This column this weekend by Canadian wine critic John Szabo sets out a tidy defense of the role of the wine critic as well as a description of the limitations. Here is the take away:
An article that would be of real service would caution readers that not all wine criticism or scoring is equally reliable. It would not suggest that it’s all nonsense. It would reveal the wine competitions that apply more rigorous tasting methodologies and hire better qualified judges, yielding more reliable results,. A list of wine writers with professional training, plenty of experience, and a better and more consistent track record of reviewing and scoring wines, would be helpful, rather than insinuate that the entire profession is a sham.
Read the whole thing. It's a dandy and detailed argument. We would all do well with a similarly comprehensive analysis of the state of good beer criticism.
But we are not there. Example. Ray Daniels tweeted this from a beer bloggers' gathering this morning: "@Cicerone_org: I think everyone who wants to be a beer writer needs to read Michael Jackson's work. He set the standard. #BBC13." Jordan responded with perhaps less firmness than I might have wished in this way: "@saints_gambit: @Cicerone_org ...read and then question jackson. probably wasn't always right." To be fair, one should go to Jackson if even out of respect but we also have to acknowledge that a large part of his importance is being the generator and top advocate for the Jacksonian approach to good beer. We also have to acknowledge that, by definition, his writing are now becoming dated and limited to a degree. He is no more or less necessary now than he was when I started beer writing a decade ago but events have moved on - and for better and worse. And I am not just taking about the hipsters and the prog folk version of brewing.
See, good beer is not about the authorized version or a fixed analysis as it is a pleasure experience. It does not compare, say, with the objectivity of the periodic table of elements. The proper approach, as Szabo describes with wine, is one focused on the individual experience. It might be suggested that this is an approach, say, more Methodist as opposed to the Episcopalian or even Presbyterian with its forms of authorized version. We wisely draw from the works of others but only to the degree they enhance our own understanding and experience. No one benefits from becoming a follower or adherent when it comes to the personal.
So, that being the case, we have to recall that, just as the good Wesleyan bears witness to others and seeks spiritual education, he or she also expects and trusts in personal revelation and epiphany. You should, too. You have to reach out and read the thoughts of others and their descriptions of good beer and good brewing to ensure you are headed in the right direction for you. Read widely and write about what you've learned. Be awake and be patient for the message of good beer the revelator. But also be awake and on watch. Have care as you know the ways of the world are not always working for you and do not seek your best on your behalf.