A Good Beer Blog


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."


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Bailey -

Or, to put it another way, anyone claiming to have golden tastebuds and to write authoritative tasting notes is a bullshitter. There, said it.

All we can really hope for is that, by plotting the hits, we start to see where they cluster -- around certain beers, breweries and pubs.

Alan -

Exactly. Blind judging, authoritative notes, claims to expertise in tasting are all fine if not taken seriously but they utterly miss the point ultimately. Plus, one might also do very well by seeing where the hits cluster and avoiding that spot as often as possible.

Rebecca -

I completely agree with you on this. I think any truly objective tasting of beer has to keep all variables strictly constant, which is nearly impossible. Everything from my mood, what food I'd had earlier, the environment...outside vs inside, cozy pub vs beer hall, picnic vs watching a game with a beer, etc. can heavily influence how much I enjoy a beer. And everything from the product packaging, traditional knowledge about certain styles, to what I've previously heard/read about a specific beer (aka expectation) can definitely stick in my head and influence what I think I taste when it comes to specifics. I can try with all my might to tune all of that out, but just have to accept that there is a lot of surrounding noise that will have a negative and positive effect, embrace those limitations, and have fun.

Alan -

It's not pointless but it is indirect and smacks of the human condition. Mass subjectivity is still subjectivity but is sufficiently different from individual subjectivity that it can pose as objectivity. The chemistry can all be correctly identified but the separate experiences will be unique. Which, for me, does not lead to throwing up of hands but leads to what we do have today - the million monkeys typing out descriptions and panels and panels judging the same and the similar over and over.

Alan -

Which is why, I am starting to think, I am more and more irritated by guru-tastic books about beer: affirmations of the abstract combined with one experience posing as the proper experience of all. By which I mean you can tell me what DMS does but not how I will receive it. If you make a suggestion and I accept it, I adds to my lexicon but the suggestion has no more integrity (and likely less) than my internal memories and past tasting experiences. Why do I like sweeter dubbels? Because I like date squares. Why do I like date squares? Because one family in my mother's village in Scotland had a grandfather born in the USA in the late 1800s.

Bailey -

Another example of the holiday effect (we are going to steal and use that phrase, you're on to something): a pint of beer consumed after a four hour walk along a foggy coast path tasted immeasurably better than it would have done if we'd just got a bus to the pub. How many English ales have we liked more than we ought to because we drank them at the end of a long walk? Do we need to control for that when reviewing beers? Maybe they really do taste better, thanks to the rush of taking on carbs, sugar and cold liquid after exercise?

Ethan -

I fail to see, though, how this is any different from, let's say, film reviews/criticism.

Simply put, there are too many films out there for me to see, for reasons of both time and money. I need to winnow down, and target the ones I am most likely to enjoy. By what criteria shall I do that? I could go the Rotten Tomatoes (Ratebeer) route, crowdsource my preferences somewhat (though if I hate RomComs, (Witbiers) I'm not going to go to (buy/drink) one just because it gets above a certain score, though I might be more likely to give it a try if it did. The downside is that the crowds and I might not have the same tastes, and many in the crowds don't evaluate the movies the same way I might... OK, I could work strictly by word of mouth... or, I could come to know and like a few "professional" "experts", which really could be anyone who has a movie review soapbox than I can hear them from, be it in a newspaper (for now!) or blog or whatever... And of course, the best is to combine these and more. I'm sure the point is obvious. In domains where one is not deeply immeshed, one sometimes needs or wants a <i>guide.</i>

I'm really deep down the beer rabbit-hole; I personally drink a fair amount of beer, many different types/brands/styles/etc. But even still, there's far, far more beer out there than I can try-- this is partly the same as the movie problem, time & money, but then add in distribution and pretty soon you can see why people what to know what to trade, or travel for... Sure, I suppose the man with the most integrity reads no reviews and just spins the beery equivalent of the roulette wheel every time- but I really don't need to try Big Flats to know it's not what I am looking for in a beer. (even with loganberry syrup added; I did try it, of course)

