13 Sep 2012 @ 11:18 PM 

You know, I’m frequently pretty ranty on my blog as of late and a lot of that comes out of the fact that the blog is, in many ways, an outlet for me. But today I’m looking for an outlet for a whole different kind of piece. Today I want to talk about harmony.

So, for a long time, while I was starting up Mystery I was hounded by a certain someone in the local beer industry to continually define what made my beer different. The answer – at the time – was that my beer is, on average, balanced and a lot of beers really aren’t.

It was a bit of a stretch.. maybe.

“What the fuck does balanced mean?” he would counter, “When I put your beer in my mouth I taste hops and malt and all kinds of stuff. How do I know I’m tasting balance?”

At first, I kind of brushed this off thinking, “Ah, he’s just giving me a hard time. Who doesn’t know what ‘balanced’ means?” but the more I thought about it the more I ended up agreeing with him. What does balance taste like? How do you define balance to someone who doesn’t have it defined for themselves?

So, like most things do, this has been kind of percolating in my brain for months and this afternoon emerged as a fully formed moth, hell-bent on the destruction of all living matter. It’s not balance that I was trying to communicate, it was harmony.

I tend to think of beer in terms of art.

I’ve said before and I’ll say again – in order to be a good brewer you need to be a good scientist. In order to make great beer you also need to be a good artist. It’s a definite mix of the two. You can have very technically well-made, not-very-interesting beers and you can have very interesting beers that aren’t very well made. Both of those might be good, but a well-made, interesting beer is what transcends good beer into great beer.

A good artist, or a composer, for instance, knows how to use the elements of their medium in concert with one another to make them beautiful. Those things, however, might not be in balance. Harmony is a view of how all of the elements work together to make a larger, more perfect, whole. In certain types of art that might be achieved through cognitive or tonal dissonance, but the vast majority of harmony that we know and/or like works together, like the Greek root word “harmonia” which meant “joint, agreement, concord”.

This is it. This is what I want to achieve in beer – not balance, but artistic harmony. A beer that’s technically well-made and consistent and also beautiful and artfully crafted in the spirit of harmony: Those flavors that we’re putting in there? They’re all going to work together well. We want a beer in which the flavors harmoniously coexist. Our Foreign Extra Stout would not be as good as it is if the lemons and lemongrass didn’t stand out – they’re not in balance with the rest of the beer, but they are in harmony with the rest of the beer creating a larger more beautiful beer because of the way that the lemons and lemongrass work with the residual sugar in the beer and against the rich roastiness. It’s like drinking a minor third.

Am I saying that other beers aren’t harmonious? No. But I don’t think that many are made with harmony in mind. Everybody’s trying to make a good beer and one that sells well, but I don’t see many people attempting to create a work of art – and that, my friends, is my goal: a drinkable piece of art, one that your nose and tongue can appreciate best and one that’s still accessible to the average drinker.

It’s a challenge, but hell, I like challenges.

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Tags Categories: appreciation, op-ed Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 13 Sep 2012 @ 11 18 PM

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 11 Oct 2011 @ 4:16 PM 

One of the most-hit columns I’ve ever written on Top Fermented was a “Beer Advocate vs. Rate Beer” column. It raises ire. Some people like the fact that I attempted to (poorly) apply statistics to compare the ratings on each site. Other people have bitched and moaned about how it’s a steaming pile of turd, which I won’t necessarily argue with – it has flaws. I’m pretty sure I even say that in the article itself.

Anyway, I see all of these links point here and I read them all and contemplate them and never really say anything because.. hey.. it’s like a two and a half year old column at this point, and it’s kind of meaningless now. Ratings systems are continually updated and people continue to use the site in new and different ways. However, the rating sites still over-appreciate dark, high alcohol, and hard-to-find ales and well-made low alcohol lagers consistently under-perform.

I’ve thought about it a lot and I am now of the opinion that wholesale beer rating is really to a point that it is no longer useful and, in fact, might even be detrimental to the market as a whole – and I don’t just mean Beer Advocate or Rate Beer, but beer review blogs, etc., and anon. The noise-to-signal ratio is just out of whack and the results are being given gravity that they don’t deserve.

