as a window to splitting the good from the evil of the world of craft brewing.
I look at my ratings for Dark Star Hophead Extra which I’ve had 4 times. They range from 3.5 to 4.5. Thornbridge Hall Jaipur IPA is in a similar situation. Undoubtedly, we’re talking about two of my favourite cask ales. Could I recognize them if you threw them under my nose? That’s very doubtful. Would I find them to be great beers at the very least? I sure hope so, but I hesitated for a few seconds before answering. What, then, is the point in rating them and actually ordering their level of excellence? If there is not any consistency in the notes of one single, albeit inconsistent – but just as much as any other man, rater, how can we justify the whole rating process?
Frequently, we hear about raters who literally brag about their consistency, how they had beer X at a festival 8 months ago and had it again in the comfort of their house, a whole bottle of it and gave it the exact same score. Well, allow me to congratulate them on the staleness of their tasting scope, of the patience that they display in keeping the interest in a hobby that apparently does not sparkle them so much anymore besides the acquisition of bragging rights. Allow me to admire their perseverance in putting themselves above the influence of the beer X’s packing methods, conservation conditions and ageing process for there is something called pasteurisation that was invented to ensure a product’s stability and surely they must be great supporters of the cause.
In the UK, I was faced with a world where beer is a living thing, one with feelings and moods and the rater can only submit his impressions on what he’s faced with. The brewer, in the full knowledge of the variability of his product rather than in a vile attempt to give the Ratebeer’s British admin team a hard time, will then care little about the product’s name consistency. If the beer is variable, so can the name be. The brewer at Archers in Swindon only understood that too well.
Once upon a time, Guinness and Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout thrived in Ratebeer’s top 10. It appears that is no longer the case. For some reason, that switched to whatever is tasty enough to be recognised and leave and impression on top of being bold-flavoured enough to show a certain consistency in time. Most British beers or lagers do not possess that same luxury. Hence comes the issue of freshness.
Was there ever a concept more important to the beer lover? We have passed the stage when basic knowledge had to be transmitted, when the market had to be developed and when the caring drinker had to be educated. Freshness is almost a flavour in itself. It is a direct uplifting of all the flavours and ironically, a finality. We are not talking about classical music that is to last centuries here, we are talking about beer. The finished product is the image of what the brewer created only as it leaves the brewery unless otherwise specified. And as you have a big whiff of fresh Saison Dupont or a gigantic swig of fresh Christoffel Blonde, you know that there is something most beers in the top 50 do not have. They don’t have a soul. Oh, do not get me wrong, they do have a life most of them. They live and much longer than the poor Christoffel, but can you compare the intensity of it? They are holding back those big brothers, while Christoffel is giving all it has from the first minute and slowly dies from there on. Now I’m not saying big beers are bad, they are different in nature that’s all. A big beer is a woman having an orgasm, it lasts for a longer time and if you are lucky, you can even find a second life to it and the sparkle seems to live on for quite a few seconds afterwards to the point that you don’t know exactly when afterwards is. A small beer is a man having an orgasm and the first moment is the most intense as it quickly declines into oblivion and needs to resettle and start back again in a fresher mood to be as satisfying.
So if I recall correctly, before switching to beer pornography, we were talking about me wondering whether rating was worth it at all? Well yes is remains a worthy undertaking because as much as one may critique the current Ratebeer’s top 50, at least it does not include Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout or Guinness. There has been an evolution in knowledge and an evolution in numbers. Ratebeer is young my friends and its numbers are quickly on the rise. Where my variations between 3.5 and 4.5 for Thornbridge Hall Jaipur may seem ridiculously high, if I added 10 different ratings for it, it would still be a pretty good beer. The strength of numbers indeed make it appear like Thornbridge is one of the best brewers in the UK at the moment. It does make sense then that we capture all those beer moment, all those pictures of the tasting scope of a particular beer at a particular time, in particular conditions into a particular rating. And as the number of people capturing such experiences grow, the accuracy grows accordingly and the community gets richer.
So after having stood there by the window for several minutes, with the curtains wide opened and the sun plunging into my burning skin, I welcome back serenity into me and went back for a few more minutes of sleep. After all, it was still too early for a beer.
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Undoubtedly, we’re talking about two of my favourite cask ales. Could I recognize them if you threw them under my nose? That’s very doubtful. Would I find them to be great beers at the very least? I sure hope so...
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