Barley Mowat 

Review Standards

with 2 comments

I find myself increasingly defending how I review beers to people at bars, at after-bar-parties, in the betting circle at underground early morning monkey knife fights, and even in police holding cells while awaiting arraignment for some sort of trumped up animal cruelty charge.

I’ll say something like “Oh Beer X. Yeah I liked that one; it’s a good beer” to which my aghast audience will proclaim “But you only gave it 3/5 on Untappd!” Exactly. I liked it. It was a good beer, aka an average craft beer.

It wasn’t Excellent (4/5) or World Class (5/5) but neither was it Mediocre (2/5) or Fucking Awful (1/5). You see, unlike the vast majority of people who review things on the Internet, I like to use the full range of review options available to me.


Why do people consider a “7/10” to be “average”?
(image source: my favourite comic of all time)

Some folks, even some folks in the local beer industry, are hesitant to give something a 3/5 and never, ever dip into the 1s or 2s. You can generally tell how much you can trust someone’s opinion on beer by checking out their past reviews. If they only ever give beer a 4 or higher then whatever they say is suspect. They’re either giving everything an artificially high rating to curry favour with local breweries, or they’re skipping the bad beers for… well, the same reason.

I don’t do that. I use the full range. If I were given a random selection of local beers, I would expect them to follow a normal distribution with “Quality” as the x-axis, and in general I find this to be the case. BC is not a magical alcohol kingdom that only produces amazing beers. Rather, we’re quite average, if not slightly below average.


A magical alcohol kingdom probably isn’t as great as you might think.

So, to clear up confusion, here is how I rate beers. I use Untappd’s 5 star system, allowing for half stars and a range from 0.5 to 5.0. When you see my ratings, here is what they mean.


Seriously freaking bad, as in milk. This beer is a mistake and should never have been released. Perhaps the brewery spilt some wort into the mop bucket and didn’t notice for a week and then decided to release it as “Janitor’s Wild Ale”? Drinking this beer may actually harm you.


Seriously flawed. Yeah, I know it says “Porter” on the label, but why is it red coloured, incredibly bitter, but still manages to taste strongly of both buttermilk and bandaids?


Major flaw/multiple minor flaws. Slightly oxidized AND infected? Wow that takes either malicious effort or incompetence. Or both.


Well made macro, or poorly made craft. Brewed it with rice and left all residual flavour in the filters? You get two stars. Brewed a rich, flavourful IPA but didn’t understand what hops to use, or when to add them? 2 stars. Yeah, that’s the same as Molson. Deal with it.


Excellent macro, below average craft. Ever had a beer and thought “meh”? Those go here. Sure, it’s pretty much on style but there are few things in there that are keeping it from being great. Maybe the grains don’t really give it the right body. Maybe the hops in this stout seem like they’re borrowed from an IPA.


Well made craft. The vast majority of beers I review get 3 stars, basically by definition. These are competently made craft-quality brews that’d I’d be happy to keep drinking if it weren’t for all the other competently made craft-quality brews out there vying for my limited attention.


Above-average craft beer. Ever had a beer and thought “Huh. This is GOOD”? Sure, you’re not going to get up right now to go back to the store to buy more, but you know what, this is pretty freaking tasty. No faults evident and something about this beer shows an uncommon flair for brewing.


Excellent. Okay, now you’re eyeing up the hours for the store where you bought this beer. Maybe it’s a complicated style like a sour or an imperial stout that’s well made. Maybe it’s just an uncommonly well made session beer. This is a delicious beer that is obviously better than other, similar beers.

Excellent-er. Bordering on uniquely amazing, but something is holding this guy back. Maybe it’s a subtle fault like poor hops integration, or maybe the carbonation takes away from the mouthfeel a bit. Maybe you’ve had a better beer somewhere, sometime, and know that further improvement is possible. It’s a subtle barrier that keeps this beer from being perfect.

World class. This is a rarity. It belongs to that unique class of beer that, when put in your mouth, makes you stop and pay attention to what your taste buds are telling you. Very, very few beers should ever be graced with a five star rating. In short, this beer is perfect.

Okay, so what about my Seals of Approval? Just to keep things simple, those have nothing to do with the five star ratings. They are highly personal and, indeed, are exactly what they claim to be: me, Chuck Hallett, slapping my seal on something to basically say “Chuck-Approved.” The criteria for each grade is surprisingly simplistic because, well, I’m surprisingly simplistic. You see, it’s all based on my personal desire to go to a store and buy this beer.

To put that in perspective consider a few things about me. First, I drink less beer than you might imagine, instead of the raving, barely functional hard core alcoholic of popular imagination, I am more of a “beer-a-day-but-two-on-weekends” sort of low burn rummy. Heck, I might even make it to 50 on my first liver. Second, I get sent lots of beer to review by breweries, and even though I dump a lot of the shitty ones down my drain, they do eat up the vast majority of my beer-a-day budget. Third, being a beer geek, I’d much rather try a new beer than buy a boring old stupid beer I’ve had before.

Combine all that together, and should I be willing to purchase a beer that I’ve had before at the store, that means it’s gotta be a pretty good beer, or I like it for some other reason (my picture on the label might do it… anyone? Please?). So, here’s how those seals break down:

No seal: Chuck would not drink again.
Bronze: Chuck would buy this beer if he needed beer.
Silver: Chuck would buy this beer even if he didn’t need beer.
Gold: Chuck will compulsively buy this beer in great volumes, and react aggressively should you get between the him and the beer. Seriously, just put the beer down, don’t make eye contact, and back away slowly.

So there you have it: your extremely long winded and unnecessarily detailed explanation of what goes on in my head when I use my soapbox to tell the world about a beer I just drank. Take it for what you will.

Written by chuck

October 9th, 2014 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Beer and You

2 Responses to 'Review Standards'

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  1. It is a good breakdown, I always like to think of star ratings as somewhat logarithmic. An 4 is around 10 times better than a 3, while a 5 star is like 100 times better than that 3. There is a very big gap between a 3 and a 5, often in price too (not always, but typically). When I rate something 3.5, I enjoyed it but would try something new over repeating it again whereas an 4.0 or higher I would just as quickly repeat it.

    Terry

    9 Oct 14 at 15:58

  2. Really it’s a bell curve kind of thing.

    Terry

    9 Oct 14 at 15:59

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