A Good Beer Blog

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Have you read The Unbearable Nonsense of Craft Beer - A Rant in Nine Acts by Alan and Max yet? It's out on Kindle as well as Lulu.

Maureen Ogle said this about the book: "... immensely readable, sometimes slightly surreal rumination on beer in general and craft beer in particular. Funny, witty, but most important: Smart. The beer geeks will likely get all cranky about it, but Alan and Max are the masters of cranky..."

Ron Pattinson said: "I'm in a rather odd situation. Because I appear in the book. A fictional version of me. It's a weird feeling."


Comments

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Stan Hieronymus -

To the questions in the headline: Yes, and yes.

As long as you are prepared to say why, and why you are qualified to make the judgement.

Alan -

Who is qualified? What is sucking?

Ed Carson -

Just to brighten your day and to deflect some truly negative waves, I would like to remind you that Pitchers and Catchers report on Monday( In my teams case, 3 Aces and Joe Blanton! And Chooch! Can't forget Chooch.)
And to answer your question, we are all qualified to give our opinions. And sucking is some untalented dullard making a travesty of whatever he is baking, counting, rearing or brewing.
And in our language, are there words or expressions to express the humble praise good well-crafted beer deserves. Unfortunately, not in this time and place. Everything, and this includes the Phillies pitching staff, must be either genius or dreck. Certainly, for the enthusiast, there is no middle ground.

Stephen Beaumont -

I find myself in the curious position of both agreeing and disagreeing with Stan. Saying a brewery or beer "sucks" and why one thinks that is pure subjective opinion, something I might say in passing to a friend while we were tasting said beer, but nothing I would write on paper or the Internet. Print, whether ink or virtual, is something I think we should take more seriously.

So while I might say in response to a taste of Suck IPA, "Y'know, this really blows," I would write something more along the lines of, "For an India pale ale, Suck has minimal hop character, to the point that I find it almost indiscernible from a mainstream lager, which I suppose is fine if you like that kind of thing, but not at all what I expect or desire from a beer labeled IPA."

The former, verbal response is emotional, even if I add that it blows because there is no hop character, while the latter is, I think, more reasoned and balanced. Which is not to say that I qualify every bad review I write -- I emphatically don't -- but I do always try to shy away from emotionally-charged language like "sucks" and establish a context for why I think something is good or bad.

Alan -

Would you also be as discerning with "awesome"? I would. Like inspiring awe, "sucking" should be a rare thing. I can think of an persistently infected brewery as sucking. Consistent over-pricing sucks as well. But a dull beer or mass made one shouldn't "suck" so much as be just uninspiring or perhaps "background beer" as in background music.

Randy Ford -

I think Stephen says it right. A beer can suck but only in relation to what the brewer claims it to be when judged against the identified style guidelines. Otherwise it's perfectly subjective and while you can say a beer sucks in your opinion the truth is someone else must like it, at least if it continues to be made.

If a brewer/beer continues to exist then regardless of what your opinion may be it must be said that there is a fair share of the public that disagrees with your assessment.

I don't judge people's taste in beer anymore than I judge their taste in a significant other, their clothes, or other items that are incredibly subjective.

Stephen Beaumont -

Yes, Alan, I view "awesome" the same way. I will rave and I will dismiss, but only in carefully measured terms. Doesn't make for good sound bites for breweries, but my editors seem to like it that way.

Gary Gillman -

Taste is so relative. I hesitate always to knock a beer because what I like and what others like can differ hugely. I met a manager of a pub the other day who knows beer well and he said he does not like Pilsner Urquel. I said, wha? He doesn't like it, it is medicinal and odd-tasting. I think it is one of the best beers in the world. But he's not wrong, it's just his opinion. So much of beer drinking is learned behaviour. I can't stand a huge whack of Cascade hops except maybe a half pint ice cold with a burger, but many people love those beers. The other day I was drinking a craft bock beer from the States: thinnish, a little dusty (but not oxidised), uninteresting. To me. But a gent I met not long ago told me Heineken is too heavy for him, he said one is like a meal. If presented with a classic German bock and that U.S. interpretation, I suspect he would like neither but probably would take the U.S. version over the other. I can't say he is wrong but I would disagree heartily with him.

