I hope I'm not being presumptuous when I say that most of my fellow Knights of the Beer Roundtable feel the same way. Therefore, we've tried to "walk the walk" in this regard by taking a different tack when we do reviews. For example, for awhile, we listed in the sidebar of the blog our ratings for the beers we had reviewed. But since our rating system is so arbitrary (and admittedly probably not very useful to our readers), we ditched the ratings list a few months ago. Further, when we can, we eschew the traditional appearance/smell/taste/mouthfeel beer review model in favor of reviews that are (we hope) unique. We've written reviews pretending to be dead people, in haiku, in tribute to various people, in weird literary styles, using certain themes, etc. Some might consider these reviews to be gimmicky, annoying, and uninformative. I can see validity in those criticisms. But for reasons I'll list below, I think they're rebuttable criticisms.
My somewhat negative opinion of beer reviews might strike some as odd and maybe even hypocritical. After all, one of the mainstays of Hoosier Beer Geek has always been our reviews, and some of those reviews indeed follow the appearance/smell/taste/
- Some people seem to place too much stock in reviews. This is particularly bad for new breweries trying to find their groove. A spate of bad reviews isn't fair to a brewery when the brewer hasn't yet perfected his or her beers. That's one reason why we don't review beers from a brewery right after it opens.
- Sometimes, there's a pack mentality or "echo chamber" effect stemming from beer reviews. One person will slam or rave about a beer, which is then perpetuated by later reviews. For me, this sometimes conveys a false sense of the beer's value or lack thereof. To be sure, near-universal praise or criticism of a beer is sometimes warranted. But not always.
- Frankly, some beer reviews are boring. There are only so many adjectives that you can use to describe the attributes of a beer before they get tiresome. How many times have you read reviews describing beers brewed with wild yeast as having a "barnyard funk"? Perhaps one too many.
- Palates are diverse. Therefore, one person will detect a certain note in a beer that someone else won't. So it's worth forming your own opinion about a beer's attributes rather than relying on someone else's description of those attributes.
- Finally, the enjoyment that comes from drinking beer (at least for me) comes primarily from the overall drinking experience rather than just the attributes of the beer itself. Who were you drinking the beer with? Where were you drinking it? What was that place like? What were you talking about while you were drinking it? For me, a review that answers these questions is much more interesting and useful than one that centers only on the beer's attributes.
Despite these criticisms, I won't stop reading beer reviews. Even though some beers reviews aren't very useful or interesting, many are. And the traditional appearance/smell/taste/mouthfeel beer review model certainly has its place. I only wish that more reviewers would try to be more innovative with what they have to say about the beers they review, particularly when enjoying craft beer is about more than just the beer itself.