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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Are We To Judgmental?

Are we to Judgmental? I think most breweries will agree with me. That is, if their product is something we're not too fond of.

I recently found myself deep in discussion with someone in the beer industry about the reviews and criticism that some Ontario beers receive on various websites and blogs. When I started this blog, I made a personal choice not to deeply criticize or post offensive material on a beer I didn't enjoy or a brewery I don't appreciate. It's just something that I feel is right. There are a lot of people in the Ontario beer industry that have their entire life wrapped up in the brewery and who am I to tell them they've made a bad product?

Shortly after I had this discussion, a thread on Bar Towel started to grow with heated comments after a certain brewer posted his thoughts on the beer community in Ontario. It got me thinking, "Are we to judgmental as beer geeks?" (sorry Alan, had to use the term)

We beer lovers are always searching for something new and exciting and we make our feelings be known. Bar Towel, Beer Advocate and Rate Beer are all great websites to do just that, as their open forums allow anonymous posters. Bar Towel has been instrumental in the rise of some Ontario craft brewers as they've helped promote and sell their products through word of mouth. Members have also been behind the push to get Ontario brewers to experiment with different ingredients to produce some unique beers.

But once these beers get produced, we are the first ones to jump on them and criticize the style, flavour, and smell if they don’t reach our expectations. For example, Church Key Brewery took a chance and brewed a sour flemish ale back in the fall that had people singing praises for John Graham (brewer). Then it all changed once they tried the beer. As quickly as it was hyped, it was quickly shot down. That's all fine and dandy. You don't like the beer, great, that's your opinion, but the words used to describe it were over the top. This is just one example and this isn't just limited to Bar Towel, I can’t stress this enough, without the site I might still be drinking Lucky Lager with the boys back home. This type of talk occurs all over and I hear it from breweries first hand.

Did this prevent Graham from experimenting in future batches? No, but what about the other brewers out there who regularly read these rough comments? How does it affect their breweries? Does this prevent them from experimenting themselves? All I'm saying is that as beer lovers and good beer drinkers, shouldn't we be concerned with the all the positives happening across the province?

On the other hand, when we like something we let everyone know about it. And that is great. We take pride in our beer knowledge and we rightfully should. But please remember that people are making a living doing this and shouldn't be ridiculed because they made something we didn't like.

7 comments:

Stephen Beaumont said...

I agree and disagree, Troy. I think that some beer folk can be very narrow-minded about what is good and what isn't, such as those who outright condemn every golden lager that crosses their path, simply because it's not an ale. But at the same time, are we to congratulate those breweries who try to push boundaries, even if they do so badly? Example: I like going to a good pub now and again, but that doesn't mean I should patronize plastic clone pubs like the Firkins just because they're riffing on the British pub concept.

I'm the first one to encourage Ontario breweries to push the envelope, but that doesn't mean they should sprint before they can crawl! The last Cask Days at Volo was rife with examples of brewers whose reach exceeded by considerable margins their grasp. When they should have been producing respectable cask-conditioned versions of their regular brands, or dry-hopping them or stepping up the gravity a bit, they were instead adding all sorts of bizarre and, quite frankly, ridiculous ingredients to them. Ditto many of the specialty beers that get accepted to the LCBO's seasonal release program, most of which are lauded on the Bar Towel and in other online publications simply because people lack experience with truly impressive examples of the same styles.

Many years back, I hosted a private tasting of American and British barleywines, held over the course of two days due to the volume of brands to be sampled. On Day Two, one of the participants insisted on adding a bottle of Ontario barleywine from the long-defunct Glatt Brothers to the blind tasting mix, confident that it would show well among its American and British peers. It did not. In fact, it stood out like a sore thumb for its failure to grasp and embrace the style, no matter how defined.

Much time has passed since, but I would suggest that, with some notable exceptions, the same problem of perception persists.

Troy Burtch said...

Thanks for the comment Stephen, and I agree with you.

If a brewer attempts to do something unique and fails to produce what it considered a success, it doesn't hurt to say it was bad. The point I was trying to make was the way in which some people get that point across. There is no need to say it tasted like horse piss, vomit etc. Simply state it didn't meet the style and the taste was not to your liking.

Your pub example is terrific one that I can relate to.

I understand critiquing beers is something that has to be done, but tactfulness can be administered. I agree, some people out there slamming beers are those that are new to the beer world and get preconceived ideas of how a beer should taste due to reading other's strong opinions.

I always value your input Stephen, as I'm sure every other beer writer does too. Now, you wanna grab a couple of Keith's sometime?? :)

Cheers,
Troy

Jeremy said...

"There is no need to say it tasted like horse piss, vomit etc. Simply state it didn't meet the style and the taste was not to your liking."

Q: *Why* didn't it meet the style?
A: Well, because it tasted like vomit.

I think you make a better point here than in your actual article. There are a lot of chats and reviews out there (possibly some of my own) that use urine related commentary or other hyperbole to describe beers that may just be bland and boring, which is probably unfair.

That may be a bit much, but what if people are genuinely getting notes of vomit or bile, and unpleasantly funky cheese notes? Should they not say that? Granted some made the point more delicately than others. We can encourage people to make reference to the style, but as Stephen points out in his comment we are often have limited examples of best of the styles in Ontario to compare things to. To say nothing of the brews out there that adhere only tangentially to a given style.

My own feeling is that if we continue to heap praise on a brewers for efforts that are just ok, or are not much different from the products offered up by the big brewers of the world, then that is what they will continue to make. At which point we can hardly complain that there are no local brewers producing other things.

Troy Burtch said...

Thanks for the comments Jeremey.

My own feeling is that if we continue to heap praise on a brewers for efforts that are just ok, or are not much different from the products offered up by the big brewers of the world, then that is what they will continue to make. At which point we can hardly complain that there are no local brewers producing other things.

I agree wholeheartedly.

The only point I was trying to make was that most of us are not brewers, we read and we sample and we place judgement. The judgement doesn't have to be so harsh, doesn't have to ridicule the brewer/brewery, etc.

I agree, there are beers brewed here in Ontario that I wouldn't recommend to anyone else, but I'm not in a position to go online and tell the world that how much their product 'sucks'. Maybe I'm too nice a guy, maybe I try to avoid controversy, whatever, people are entitled to their own opinions and I appreciate that.

Thanks for reading.

Troy Burtch said...

And sorry for spelling your name wrong - Jeremy.

:)

Anonymous said...

Isn't your comment "without the site I might still be drinking Lucky Lager with the boys back home." a little "judgemental", a bit of a slight to those who enjoy just "beer" not ale?
I enjoyed the whole article as well as the comments.

Troy Burtch said...

Anonymous:

Beer is ale, ale is beer.

Again, the point of this post was the way and the means in which criticism is worded. I am not a huge fan of mainstream products, but I won't call them out and use derogatory comments. And I still do drink some of those beers listed :)

Thanks for reading.

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