This is not to say all taste is relative. Certain things are absolute or almost: a beer with a heavy damp paper oxidised taste is not a good beer, but even there, often that is not the brewer's fault. Sour beers generally have no market anywhere in the world today except in Belgium and now parts of the U.S., so while I think it is fair to say that the general palate has moved away from that older taste, which is a top-fermented flavour of yore (one of them), still there are some people who like it, it responds to something in their range of palate preferences. I can't say that kind of beer sucks, it is better to understand why it tastes as it does and see maybe whether a taste will be acquired. (I am using sour beers as an example, I definitely like some of them).

Of course it is easier to be fulsome in praise and I don't see the same negatives on that side. If I think the taste of Saaz as communicated in the Urquel way, ot its particular malt character, is very worthy, I don't see the downside of explaining that to people. They are free to disagree but maybe they will see what I do in it.

There's an old expression: there is no bad beer, but some are better than others. That says pithily what I've tried to explain above.

Gary

Jeff Alworth -

My view is that people with unsophisticated critical criteria are almost always the ones who dismissively describe a beer as "sucking." For these, I generally mentally append "in my opinion," to the comment. People who spend a lot of time drinking beer, brewing beer, and thinking about the beer business find it harder to dismiss a brewery or product with the simplistic "sucks" commentary.

Many beers are uninspired, indifferent, insipid, or just ordinary. Even they don't suck.

Alan -

Stan makes more excellent and even wordier points.

Danner Kline -

I am the "beer writer in Alabama" linked above.

To expand a little bit, I was being a little tongue-in-cheek with the "that brewery is awesome" comment. I often use superlative language that doesn't perfectly describe my actual sentiments just for the sake of poking the reader, or making a point, or being a bit humorous.

I will also say I was very specifically addressing the brewery situation in Alabama, not trying to make a sweeping comment about craft breweries worldwide. I do believe there are crappy craft breweries dotting the planet.

In Alabama, we are light years behind places like California and Colorado in beer culture and breweries per capita. We've struggled under absurd and arcane Prohibition-style beer laws for decades. There was not a single distributing brewery located here from Prohibition through 2004. Now there is not a single brewpub, as the last remaining one just closed (due to those absurd, restrictive beer laws).

What Alabama needs is some craft beer cheerleading, and I was offering some up. If I lived in San Diego, I strongly suspect I'd have a different perspective.

Danner Kline -

Oops, brain fart. There were 3 or 4 distributing breweries that opened here in the 90s and none lasted very long.

Alan -

There was no criticism of your piece at all intended, Danner. You both frame the piece as I think is normal in terms of the beer nerd use of language and quite rightly reject the concept of "suck" as it is thrown around. I live in Ontario, a jurisdiction that has its own challenges and timeline but I think you have highlighted some very interesting aspects of the good beer discussion - as all the activity around this post and others triggered by it show.

Stan Hieronymus -

Since Alabama is mentioned here and despite my wordiness I didn't get to it in my opus . . .

Last fall Blue Pants (one of three "nano" breweries in Tuscaloosa) had a QC problem. The brewer-owner replaced every keg (quarter barrels, so half the size of "regular" kegs). That amounted to 11, but basically a week's work for him.

Let's be honest, there are beers that suck and this was one. But he took the action to make sure that drinkers didn't end up thinking "the brewery sucks."

Alan -

Can "sucking" be established in such a short time span? Doesn't sucking require some level of willful blindness? Or did the suck go on for a while before the brewer got the hint? What is the relationship between sucking and our personal level of patience?

Craig -

"It's megamaid. She's gone from suck to blow."

-Col. Sanders, Spaceballs, 1987

Stan Hieronymus -

As much fun as it is to say "sucks" it's the wrong word for what I've been rambling on about. "this beer is flawed" just doesn't get the same response.

I would say that Mike Spratley at Blue Pants was wise to pull those flawed kegs as soon as he realized the problem. Because people will make their judgment based on that first experience. Fair or not.

Not being a mind reader I can judge if a brewer is guilty of willful blindness or operating with blinders on.

But, to be clear, Spratley earns points in my book for his swift action.

Ethan -

I like Stephen's perspective. I do think all too often writers (beer- and other) are incautious in their use of derogatory terms- superlatives, too. I make it a habit never to hit "publish" on a blog post until I've let it sit overnight & come back to it: good editing practice, but many bloggers don't actually have much in the way of editing--or writing--skills, and that can be a problem. Couple that with not understanding the difference between objective & subjective positions, and you get... well, the majority of squibs on BeerAdvocate & RateBeer, frankly.