is a member of the North
American Guild of Beer
Writers and a two time
winner of their Quil &
Tankard writing award.
Vince's column is now a
regular feature of
|If you’re a casual craft beer drinker then the odds are you think you’re a good judge of beer. If you’re a seriously
serious craft beer drinker than you think you are more than good. Of course with such a sophisticated palate and
superior drinking credentials comes the responsibility to share your judgments with whoever will listen and to the
many that do not. However as self appointed arbiters of good and bad some of these “experts” seem to think they
are on an official mission from Nsinkasi herself. Moved and directed by the power of that Egyptian Beer Goddess
they roam beer bars to preach and proselytize their righteously correct views about all things beer. Some
unfortunately get more than a little carried away.
If you’ve ever been to a good beer bar more than once then it’s most likely you’ve had to endure their “teaching” you
about real beer and their intense indignation if you dare see their alleged insights as less than gospel. I’ve had the
misfortune to run into one of these characters three times in the last few weeks at three different bars no less. This
individual is so well known that when I walked into each of the bars the seat next to him was conspicuously empty
despite the bar being packed.
My most recent encounter occurred at the beloved Libertine Pub. It was standing room only when I arrived. Every
seat was taken save one. Yes, that one. I had to make a decision - either stand on weary, tired legs for hours or sit
and endure a stern lecture on why my beer choice was flawed. Of course it didn’t matter what beer I had, they all
were flawed in some way according to Mr. Expert. And if by chance it was the same beer he was drinking this beer
savant would slowly explain he was drinking it only to understand its many shortcomings even “the hidden ones that
no one else can see.”
It did cross my mind that I could simply wait for him to leave and then take the seat. That however would be easier
said than done as I spotted several others in the throng waiting for just that to happen. They all looked angry,
unruly, thirsty, tired of standing and most importantly, bigger than me. The latter point gave me serous cause for
concern since a mad dash to the vacated seat would surely result in a full fledged scrum with no quarter given.
Getting involved in a bar scrum isn’t very appealing to me, unless of course it’s with the servers at Hooters.
In the likely event I lost the Battle of the Seat the consequences would be serious. I would be forced to continue
standing on ever more painful legs and, much worse, would have serious difficulty in getting a beer. I’d be at least
three deep at the bar which would force me to yell and wave desperately to get the bartender’s attention. Over the
years I’ve noticed one universal bar truth - bartenders hate yelling and waving. Their response is to pretend not to
see you no matter how artistic the wave or melodic the yell. I’m not sure why they do it; it’s either in their DNA, a job
requirement, or Federal law. And after all of that drama another pitfall awaits once the beer is placed on the bar. If I
inadvertently bump someone while reaching over, around, and/or through them to retrieve my glass they likely would
retaliate by viciously bumping me back spilling precious ounces of that wonderful liquid I had worked so hard to get.
Even a mumbled and semi-sincere, “excuse me, please” would had no effect on these bar-barians. who were
probably Bud drinkers at heart.
Asking myself what would Sherlock Holmes (Rathbone not Cumberbatch) think,I quickly realized that a short time
sitting beats no time sitting no matter the hazards. Dam the Torpedoes (the Sierra Nevada bottles the people in front
of me were holding), full speed ahead. I pushed in and sat down. I nodded hello to you know who (I’d use his name
but don’t want to offend anyone else named Ed). I ordered a beer; hoped for the best, expected the worst.
Expectations were instantly met as he said “That beer you ordered is far too hoppy. It has no balance.” As I sipped
an overpriced 12 ounce pour of the great Neshaminy Creek Shape of Hops To Come, my first thought was that
something here was unbalanced and it wasn’t the beer.
Shape of Hops does have a decidedly bitter bite that features, according to the brewery, “as much Apollo, Newport,
Simcoe, Topaz, and Citra hops we could get our hands on”. That sounds hard to believe but it must be true; no
brewery would ever make stuff up. It’s a fantastic hop bomb that puts the imperial in Imperial IPA. Well, I guess
saying it’s unbalanced is accurate but to say “IT”S UNBALANCED….” leaving off the unsaid but somehow still audible
“you fool, it’s terrible and you’re not a good person for ordering it” is the part that makes Ed, I mean, Mr. Expert so
expatriating (for lack of a more appropriate word of considerably less letters.)
All of this begs the question, what is fair beer criticism? Is it always inappropriate to criticize someone’s brew of
choice at a bar no matter how politely said? Are beer reviews just so subjective that they become nearly
meaningless? Are certified beer judges legitimate arbiters of good and bad? Does a craft beer aficionado have a
duty to spread the word of good beer to the uneducated masses? Does the rain in Spain stay mainly in the plain?
Let’s take the hardest question first - Spanish rain does not actually stay mainly in the plain. It falls mainly in the
As for beer reviews in general, one writer that has put it in the proper perspective in my opinion is right here on
BeerNexus. Sandy Feld introduces each of his reviews with the following “I can promise honest, thoughtful, and
careful evaluations. However, remember that these reviews are totally subjective. Consider this column an
informative resource only. The bottom line is to trust your own judgment and keep drinking!”
If you like the beer, be it Heady Topper, King Julius, Pliny, or Bud Light (when’s the last time you saw Bud Light in the
same sentence with those three) then to you it’s a good beer. You don’t deserve personal derision from any expert
for liking it. What you do deserve from any of us who know and love craft beer is an honest commentary about
styles, quality, off flavors, defects, ingredients, beer storage, brewing techniques and most importantly the chance to
experience a tutored tasting of an array of craft beers. And we of the craft beer family have a legitimate role in doing
that in as non-judgmental way as possible. There is no need to intimidate or browbeat anyone about good beer.
Craft has grown because of its quality; trust in that and all will be well.
At the very first BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) class I ever attended the instructor, a Master Judge,
explained that he would rate Budweiser a 50 out of 50 in its style category. Needless to say I was shocked along with
most of the class. I don’t like that beer. It’s watery, bland, and adjunct laden. And those are the good things. Still
his point was made. If the beer meets its style criteria it’s “good” for what its supposed to be and should be so
judged. That however doesn’t mean you have to like it. In fact you can downright hate it. Or to put it another way,
one person’s Westvleteren XII could be another person’s Budweiser Select 55.
Nsinkasi please forgive me for saying that. It will never happen again.
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