Before the flames and trolls show up, let me state my case:

People rate beer by measures that are too subjective

Plain and simple. By and large, people rate beer based on whether or not they liked it, not whether or not it’s a good beer. Believe it or not those are two different things. I can’t stand Bud Light, but I won’t tell you that it’s a poorly made beer. It’s excellently made beer if you want a lite (yeah, I spelled it) lager. But it gets a 0 on Rate Beer (a 1 within the style) and a D- at Beer Advocate even though it is essentially the definition of the “light lager” style. Why? Because it lacks technical brewing skill and is rife with off-flavors? No. Because the bulk of the people who are rating it, like me, hate it. Rather than disconnecting themselves subjectively to actually answer whether or not it’s technically well-made and matches the style, they rate their own taste in graduated values of suck.

I do think that there is value in being able to have a list of ratings of beers that you have enjoyed for your own reference. It’s one of the reasons that I like Untappd – because it gives me a list of my own ratings for me to reference later. I don’t always remember a beer three months later. Have I tried this? Did I like it? 5 stars says, “Yes!” But just because I like it doesn’t mean that somebody else will. Taste is subjective. I like a really wide range of beers, but give me something with a load of Nugget hops and I will always, always hate it. 1 star-only and man did that suck. But! That doesn’t mean you won’t like it, so why should my personal rating mean anything to you?

If it’s a useless measure, we shouldn’t be using it to judge beers with.

There’s no way to tell that people are tasting good beer

And by good I mean “like the brewer intended”. Not old or oxidized or through infected taplines or in dirty, frosted glassware or drunk by a smoker or someone with an asshole for a mouth. Certainly, some people will note in the comments of their review about how it was served or what it looked like, etc., etc., but one look at the top comment under Bud Light really says it all:

…serving type was shot gunning at the football game.

Indeed, byteme94. I will now take your D+ more seriously because I know you put a lot of thought into it for those 4 seconds while it was passing through your esophagus. Was the fact that you didn’t immediately throw up what saved it from a D- or an F?

If someone is tasting a beer out of a dirty tapline and (and this is important) they don’t know what a dirty tapline tastes like, they think they just have a shitty beer and there’s no way for me, as a reader, to tell if this is in perfect serving conditions or if this is someone drinking beer out of their cat’s old food dishes before they give a beer a score (“drunk from a straight-sided shallow goblet”, indeed). I’m not going to look through 3,000 reviews. I’m going to look at the aggregate score. If the aggregate score is a composite of unreliable measures, then the aggregate score is unreliable.

There’s no way to tell if the people are good at tasting

Let’s take, for instance, Geary’s IPA in which the first review – which gives it a B (which is decent, if you consider C to be average) – mentions the word “buttery” twice. Once in the aroma and once in the flavor. He didn’t really care for the butteriness of the malt. Of course, he mentioned that he wouldn’t really expect bitterness or alcohol in an IPA, either. Now, I happen to know that Geary’s is brewed at Shipyard, and that Shipyard’s house yeast is Ringwood which has a VERY high flocculation rate. It tends to drop out of the solution really early and doesn’t really remove diacetyl (which tastes like butter) from the beer like it should unless you do some awesome tricks to keep that yeast in suspension – which Shipyard is generally pretty good at.

IPA shouldn’t be buttery. Malt does not taste buttery. This is an off-flavor. But the reviewer doesn’t know this (or that an IPA should be bitter, sadly). He just thinks (correctly) that it tastes like butter, and while he doesn’t really like it he also doesn’t know that it’s not supposed to be there at all so he doesn’t judge it as harshly as he could and maybe should. Or to look at it backwards, he is judging it as though the butteriness is supposed to be there, because he doesn’t know that it isn’t.

Is this a good, honest review of this beer? It certainly reflects whether or not the drinker likes it, but does it reflect the quality of the beer? ie – Why should this B count with the same weight as someone’s C who does know that their beer is diacetyl heavy? How do I know if the person who is reviewing the beer knows enough about the beer to give a good review? Just because you drink a lot doesn’t make you an expert. It just makes you drunk.

(I am positive that at this point in the article, at least one thread will start on a forum somewhere to discuss whether or not it matters if a beer is well-made if you like drinking it, anyway. Related: Who cares who makes your beer if you like drinking it? Answer: I do.)

The internet is untrustworthy in general

Sorry kids, but I just don’t have any reason to trust you. Just because a lot of people rate something doesn’t mean that there’s any sort of reasonable quality involved. You know that saying that’s something like, “50,000 people can’t all be wrong”? Well – actually, they can. It happens all the time.

