Sunday, 27 December 2009

My Name Is Sid, And I Just Drink Beer...

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.

9 comments:

Tandleman said...

Splendid piece which sums up my view entirely (that's why it's splendid).

Splendid advice too. I sometimes fear young Dredge lets his enthusiasm run away with him. He is unlikely to gain the experience he so clearly craves through rating beer with a load of obsessives.

I rated beers on the Oxford Bottled Beer Database for years, but never do so now. They are largely inaccurate anyway, particularly those Yankee ones. Maybe it's a right of passage I suppose, though when I did it blogging didn't exist. To me you can say all you need to say as a beer writer in that medium.

Bad move really, but it'll get some brownie points in some quarters and your name known I guess.

Sid Boggle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sid Boggle said...

Thanks for stopping by, TM. I see he muses about the act itself, but I'd be sad to see a potentially great year for beer adventure defined by RateBeer.

Rite of passage? Maybe there's something to that idea which needs a bit of exploring...

Tandleman said...

I think the whole rating of beers thing has become dated and clichéd myself. If you read some of it, most seems to be written by wooden paleted dolts with a strong beer obsession. Just my opinion of course.

Bailey said...

I've never been tempted to rate beers myself if only because I'm so bloody inconsistent. I keep looking back at old posts from early in our blog's life with which I now simply don't agree. Witness last week's epiphany with Harvey's Imperial Stout -- I'd have rated it low two years ago and very high if I rated it today!

Mark said...

Nice piece, cheers for the comment. I have a few different reasons for doing it. I'm interested in the rating process itself and I'd like to have it as a e-version of my notepad, but I am aware of the negative side of things - how beer changes, how you could drink it one place and love it and in another and not like it, how rating reduces the experience to a number which is hugely reductive, and so on.

I'm doing ratebeer because it's an interesting community. I think I'll struggle to keep it up with it(I've already got to the stage where I've only 'rated' half of the beers I've had in the last week) and I don't want it to overtake my enjoyment, but I don't think that'll happen. I don't use BA for the reasons you give - it's a dick measuring contest which quickly deteriorates into a discussion of the rarest/most expensive beer that the drinker has had. The one thing that gets me right now is the extreme raters out there who try and rate volumes rather than just for the experience of drinking. On RB someone has just hit 6000 for the year and people are congratulating him. That is not worthy of congrats in my book - no one can manage 16 beers a day and still enjoy drinking them (plus how small are each of the tastes?!). Stupid.

If nothing else then it'll be a good experience to try another side of beer 'enjoyment'. Even if I only do it for a few months before giving up then at least I'll have a better insight into the negative/positive sides of it. It's difficult to do already and I'm not necessarily enjoying it - I make scribbled notes on each new bottled beer I drink, but the extra effort and thought that goes in to attaching numerical values to 5 categories is hard. I'm not doing it to become a rater, I'm rating to experience the process and try to understand it. Research, if you like.

Sid Boggle said...

Fingers crossed it doesn't fuck your year up, Mark...

Sid Boggle said...

TM: wooden-tongued? What sort of wood? Oak, cedar? From sherry barrels, whisky tuns, bourbon casks? It all matters, you know... ;-)

Mark said...

If it starts interfering with my drinking then I'll stop, don't worry about that. Like I said, half the beers i've had this last week won't be rated anyway and almost everything I drink in the pub won't be rated so it'll be a bit half-arsed, to be honest, but we'll see!!

(I might make a special effort to rate the US beers though just to make sure I have some kind of reference of me drinking them other than the memory!)