Sunday, 18 September 2011

Let's Talk About Ratings

I've had a few questions from readers wondering about how I arrive at my ratings, so I have decided to take a few moments to try to walk y'all through my process.  Please keep in mind that there is nothing scientific or objective about the way that I rate beers; it's my blog and I can be as subjective and obtuse as I want to be.  I like what I like.  Still, I probably should take a few moments to talk about how I arrive at my conclusions.
I rate beers on a scale between 0 and 10.  I am willing to use half points (i.e. 5.5, 8.5), but I am unwilling to split hairs any further than that.  One critique I've received is that I'm too generous with my ratings.  So far, I haven't had cause to rate anything lower than 5.0.  This is unsurprising, since I don't make a habit of buying beers I don't like.  That's not to say it'll never happen.  There are even a handful of beers out there that are worthy of a 0.0 score.  But generally I love and respect beer.  You won't see many low scores on this blog because most beer has merit.  I review beer like I'm a high school teacher; the pass/fail threshold is 60%.  Few beers fall below that line.
 Similarly, I have not yet rated a beer higher than 9.0.  I'm not one of those pig-headed professors that won't hand out an A+ under any circumstances.  There are 10.0 beers out there.  Lots of them.  I just haven't reviewed any yet (though I have sampled my fair share).  Don't worry, I'll get to them.
When reviewing a beer, my first step is observation.  I try not to review beers without having an opportunity to look at them.  To that end, I order beer on tap, or if I am drinking beer from a bottle or can, I always pour it into a glass.  I look at the colour of the beer, how much head, lace and carbonation exist, and assess the clarity.  I always include these elements in my review, though they seldom affect the rating.  Unless a beer is simply beautiful, looks unappealing or has a head that is utterly unacceptable, looks are neutral.
Next, I spend some time smelling it.  This is the part of the process that I find most challenging, since I don't have a particularly impressive sense of smell.  I often have to get my face right into the glass, but I do it, because I love beer.
Now it's tastin' time.  I finally sample the beer, taking a small sip at first to get a feel for the brew.  I try to vary my drinking style, sometimes guzzling, sometimes sipping, until the beer is gone.  I consider taste, look for flavour notes, and assess aftertaste.  This is definitely the best part of the process.
Once the beer is gone, I get down to the business of rating it.  I think it is important to point out that I am rating beers against similar beers.  I have an affinity for stouts and bitters, so it would be problematic if I routinely rated these styles higher than pale lagers.  In order to combat this, when reviewing a pilsner, I try to rate it against other pilsners I have tried.  Porters are compared to other porters, wits to wits, and so on.  This may one day be problematic if I encounter a style that I am unfamiliar with, but so far that hasn't come up.  Fortunately, I have a pretty diverse and thorough beer-drinking repertoire.

There you have it.  Context.

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