A significant portion of this country believes that science and math are just these things that the educated elite make up to try to perpetuate grant funding because paying yourself off of grants is sooooo awesome. They believe things like vaccines are bad but polio is kinda okay. They believe that man and dinosaurs used to co-exist. Why on earth should I trust you, the internet, to know enough about beer to give me a decent recommendation if you can’t get broad “society has moved on” issues correct?

In Summary

Fact: You can’t measure something with an unreliable tool. If I’m allowed to make my own ruler that just has however many inches I want on it at whatever random intervals, I can use it to build the same thing every time. But as soon as I give you my plans you are up a creek without.. well.. a ruler. Have fun defining that cubit, bucko, because I measured it using MY forearm, not yours.

There’s no good way to cut through the noise of beer reviews to find out which ones are worth paying attention to and which ones aren’t. Since there’s no way to calibrate the tasters to make sure that they’re all tasting with the same objectivity, then there’s no way to say that any given set of ratings is even reasonably reliable and I won’t waste my time with them. Until we have some sort of Cicerone-weighted rating system or something like that, I’m calling shenanigans on beer rating, especially wholesale ratings sites like BA and RB. Their data is no longer worthy of consideration, by my estimation.

Make your own ratings and decide what you like for yourself. It’s far more valuable in the long run.

These ratings are being put forth as guides for consumers

Let me quote something to you from the comments of a blog that I ran across that I’m pretty sure sums up common sentiment. I know that I should quote who it’s from, but I don’t know them personally and I don’t want to get into any sort of pissing contest. This quote is in reference to a post recommending shelf tags from Rate Beer and Beer Advocate in retail establishments, much like you would see shelf tags from, say, Wine Spectator.

I do appreciate that the rankings are from a consortium of dedicated drinkers compared to wine, which historically was dominated by one individual or several publications.

Indeed. You know what I hate? Being able to make informed decisions based on reliable, consistent data. What I prefer is to make random guesses based on completely unreliable anonymous data. I mean – who needs Consumer Reports and a trained panel of experts when I can get a product rating from BoobLvr67?

That is the equivalent of trusting anonymous online ratings for beer (or anything, really, but let’s stick on topic).

What I’d Like To See…

…is some sort of rating system from people who are actually known trained tasters – Cicerones and/or BJCP judges – with ratings ranked in importance based on how skilled they’ve shown themselves to be. That would be better information. There’s still individual taster differences, but at least those tasters have been moderately calibrated. At least there’s a starting point beyond, “I signed up for the website.”

That’s a rating site I’ll trust, and those are shelf tags I want to see in retail establishments. Until we can get there, I’m dispensing with wholesale beer ratings in general.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 11 Oct 2011 @ 05 00 PM

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I am pleased to announce a springtime course in beer information and appreciation, timed specifically for use as a study group for the upcoming Cicerone® exam on April 8th at the Raleigh Times, but most certainly not limited to those interested in taking the exam.

What is covered in the course of the class?

The entirety of the Certified Cicerone® Course Syllabus (opens a PDF, all non-blue sections) and a few pieces of the Master Cicerone® topics, if they seem to show a full picture of any given topic. Each class will last 1.5 – 2 hours and will be split between a discussion section and a tasting session.

Here is a sample breakdown of how the course will run:

Week 1: Intro, Beer Ingredients, How to Taste Beer, Style history and tastings.
Week 2: Hot-side of Brewing (from milling through mashing, boiling and lautering), Off-flavor tasting.
Week 3: Cold-side of Brewing (yeast and fermentation), Style history and tastings.
Week 4: Post-fermentation brewery-side handling (clarification, filtration, souring, and conditioning). Style history and tastings.
Week 5: Beer packaging, shipment, storage, and aging. Off-flavor tastings.
Week 6: Serving beer: draft systems, casks, bottles, glassware, and the rest. Style history and tastings.
Week 7: Beer and food. Style history and tastings.
Week 8: Everything we’ve missed, questions, and review. Off-flavor tastings.

It’s not “how to brew” (though that’ll be covered), it’s not a drinking class, it’s “About Beer.” You’ll learn every step of the process between field and mouth, it’s history, and it’s care and handling. It might best be labeled “How to Enjoy Beer” or even “How to Help Others Enjoy Beer.”

When does this class happen?

Sunday evenings at 8PM, starting February 13th.

An astute observer will notice that there are fewer than 8 weeks between February 13th and April 8th, so there will be at least one week where we double-up somewhere and either have a long class or two classes; most likely the week of the exam. A full schedule will be posted on the first day.

