Ah, the “review”. Whether your go-to reading topic is music, food, movies, TV, or yes, even beer, chances are you’ve stumbled upon these collections of assessments, opinions, and impressions on more than one occasion. And lately, a few of my fellow bloggers have written excellent pieces on whether-or-not, from a beer blogging perspective anyway, reviews are even worth their (and more importantly your) time and/or effort. So I’d like to toss my (as always) unsolicited opinion into the fire, and state a case for the humble review and why I feel it should be an integral part of any beer blog.
First, why review? Well I guess if you caught each one of my fellow bloggers at the very beginning of their blogging careers they’d probably all have given an answer along the lines of, “Well, it’s expected isn’t it? I mean, everyone else is doing reviews.” Which is true. For bloggers who write about topics where reviews are appropriate, they seem to be the okra that pulls their blogging gumbo together. And like a bunch of self-taught chefs, if you got us all into the same room we would each have a very firm opinion on just how much okra is enough okra. Some would argue for a lot. Some would argue for a little. And a few would even argue that you don’t really need any at all.
In fact, when I decided to start my blog and went out into the web-world to see what others were doing, one of the first articles that loaded into my browser was one written by a blogger who was stating why he didn’t think reviews were useful, and from that moment forward he wasn’t going to write them any more.
And he made a lot of valid points. So did Focus on Beer, in his recent post. Many I have to admit I agree with and accept. But a lot of that focus is turned to you as a reader and why in general, beer reviews probably aren’t truly useful to you. But I’d like to take a moment and focus on someone that I think beer reviews are greatly useful to, and that’s us bloggers ourselves.
Let’s face it fellow bloggers, unless you’re like Oliver over at Literature and Libation (read his excellent article on beer reviews here) you probably enjoy the subject you’re writing about (way) more than the act of writing itself. Your blog is your outlet. Your subject is your passion. You breath it, you live it, you immerse yourself in it. And, if you are like me, you enjoy experiencing and learning new things about your subject, and then of course, sharing them with others.
But as with many subjects, there’s only so much academic research you can do before you finally have to step out and start building on your empirical resume. For instance, I’m sure Gabe over at Beer and a Movie would agree that, while you can learn about films by reading books on them, if you really want to understand and appreciate them, then sooner or later you’re going to have to buy a ticket and some popcorn, and plant yourself in a theater.
Or take Scott over at Beerbecue, who I’m sure would state that, while yes you can learn a lot about BBQ parked on a couch for a Sunday marathon of BBQ Pit Masters, if you really want to learn the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between Carolina and Memphis BBQ, you’re eventually going to have to hit the road and belly up to some tables. Yes, you can research all you want, but the sad truth as with most furthered education is that sooner or later, you have to take classes. Whether that class be in a movie theater, a BBQ joint, a cigar humidor, a music store, or yes, even a liquor store.
And in my mind (maybe I’m wrong) learning is at the very heart of what makes a lot of bloggers, well blog. It’s a way for us to focus on a subject that we have great interest in, tear it down to its most basic elements, piece it back together while examining every aspect of it, and then share what we’ve discovered.
That frothy, cold glass of chemicals in front of you is a veritable classroom project ready to be started, and to a degree, your blog post is the report at the end of the semester. Did you learn about a new brewery? Did you learn about a new brewing process? Is this the first beer you had with New Zealand hops, and did you get the tropical fruit flavors the brewer told you should be in there? Did you like it? No? Why? Do you disagree with someone else’s review? Again why? Are you not getting a flavor the brewer stated should be in there? Is this a hole in your palette that you need to take note of and maybe work on if possible?
The beer review is a chance to better educate oneself on your subject of choice. A chance to walk away from the process with one or two (or maybe more) pieces of the vast puzzle that you didn’t have before you cracked open that beer. After all, to become a better blogger on your subject, you need to learn, continually. And I believe that’s where writing beer reviews can be useful. And let’s be serious, some of us do want to be better writers in the long run, and nothing challenges your vocabulary more than having to describe a “creamy white head”, or “piney hops” for the 50th time.
So even if you approach a beer like a grad school program does that mean every review needs to read like a doctoral dissertation? Well realistically, no. A review can be straight forward (Fill it or Spill it), (more than) slightly warped (Beerbcue), whimsical (Liquorstore Bear) or a piece of well written fiction (Literature and Libation). Giving a “book report” style report at the end of the process is not the be all, end all of writing a review. But whatever stylistic shape a blogger’s review finally takes, hopefully there was some learning going on behind those words. Because for a blogger, I believe that’s where the real worth of “the review” lays.
So are reviews really beneficial to readers? I’ll cover that next week. But for now, regardless of my overall opinions on that subject, I’m going to keep on writing them. Because as far as I’m concerned, beer is my subject of choice and I love going to glass….ah, I mean class.
Time for another beer…
19 thoughts on “Classroom in a Glass – A Reasoning Behind Beer Reviews.”
Boom. Mind blown in the best way possible. If writing is self discovery, beer reviews are beer discovery. Really, really well done (and not just because you plugged me twice).
Also, a very strong contender for the extended metaphor of the week: “they seem to be the okra that pulls their blogging gumbo together. And like a bunch of self-taught chefs, if you got us all into the same room we would each have a very firm opinion on just how much okra is enough okra. Some would argue for a lot. Some would argue for a little. And a few would even argue that you don’t really need any at all.”
If I remember your post on analogies and metaphors, I believe you said don’t rely on them to much, but I don’t remember you suggesting a word limit, LOL. And thanks.
