First off, Merry Christmas! I hope your Christmas Eve went smoothly. I recently had a beer that can be seen as seasonalbly appropriate, the Brasserie Bourganel – Biere au Nougat. I received the beer from Michael Jackson’s Rare Beer Club for this December. It earned horrible reviews from Beer Advocate and Rate Beer. This is a prime example of why review sites should never be the only factor one looks at when they are considering a beer. I do not think this was a good beer by any means, but I do not think it was nearly as bad as the ratings suggest. Yes, some of the main flaws reviewers mentioned were evident, it was a little watery, it did not taste like a beer and the flavors did seem to have trouble blending. Still, it was exactly what the label claimed, a beer brewed with nougat. The nougat flavor was evident on the nose and the taste. There was a strong nougat aftertaste as well, which I enjoyed. It really did taste like a Kit Kat Bar! I do not plan on drinking a lot more of the Biere au Nougat, but am glad I tried it once. I think it was innovative and deserves at least a little credit for that. I have never tasted or heard of a beer like the Biere au Nougat.
That is an interesting article that I think makes some good points. I agree with the author in that Beer Advocate and Rate Beer do tend to overrate rare and bigger beers. I also agree with his stance on the big three domestics Budweiser and Miller-Coors, in that they probably do not deserve a D- or F rating. Just because they are not a very imaginative style (American Adjunct Lager), does not mean they are a flawed beer. I would argue that they are decent beers, if an American Adjunct Lager is what one is looking to drink. I think most beers and styles, have their time and place, as well as price considerations. That does not mean I like those beers, in fact my stance is very much the opposite. I think the size and the power exerted by the big three is bad for business all around. I also believe their dominance has, for years, made America look foolish on the world beer scene. I am glad there is a revolution in the beer world going on and love seeing those companies lose market share every year!
I disagree with the “trained professional panel” aspect, in part. I agree that there is a usefulness for panels such as those utilized by the Great American Beer Fest and various publications. I do not believe they should dominate the market, nor do I want to see a bunch of shelf tags with ratings in my beer store. A lot of times I disagree with their findings and in the cases mentioned the reviews are often limited to certain geographical areas. There are many fantastic beers that do not fit nicely in a particular style as well, which would unfairly hurt their rating. I also do not believe that a single person nor a group of people regardless of training are infallible.
Ultimately, I believe there is room for both styles, a professional system as well as a democratic mass based system. I would not mind seeing more ratings come from the so called “experts” but I never want to see the only ratings coming from those people. I think both are important and should be considered when researching beers as aside from examples on the extreme high end or extreme low end, I think Rate Beer and Beer Advocate to be fairly accurate. Luckily most beers are relatively inexpensive (at least compared to wine) and a rating system at all is not as important because a poor investment will not, in most cases “break the bank”. I would like to know others thoughts on this issue, feel free to comment here or bring up the topic in the forums.