"The chemistry can all be correctly identified but the separate experiences will be unique." Well, I would claim that they are & they aren't. If i give 100 people a Sam Adams lite spiked with a bunch of DMS, and ask them to describe the flavors, unprompted (and unaware of either the base beer or the spiking itself), and certain descriptors come up in 80-90% of respondent's descriptions, am I not justified in claiming that DMS causes people's brains to produce a bunch of similar words, likely caused by similar perceptual experiences? That's as good as it will ever get, but I don't think it's insufficient. Of course we have no way of equating the subjective experiences, but that's not the point, to me. We're extracting objective from the subjective by multiple means, not eliminating or denying that the subjective still exists.

"Why do I like sweeter dubbels?" isn't really important (no offense) if, when you comment on a dubbel you are "reviewing," let's say, you mention "Well, I happen to like my dubbels on the sweeter side and this fit the criteria.... if you prefer them drier, this may not float your boat." Be a guide, not an expert- share, don't evangelize. I think you do this very well, in fact.

Ethan -

I clearly need to be doing something else today... :)

more @Alan: "one experience posing as the proper experience of all." I don't know which authors or Gurlebrexperts are making the claim that their entire subjective experience can and should be shared by all (and we agree that it is impossible, anyway), so I think if one believes this, it is one's own fault, no?

@bailey: I would answer thus: perhaps as many as have followed pleasurable walks; no; possibly, but I have to imagine it is the psychological factors that are the bulk of the difference, though they no doubt interact with the physiological, too.

To me, this is all so reminiscent of discussions about studies like those mentioned here,, where sommeliers rate the same wine differently when the value of it is manipulated- like this is some kind of huge "gotcha!" for sommeliers or something! If it is, it's their fault and yours for failing to understand that being immersed in the subject is good in certain ways but doesn't protect you from being, you know, a person; certainly, the experimental outcome is exactly in-line with thinking about things psychological and economical: when you imbue an experience with value beforehand, people value it more! Wow! I mean, don't get me wrong, I love that the research was done; I'm just not sure why people find it surprising... or think it means being a wine/beer "expert" (guide) has no meaning or value.

Alan -

Good point about film. See, I had an undergrad job as an usher at a playhouse and saw many plays over and over. I recall seeing one very poor in 17 times. My idea of "the theatre of the mouth" - aka Sarte on an iceflow - is informed by this overload of experience.

So, it is about averaging. My favourite experiences were surprises. Also my worst. Crowd sourcing removes the bottom but also the top. Crowd sourcing has dissuaded me from exploring amber ales, for example. They are dull we are told. But why is nutty note less interesting than citrus or barrel notes?

I will have to think this evening about your thoughts a bit more, Ethan, but wanted to toss in these first impressions. It is not about meaninglessness of the exercise for me so much as ultimate human incapacity to participate in what is being promised as the height of the experience you may achieve if you sniff a certain way from a certain glass with a certain style of blinder over your eyes.

Ethan -

There's no one way--or right way--to approach a beer. But there are plenty of ways for there to be a mismatch between one's goals in approaching that beer in the first place and the way one goes about it!

I hear you on the pernicious effect of averaging... and without a large number of samples and some idea of the variability, an average itself is not all that useful, either. Still, it's a data point; you can weight it appropriately for yourself- it might not be anywhere near as useful to you as "my pal thought I'd like this beer," but there you go.

Catalina -

A: Love the "theater of the mouth." Very cool

B: I notice that all the time that I think people walking down the street towards me are people I know and then when they get close of course they are strangers. The mind fills in what is not there. It happens to people all the time who mistake me for someone they know. I'm sure it's the same with beers. We know what we know and we strive to cram everything new into it. It's too bad but I think that's how we are.

Alan -

Zak puts it another way.