Where does this class happen?

At the location of the soon-to-be Mystery Brewing Company.


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Who’s teaching this class?

Yours truly, Erik L. Myers of Mystery Brewing Company. Full disclosure: I am also studying for the Cicerone® exam and while I can teach most of this content off the top of my head, this class will also be a learning opportunity for me. It doesn’t mean that you’ll get any false or bad information, but it does mean you might catch me having to look up the answer to question now and again.

How do I sign up?

The class is $85 per person (+ Eventbrite fee). It covers off-flavor tasting supplies, style tasting supplies, other supplies (like paper, cups, etc.).

Note! I am not affiliated with the Cicerone program, I’m just working toward become certified, myself and so am using their syllabus as an overall guideline. Cicerone®, Certified Cicerone® and Master Cicerone® are registered trademarks of the Cicerone Certification Program.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 31 Jan 2011 @ 11 03 AM

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Dear Stone,

I get it. I do. I am wlel vresed in codemy, I haev a bakcgruond in perfroming it adn witring it adn for a ltitle whiel I was even tyring to carft my own gradatue dergee in “codemy” as a cocnept. I aslo undersnatd iorny adn, proabbly unspurrisingly, agrroance. I see waht yuo’re donig heer, but I can’t get beihnd it.

I thuoght abuot witring tihs hueg gradn psot abuot teh toen of teh laebl. Abuot how teher’s tihs gaint risk of pishung teh fuax agrroance jsut a ltitle too far adn coimng off as atcually agrroant, even teh wohle bit abuot how “We ralieze it’s hmaun nautre to bleeive taht pregorss trowads getreanss is one’s own ieda.” has teh pobissility of bieng tracigally iornic, esecipally beecaus I supsect it’s plecad in tehre for iorny. Woudln’t it be iornic if an iornic statenemt tunred out to be iorny beecaus it was atcually ture? It’s liek meta targic iorny.

But I doutb taht’s teh caes. teh worsdmitihng is too naet, rihgt down to teh fatc taht teh olny wodrs speelled corretcly on teh bakc of teh laebl (asied from teh hepler wodrs taht hold teh whole tihng togetehr or wodrs taht are too sohrt to missepll) are “banal” adn “sheeple.” It’s too naet adn caclulated for yuo to not get teh chaenc of teh triple iornic tiwst, esecipally sicne teh produtc itslef is a belnd of trhee diffneret agrroant beers. Smrt! I see what yuo’re donig heer!

I thuoghtt abuot witring a ginat psot abuot how gorlifying teh misues of lagnuage is an afwul tihng, adn tehn I thuoght: wlel, taht’s jsut studip. (And look waht it’s gievn me!) Yes – gorlifying teh misuse of lagnuage IS a terbrile tihng, but tihs isn’t a gorlification, tihs is poikng fun at it. See (for teh peolpe flolowing alogn at hoem), tehir beign agrroant in teh toen adn text of teh laebl, but tehy can’t even be botehred to splel teh wodrs rihgt – thus teh homur! AH AH! It’s iorny (sotra) beecaus tehy’re so convicned of tehir own getreanss – atfer all, tehy tell yuo all abuot how awesmoe tehy are on teh laebl – but tehy can’t even spell wodrs right. Get it?

Taht laeds me to teh last poitn taht I was giong to brign up: Ameircans don’t get iorny. Liek, really. Tehy jsut don’t understadn it. Yuo’re fithging a losign baltte on tihs one. Tehy think it maens sacrasm or coinicdence or sometihng otehr wrogn tihng. Blaem graed scoohls, blaem Alasin Mossriette, blaem it on teh rain, whaveter. It’s a fatc.

I wuold bet taht most peolpe don’t get why teh entier laebl is speelled wrogn. Hlel, tehre are proabbly a lot of peolpe taht don’t even know taht all of tehse wodrs are speelled wrong adn yes, yuo’re right in bevieling taht tehy are proabbly not teh ones taht will be buying teh procudt, eitehr, so kuods on knoiwng yuor tagret audeicne. I wuold bet taht tehre is also a hueg chukn of yuor tagret audeicne taht don’t really get why yuor laebl is speelled wrong, eitehr. Tehy proabbly thikn, “Oh, taht’s Stoen agian, bieng wakcy.” Adn yuo know what? taht’s cool – I don’t mind taht if yuo don’t mind taht. It fits wiht yuor bradn, so… awesmoe.

