Saturday, June 07, 2008

How I Judge Beer

I've had this in the back of my head for awhile... I've given up on the 'traditional' beer-nerd style of judging a beer. I've also given up on judging a beer 'to style', but thats a different story.

I'm not good with the fluffy verbiage. I can pick out certain things, I know what they are in my head... I can name a lot of key flavours and aromas just from sheer repetition, but I just can't write more than a few sentences about any beer. People like Michael Jackson, Rodger Prost and Rob Millichamp are good at that. I don't like trying to name flavours, or write descriptions, honestly.

I have one overall judging parameter for beer I drink: quality. Quality is, basically, does it meet (or exceed) my expectations as a consumer? Getting into the details is a bit harder certainly as my expectations can chance based on my mood, what I've eaten, what I've drank, what music I'm listening to, etc. But all other things being equal... there are two things I look for in a beer:
  • Technical quality: Do I like it, and is there any "flaws"? This is very tricky... what is bad for one style of beer is perfection for another. This is where the expectation comes in... eg, if I order an English bitter and it tastes sour and acetic, it fails my expectations. Its technically flawed. Colour, clarity, taste, aroma, malt sweetness, bitterness, off-flavours, etc. But I also include in this category the ultimate question - do I like it? This last question is really the most important one. Usually, one spends the most time considering this category.
  • Uniqueness: This is the bane of most brewers, I think. A beer can be technically perfect... a great beer. I can like it. I can even love it. The problem with tasting so many beers is that you seem to taste a lot of the same thing. I'm always looking for something different. Its few and far between. It seems to me that a lot of brewers, even small craft brewers, don't often like to stray too far from the mainstream of their market. Of course, there is "good" unique and "bad" unique. Bad unique probably results from a significant technical flaw.
Of course, there is a balance between these two. I've had beers that are technically great beers that I really like but just aren't unique - these end up as good stand by beers. I've also had unique beers that were technically well done but I didn't really like. Of course, I've also had technically horrible beers that were unique -- the bad kind. Most beers I try I think about the technical quality, and make a note of any uniqueness.

So this concept isn't all that ground-breaking, but it is how my head works when I taste a beer. Its also why I've pretty much stopped reviewing beers on this blog. I only ever write a couple of sentences and thats just not interesting to the reader!

But, I did have a bottle of Bacchus Kriekenbier today as I mentioned on my last post. I can say it was technically quite well done - good balance of flavours between the acidity of the beer and the sweet/sour of the cherries. Quite refreshing and made me glad I'm heading to Belgium at the end of the month. I liked the beer, probably 7/10 if I had to quantify. Uniqueness? Hm, well I know I've tasted similar krieks, perhaps this had a bit more robustness to it, to put it difficultly. Overall, it met my quality expectations!

Damn that sounds boring... So I'll post a photo to reward you for reading to the end. Its from the Heriot-Watt beerfest which I never got around to blogging about:
Beerfest - Heriot Watt 2008 -  034.jpg

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