Barley Mowat 

Archive for the ‘Beer and You’ Category

The Problem With Beer Ratings

with 5 comments

As some of you might have noticed, I’ve started putting up beer reviews. I’ve avoided doing just this very thing for a long time because, much as with Most Things In General, I have a problem with beer ratings.

It all boils down to this main issue: people are not objective. We spend a lot of energy prancing around the issue and claiming to solve the problem through various ingenious inventions, but ultimately people suck at rating things.

If I were to take a bucket of my very own homebrew swill and pour it into three bottles, marked as “OK Spring”, “Driftwood” and “Chuck’s Discount Swillery” then ask you to rate all three, people would rate each very different.

Like it or not, your impression of the label sets an expectation in your mind and you adjust your review accordingly. It’s not just brand-blindness, beer from a bottle labeled “Driftwood” actually, truthfully, tastes better to you than the same beer sopped up with a mop and wrung out into the glass in front of you (it’s a clean mop… made of hops).

Okay, so let’s remove the labels; this is where it gets interesting. You see, it doesn’t really matter WHAT is in the bottles. You’re going to give the beer a 7/10, or a 4/5, or a 20/25. Sure, maybe not every time, but overall that will be your average, despite the very real fact that “average” should trend towards 50%. As well, statistically you won’t deviate very much, and when you do deviate, your mood at the time of rating will have a much, much higher effect on the result than the actual beer.

Ironically beer salted with tears is actually quite delicious, but no one has realized it yet

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the recent ratings from two professional reviewers, Joe Wiebe (@thirstywriter) and Jan Zeschky (@jantweats). Sure looks like a lot of 4/5 and 20/25. Whoa, all the way down to 3.5/5? That beer must have sucked. 21.5/25? Best Beer Ever.

I don’t want to take anything away from Joe and Jan. They’re rating beers for publications that demand a simple number, and rating beer is freaking hard. Plus, it’s hard to balance out not wanting to rate too highly (and lose credibility with people who don’t like that beer) with not wanting to rate too lowly (and risk the publication not running the review out of fear of insulting advertisers). In their shoes I’d likely have the exact same results. It’s not the people that are at fault, it’s our desire to put a number on things.

It isn’t just beer, either. The wine world has been struggling with this problem for a while, too. Ever seen a wine rated less than 80/100? Me neither. This is so prevalent that now some reviewers have switched to rating wine out of 20… only to see their average reviews move up to compensate.

It’s almost as if we don’t want to use the lower end of the scale because we’re afraid of offending the beer (or wine, or restaurant). However, the reality of the matter is that there ARE shitty wines and beers out there, and there ARE products deserving of 1/5, 1/10, 1/25 or even 1/100.

Or even 1/10030, as the case may be.

This is why I like RateBeer for beer ratings, as imperfect as it is. It lets all the humans go fuss about whether a beer is 3.80 or 3.85 out of 5 (or maybe even 4.05), and then it applies cold hard statistics to rank all beers based on percentile. That horrible horrible beer we inexplicably gave 2.5/5.0 to? RateBeer boils that down to a much more honest 15/100.

And now to bring all this back to me and my beer reviews, so I can wrap this up and go have a Friday pint. As part of my reviews, you might notice there are no ratings. RateBeer has that covered; you want a single number to impossibly summarize the complexity that is a particular beer? Go there.

Do you want my opinion on what’s going on with this beer? Read my review. I will slip in a Barley Mowat Seal of Approval, but that is not a rating. That’s just how excited I, personally, am about this beer. Bronze is “yeah, I’ll buy it again if I see it.” Silver is “I will go out of my way to purchase this” and Gold is “If you are holding the last bottle of this, I will slit your throat and take it. And then kick you in the jewels, because that’s just the kind of guy I am.”

The vast majority of beers, though, get nothing, not because they’re awful (although some truly are), but rather because they don’t excite me… no, not like that… okay, maybe a little like that.

Written by chuck

November 2nd, 2012 at 3:42 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with ,

November Beer of the Month

without comments

Usually, when I pick a Beer of the Month, I consider all the beers on the market right now, and try to find something that’s interesting, good, or preferrably both.

I look at the current list of seasonals (conveniently kept up to date on the right), then I think over what beers I’ve had that were unique, and then I consider if this beer represents a departure from the norm for the brewery in question (this is why last month VIB was selected for Iron Plow, for instance).

This month, though, I’m throwing all that out the window and selecting a regular lineup ale that is very possibly the worst, most un-interesting beer, made by the brewery in question*. And instead of picking it for any of those reasons, I’m picking it because it has a swell logo. Take that, rigorous selection process that maintains any semblence of journalistic integrity I might have! Yeah!

Don’t you just want to kiss the glass? No?

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m picking Parallel 49’s Old Boy because it really, really, really should be the official beer of Movember. If anyone else out there has a better candidate please let me know, perhaps maybe something actually MADE with moustaches? An Imperial Moustache Ale (imperial for the style of moustache and not because of the alcohol)? A Walrus Wheat? Pencil Porter?

* It turns out that the worst beer made by Parallel 49 is still quite a decent ale.

Written by chuck

November 1st, 2012 at 12:10 pm

A Window To (Cheap) Wine

without comments

A few weeks have gone by since I last updated the ol’ LDB website wine counter, so let’s see where we stand as of today:

Liquor: 4 (+2)
Corporate: 5 (+3)
Wine: 12 (+2)
Beer: 0 (+0)

Raise your hand if any of this surprises you. One of those corporate ads is for the fall issue of the BC LDB’s Taste Magazine, which is basically 196 pages of LDB ads for booze stuffed between alcohol manufacturer ads for booze. Maybe they’ve hidden all the beer suggestions in there? Well, let’s see.

In those 196 pages of recipes, insipid articles and Ads Ads Ads! there are recommendations from various folk at the LDB for a total of 181 different products. Wow that’s a lot, but how do they break down into the LDB’s three booze categories? You won’t be too surprised:

Wine: 146
Spirits: 34
Beer: 1

Hey, at least we made the list! This particular beer recommendation was for Kingfisher because Diwali is coming up, and Kingfisher is brewed in India, right? Somehow I think the intern they hired to do these searches didn’t get the memo about beer (also, Kingfisher–a Pale Lager–was listed as a pairing for Vij’s Curry. Think about that for a second).

Because nothing pairs better with flavourful hot curry than tasteless yellow water.

Okay, fine, but it’s not like they had other articles on food that bring beer to mind, right? What? A section about pumpkins? And another titled “ancient grains.” Are they actually trying to piss me off?

Okay. Different tact. Maybe I’m being too much of an ass about this? Maybe completely screwing over the beer industry is just how business is done if you’re the provincial government arm responsible for selling liquor in your province? I mean, go look at the Autumn 2012 issue of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario’s “Food & Drink” magazine. There’s nothing about beer in there… huh… you don’t say? A feature on Ottawa’s Wellington GastroPub, as part of a dedicated column called Pub Bites? (I’d love to link to it, but sadly it’s a paid subscription)

So, again we’re faced with overwhelming bias against beer when it comes time to show off products at the LDB. I wish I could explain what’s going on here. It’d be natural to just say the people doing the product recommendations at the LDB are just wine snobs, but they clearly are not. Have you actually SEEN the wine they’re recommending with these ads? Let’s just say they’re “value priced” and leave it at that.

Oh yeeeaahh! It’s time to get DRUNK! WOOOOOO!!!! Seriously, though, serve this to when I come over and I will stab you in the fucking neck. I am not kidding.

Written by chuck

October 24th, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Posted in Beer and You

Tagged with