But for me tehre’s a wohle difrefent leevl taht I jsut need to verlabize: It took me a monht of seieng peolpe reveiw yuor beer to rezalie taht tehy weern’t spleling it wrogn, taht it was intletionanly Lukcy Basartd. Adn yuo know why taht botehrs me? Beecaus I watn to corretc tehir spleling eveyr signle danm tiem. Wehn it coems to spleling, I am an agrroant basardt.

Tihs is jsut– it’s fcuking mandeding. I can’t NOT raed tihngs. Hunams are awesmoe liek taht – once we laern to raed, it’s complusory. Yuo look at a sign, a psoter, or whatveer: yuo read it. It hanpeps eveyr tiem I see taht Lukcy Basardt laebl, adn it maeks me cry isnide whatveer wierd spleling cneter is in my bnair.

So, tihs is bascilaly jsut a letetr to say: danm yuo, yuo susseccful basartds for makign me haet lookign at yuor laebls adn yet still watning to drikn yuor beer. Danm yuo to hlel.

Chrees,
Eirk

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 28 Sep 2010 @ 3:20 PM 

I am here to make a confession: I have a problem. I sometimes read the anonymous comments posted after news articles.

I know.. I know… I shouldn’t do it. I don’t know why I do. It’s like watching a train wreck.

Today, I was lucky enough to be quoted by Eric Burkett in an article over at Delish about the Budweiser National Happy Hour that’s going on this week. Despite the tone of the article, and the fact that I apparently take beer drinking “veddy, veddy seriously” (I honestly have no idea how to take that), I was pleased to see that he’s actually lending my opinion some credibility. So.. thanks, Eric! That was really cool.

And then, like an idiot, I read the comments.

Many are on the same side as me, which is nice to see. Of those that are not, there appears to be a prevalent feeling. Let me see if I can sum it up in my best anonymous internet commenter voice:

OMG I CAN”T BELEEVE UR ARGUING ABOUT FREE BEER!!11 A HUGE COPMANY IS GIVING U SOMETING FOR FREE AND UR COMPLANING! YOU MUST BE STUPID!! LOL11

Or, as one commenter put it, “But here are a couple of facts SMART %&*$#, MAN UP, its a free beer.”

And thus, I have a response, and because I just got back from the dentist, and I’m not a big fan of dentists and they always put me out of sorts, you get it with profanity.

(Mom, you can stop reading right here.)

Here is a fact, smart ass: You didn’t cite any facts.

Read the fucking article. Nobody’s complaining about free beer; we’re pointing out that this is a marketing gimmick from a company that spends more time and money on marketing than on flavor. A suffering brand can afford to give away millions of units for free. You know why? Because they’re making money hand over fist, and they’re making money from you. You don’t see it because you’re looking at quantity over quality. Sure! You can buy a 30-pack of Bud for the same price as a six-pack of some craft beers. So.. what.. you think you’re getting away with something? I’m here to tell you, it’s because they use ingredients in craft beer.

Have you ever sat back and thought about how much money Bud is spending on marketing campaigns? Tens of millions of dollars on Superbowl commercials alone. That’s more money spent in 3 hours of advertising than 99% of craft beer manufacturers will see over years and years of sales. So with all that money outflow on marketing, packaging, shipping, and giant cardboard cutouts of whatever NASCAR driver they’re sponsoring this year, how much can they possibly be spending on quality ingredients? Not a whole hell of a lot. To me? That equals Not Very Good Beer. You make a sandwich with shitty ingredients, you get a shitty sandwich. Beer is no different.

So, when I’m getting something for free that they didn’t spend very much money making (but a lot of money advertising) I’m supposed to MAN UP and like it? MAN UP, IT’S SHITTY AND CHEAP! YEAH!

You, sir, are a fucking rock star.

MAN UP, THEY’RE FREEBIES!

MAN UP, IT’S APPLEBEES!

MAN UP AND SHOP FOR DEALS ON QVC!

When did we get to a point where liking nice things was indicative of being a pussy? Wow, yeah, I have discriminating taste and like to enjoy the foods and beverages that I consume, that must mean I’m an idiot.

Here’s mine:  Man up and pay for quality.

</rant>

Comment all you want, I’m not reading any more.  Just the articles from now on.  Really.

(Though I’ll probably look at the pictures, too.)

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 28 Sep 2010 @ 03 48 PM

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