A couple of days after the GABF awards came out, I saw a thread on Reddit or Beer Advocate where commenters talked about the awards. Many believed the awards were rigged. That goes with the territory. Your favorite whatever doesn’t win a subjective award, the awards were rigged. What was more telling or annoying or both to me was the number of commenters who said that they would rather look at the ratings on Untappd, RateBeer, Beer Advocate, or other such sites then the results of a judged contest. I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding of a) what judging a contest with guidelines is and b) what reviews are supposed to do.
First, judges notes and beer criticism are not the same as comments made on Untappd or RateBeer or other sites. On those sites, you do have commenters who are thoughtful and interesting in what they write, especially on Beer Advocate. However, those sites are mostly to say, “I like this beer” or “I dislike this beer.”
Judging a beer contest that adheres to BJCP or GABF guidelines doesn’t necessarily tell you the beers that everyone will like the most. They tell you the beers that are the most technically proficient and well made.
A review also should not necessarily concern itself with whether the reviewer likes the beer. It should be an inquiry into how all the parts of the beer work together to give an overall impression. If at the end the reviewer does or does not like it, you must explain why or why not and explore the highlights and/or deficiencies. Whether the reviewer personally likes it or not, it is that last part that is important because it is what will tell the reader whether they will like it or not.
It also tells the brewer what they have done right or wrong. Judging and properly done critical reviews are more for brewers than they are for regular consumers. I think critics should be in conversation with the brewer with the drinkers eavesdropping.
This article is the perfect example as to how this is supposed to work. The writer wrote a critical, but fair review. The brewer read the review. Here is the critical point, the brewer had enough self-awareness to look at the review and say, “what do we need to do better?” The brewer fixed the problems and the brewery has taken off.
Like many creatives, brewers cannot always separate themselves from their creations enough to see them clearly or let others criticize them fairly. The successful ones, like successful artists, have the ability to step back and accept criticism. The very best can self-critique in a way that is harsher than anyone else can. They see the I love this beer or I hate this beer comments as nice, but not helpful. I have sold lots of beer that customers say they love but isn’t good. The wisdom of crowds will tell you what’s popular, not necessarily what is quality work.