It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
Hey Bill, you probably won't admit it but as a young legal drinker I was one of the cool ones
since I was a Corona girl. While others held their cans of Bud and Miller I had that neat clear
bottle with oh so cool lime stuffed in the neck. Now I realize that image was trumping taste but
not back then. I guess lots of people today are no different than I used to be since I just read
that Corona is now the fifth bestselling beer in the U.S., selling more than double the amount of
Heineken, the next most popular import. In fact Corona is growing while the rest of the beer
business is drying up or being siphoned off by new small-batch brewers. Amazingly, last year,
Corona sales rose 4 percent. Here’s the curious thing: Corona is not very good—at least by
most critical accounts including both of ours.
How bad is it? After 3,200 reviews at RateBeer.com, Corona has a grade of 1.69 out of 10.
The Beer Advocate gives Corona an “awful” rating of 55 out of 100 and the following
description: “faded aromas of sulphur, faint skunk, mild cooked veggies.”
All that got me to thinking about how beers are rated on those websites. Since I'm not a beer
snob (like others around here) I believe if a person likes a beer it's good, at least to them. In
that case those ratings aren't correct. Scores generated on the beer sites like RateBeer and
BeerAdvocate (NOT BeerNexus) are crowd-sourced. Crowds are, by definition, unknown
quantities. Nobody really knows, even if they claim to, what the real level of beer acumen is
among the readers of those type sites.
Bill, I did a bit of research and discovered that beer lists come in three basic varieties: crowd-
sourced, which appears to be far more egalitarian and fair than the other options but carries
the distinct possibility that almost nobody participating knows squat. The second is what
happens here on BeerNexus where a fully certified taster, Sandy Feld, who I greatly respect for
his beer knowledge and formal training in the field, gives an individual opinion. To Mr. Feld's
credit, he always notes that his reviews are only his opinions and no more credible than people
think he is. The third is when some magazine or website chooses a panel of “experts” who are
asked to rate a list of beers. Whenever I see this I always wonder just who chooses the so
called “experts”? Are these “experts” prone to given agenda (I could tell you stories) which
would color their judgment? Do they carry grudges against certain breweries or beers? Do
they, in fact, know anything about craft beer? In one recent rating panel one member had
some experience writing about beer, one was a travel editor, one a blogger and self called
"expert" on food, one worked for a liquor distributor, and one sold media advertising. All in all,
not a very expert panel if you ask me. Here’s the point Bill, to me any sort of rating is always
suspect unless I know and respect the expertise of the writer.
Think I'll go try a Corona now. Who knows, maybe it isn't as bad as I remember. Ah, forget it.
It's probably worse and besides, I don't have any limes.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hey Gina, you make some good points. Did I really say that? I agree that other than being a
general guideline about quality a lot of the crowd sourced rating aren't that valuable. I always get
a kick out of those lists claiming to identify the best beer in the country/hemishere/world/solar
system. The concept is absurd and the results often totally wrong. Oops, I should say they're
wrong in my opinion. Don't want to get you angry Gina- ha. My point is, if those compiling the
list haven’t traveled extensively and tasted beers around the world, they're essentially just
parroting something they read/heard or are simply rating their hometown beer as the “best”.
I've always thought that the ratings on crowd sourced sites are mainly expressions of local pride.
That's fine, but the best way to show that is for them to frequent their local breweries and buy
their beer, not create false ratings. My bet is your local favorite brewery just might appreciate
more sales than a higher online score.
One reason I like all the columns here on BeerNexus is that none of the writers simply quote any
ratings without doing some research. I also agree with you that whenever a rating or review is
published every sensible person has to first ask just who compiled the rating and how did they do
it? Thanks to the unprecedented explosion of local breweries and the fact of craft beer being as
hot a topic as it is, we are going to see even more lists and polls and opinions that, many times,
are misrepresented as “scientific” or “expert”.
As more and more new breweries open people should remember that every one needs time to
hone their craft, make youthful mistakes, and settle into a groove. Trendiness, now seems every
bit as rampant in craft beer as it has traditionally been in wine. That in turn seems to lead many
younger beer lovers to go wild over new, buzzworthy breweries and skip over the veteran ones
that helped create the craft revolution. Many of these continue to make truly great beer but find
their ratings by the masses dwindling. Interestingly, I once had a distributor right here in New
York tell me he had over 400 beers in the warehouse but all his cus. tomers wanted was that
one hot item
Gina, you and I are often asked to be judges in blind tastings. If you think about it you'll probably
agree that in most cases, that one sought-after beer scored no better than fourth and dead last
in four of the tastings. Drinkers should choose beers with their tongue, not with their ego or
manic desire to have the coolest beer. Did anyone say KBS or Heady Topper? Some of the
newer converts to craft beer seem to embrace it more as a status symbol or coolness factor. My
worry is that large numbers of those types could change the beer culture we both love.
Pliny, KBS, Parabola, and their ilk will be pursued by the trendy crowd and that might inevitably
ruin the experience of enjoying these beers for the rest of us. Those beer lovers who actually
know beer and don’t obey the current buzz are, even now, being forced to step out of the way of
the roving trendies or be trampled. Breweries have to adopt alternate strategies for releasing
certain anointed beers. People camping out overnight to buy the latest hyped release, waiting in
line for hours to get a rationed single bottle, buying lottery chances to win the opportunity to then
purchase a beer, and the overcrowding beer festivals beyond reason are typical examples of a
ravening self-interest and over-entitled aggressiveness has the power to eventually corrupt this
wonderful world of craft beer. I don't think that will happen but vigilance can't hurt.
And sorry Gina, I'm not going to join you in a Corona. I'm the bold type. Give me a Corona Extra.
Here's looking at you, kid! See you next month.