The Boy Dredge has used his latest HopPress article to announce to his readers that, in 2010, he will 'rate' beer. His blog also has a link and a cover piece. He is asking his HP readers when they stopped being "just beer drinkers" and started rating.
I did it the other way around, as I mention in my review of Phil Parkin's worthy and entertaining Beertickers: Beyond The Ale film, and, to respond to Mark's question, here is my further testimony...
When I first started to frequent real ale festivals in the early 90's, I made half-hearted attempts to keep track of the beers I'd tried, those I'd liked and those I'd prefer not to try again. I didn't have a formal system - just notes in the festival programme. Once I started to broaden my beer perspective and finally got online, I became aware that there were whole cyber-communities based around sharing beer reviews, experiences and news, and I took the plunge and signed up with BeerAdvocate. With a predominantly US-based membership, it seemed a good way to keep up to date with the fast-moving US craft scene, and I made some good friends.
However, after a year or so, I noticed that I was becoming less interested in the experience of beer, than the thrill of trying to track down the latest new release, or high-scoring tradeable bottle. I was emailing friends in NYC and asking them to go out of their way to track down this bottle or that, and I realised that there was an unsavoury, dick-waving aspect to these communities. The awarding of points or karma for the beers you rated, no matter how coherent your review, established ticker hierarchies and distorted perceptions of how knowledgeable a member might be. Worse, the main sites began to pander to the spin-off from this sort of thing, and set up trading forums. Now, beer hoarders and obsessive raters could use the site to facilitate trades. Worse, the new members seemed to be most excited around this aspect of the community. I finally ditched the BA account and now prefer to enjoy my beer without thinking about getting one-up on somebody in Pig's Knuckle, Arkansas.
There will always be tickers, but my view is that there are different types. I have a general fondness for 'our' tickers. However, having worked GBBF and seen at close quarters the locust-like behaviour of the RateBeer crowd, you do have to wonder where the love and/or appreciation of beer comes into the equation as the hive seeks its 1 oz. of ale to rate. They attend every session during the entire week, and I would not be surprised if you told me that they try every beer. You can't fault the dedication, but what's driving them? Love of beer? Or those lovely rating points?
So. Am I "just a beer drinker" because I stopped rating beer? I still sample lots of lovely beer from different parts of the world, and I've spent time and money travelling to some wonderful and often beautiful places (Mark is off to Russian River soon as part of his West Coast travels, and I'm jealous because I know what's in store) to indulge my favourite pastime. But I can't be "just a drinker".
I may not be able to look back and statistically compare my first draught RRBC Consecration to the first time I had Supplication from the bottle. I can tell you that the first time I tried the latter, I was moved to describe it to my beery friends as the best beer I drank during the year of 2005 and that moment remains special to me as the time I discovered one of the finest beers ever brewed, whilst the former was supped with friends and the RRBC proprieters on a sunny Sunday November lunchtime while they entertained old friends from the legendary New Albion Brewing Co. Is that a less reliable way to recall a beer than to reduce it to a series of scores for clarity, mouthfeel and head retention? If there's a diminution, it's surely from being "just a drinker" to a rater, who must learn to reduce his experience to a group of numbers and a dry analysis.
Don't do it, Mark. You'll lose touch with a part of yourself if you stop feeling the beer.