Saw these two posts about "tasting notes" and "beer reviews" at Beervana, and the one Jeff references in that post, at It's Pub Night. It seemed fitting to notice and comment on them before I post a small flurry of tasting notes.
Jeff's concerned about accuracy in beer reviews. He looks at some of the verbiage sprayed about on beer rating sites (and magazine reviews, and blog reviews, and judging slips...) and is -- rightly -- concerned that it's sometimes conflated for pizzazz. Me too. Then he references Bill's genius invention at IPN: a random beer review generator. Hilarious. Go ahead, go play with it. I did, it's funny. (Hint: if you don't think it's at least faintly amusing, if you think it's insulting...start drinking more water. And stop writing reviews for a while.)
But then Jeff drops one of the best things I've seen written about this whole business:
Even very good beers may not offer you a lot to hang your hat on; what distinguishes them is not their distinct elements, but a totally vague quality of harmony produced when all those elements come together. How do you describe that? I miss the mark more often than I hit it, but this post reminds me of a directive I try to use when writing about beer. Don't write to impress, write to communicate. How would I tell a friend about a beer so that she would get what I was trying to say? It's useful to include adjectives, but they should reveal the beer, not conceal the reviewer's inability to describe it.Jeff, first off, what's wrong with saying "This beer has a totally vague quality of harmony produced when all those elements come together." I kinda like that, and I'd write it. I don't trust "hints of wet smoke, teaberry, DAP putty, and demerara sugar mingle with a strong intimation of the late addition of Chinook hops." Even if the reviewer does get that -- much like my deeply-questioned remarking of tasting carrots in PBC's Rowhouse Red -- that's their mouth. It's not mine, or yours, or Sweet Fanny Adam's mouth. So how much is that worth?
But "Don't write to impress, write to communicate" is good stuff. I can't believe that one of his commenters -- "Dr. Wort" -- actually advises him to use the Lovibond scale to make more accurate descriptions of color. Great, let's just all do it by the damned numbers. Useful.
Beer tasting is subjective. There's no way to get around that. Period. Never will. That's why medals are usually awarded by blind judging and concensus, by panels. Best you can do. I don't present my "reviews" as anything but my opinions. I don't say you're right or wrong if you agree or disagree; frankly, I don't care, in the end. If you find them useful, and I hope you do, that's great; if you don't, I can understand that, too. They're descriptive, not prescriptive.
I hope you find the following reviews useful. I'm not going to worry about it, though, and neither should you.