Very nice post. Having just disappeared for 2 months, I realized I didn’t really enjoy the beer I was drinking quite a much because I was putting no thought into it. The first sip was awesome, and then I just kind of forgot about what I was drinking. I have my first review in a while going up tomorrow, and I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing that beer more than a lot of what I drank in the past 2 months. You forget about appearance, nose, and mouthfeel when you’re just drinking. You focus on the taste, and you don’t even think about the whole list of flavors that are at work. Well I don’t anyway. It ends up breaking down into good or bad most of the time.
Again, welcome back. Yeah, that’s probably something I should have touched on because to be honest I do the same thing. If I’m not reviewing a beer I don’t dig to deeply into it, which I think is a good thing. Sometimes you just want to enjoy a beer. Not everything needs to be an exercise in analysis.
Whoa! Great stuff Ed!Thoughtful, well written, and infinitely readable!
As far as the answer to your question, I think reviews are important, but like most opinions about anything, they are just one person’s perspective. Taste is a very personal thing, so if a reviewer and I never see eye to eye on a particular subject, then I will most likely never take their advice. On the flip side, if the reviewer and I seem to like the same stuff, then I will definitely take their advice. I mean, if it weren’t for the blogosphere, I doubt very much that I would have tried even half of the 300+ unique beers that I have sampled over the past couple years. All in the name of research!
And speaking of beer research. Think you’ll make it up to Philly for any Beer Week events?
Thanks as always. Everything you mention in the second paragraph are things I’ll touch on next week because I agree that they are very important, especially figuring out if you and the reviewer your reading are “in sync” so to say.
I have a friend who’s been trying to get me up to Forum of the Gods. I’m so bad when it comes to Philly. Really Ed, it’s 35 minutes away, hop in the freakin’ car and go once in a while. How about you? Any events catch your eye?
Oops! Just realized that I never answered your reply. Looks like we’re headed to Opening Tap on Friday. That’s about it so far. Next week is very up in the air due to work and other obligations. Hopefully I’ll be able to cut out early on one of the days to check out one of the mini events. My office is walking distance to most of the Center City spots, so that should be easy enough to do. Before 5 events are always good because they tend to be less crowded.
I started writing reviews as part of the process of further refining my tasting skills. Early on, I decided to only write reviews on the beers I liked. I only have a limited amount of time and didn’t feel like I wanted to waste it bashing beers that I didn’t care for or feel were that great. I want my blog to be a place that’s fun and friendly, that is especially true for my #1 blog consumer: ME.
Additionally, since my informational content sometimes can take longer to produce because of the research associated with it, reviews are a nice way to keep content active and timely (thematic reviews, or reviews that will compliment my informational pieces). I like to provide “homework” to compliment my big articles.
Further, a lot of people find my blog via search engines looking for information on a specific beer. Reviews get them to my blog where they can then discover my other content.
Finally, I LIKE reviewing beers. It really helps spur (not that it’s really needed) my desire to try as much variety as possible. I like having a huge database of tasting notes on my blog. It allows me to take notes on vintage variation and aging development. For me, it’s just fun!
As far as specific aroma/flavor descriptions, those probably exist mostly for me. I’m guessing people who are reading my reviews look more at the information on the beer/brewery that I start the review with, then look at my more broad “overall impression” of the beer, followed by how available that beer is.
Awesome points. Especially the one about search engines! I too get quite a few hits because of people searching for info on beers.
I also like your comments around reviews being a way to supply quick content because they are quicker to write for me than my more “newsy” stuff.
As far as reviewing beer I don’t like, I try to avoid that and for the most part have. No body is paying to do this, so I don’t think it’s my place to bash a beer relentlessly in my blog. If I do write a review on a beer that doesn’t click with me (because maybe the back story is just so interesting) I make sure to push the point that *I* don’t like it, but that doesn’t mean the reader might enjoy it.
Great perspective. “To Review or not To Review” seems to be the topic of the moment in our dusty corner of the blogosphere. I clearly see myself fitting in somewhere between the warped and whimsical with the occasional biting rant (though those tend to be significantly warped as well). I have a ton of straightforward reviews on RateBeer but I shy away from them on my blog except to use them as a component – an excuse – for having a bit more fun with some aspect of my quest to attain the beer or some other arcane and random observations. Of course, as I type this I’m thinking about doing a lunatic review of Dogfish Head 61…..
The topic is this month’s “Craft vs non-Craft” or “What’s a session beer?”. Reviews are the place were I try to toss a little fun-and-games into the mix as well. Not sure I always succeed, but I try.
I think you’re more warped than you’re giving yourself credit for. 🙂
Great post. I usually enjoy the beers more than the writing. It’s the fact I enjoy beer so much that keeps me writing. Time for beer indeed!
Nice post. And thanks.
I am not sure why I do this beer review thing. There is definitely a learning element. There is an outlet element to it, as well. Also…hookers and blow…all the hookers and blow that come along with reviewing beers.
I thought the whole “hookers and blow” thing was so obvious that it didn’t really need to be mentioned. But yes….
I agree with what others have mentioned when they said they write reviews because it allows them to sit with a beer and focus on it a little more than if they were just watching tv and sipping on the same beer. And I fully agree with your assessment that the beer reviews are for the writer more so than the reader. On my site, my beer reviews receive WAY less hits (on average) than my other posts but it doesn’t stop me from talking about beer anyway. My blog is my outlet and whether I’m reaching 200 people or talking to a brick wall it’s fun for me so I’m not stopping.
That’s a great attitude to have, and probably the best one. We can’t all be the guys with tons of followers. I’d say that across the board, my reviews aren’t my biggest hit generators either. I’ll get one every now and then that will pop, but only because the brewery or rep shares it out on social media. I get far more hits on my news type posts or opinion oriented stuff like this one.
I like how you get down to the subtle nitty-gritty of a beer. Tangential thinking is not exactly a gift, and sometimes I totally forget to review what I’m drinking, so I appreciate the fine reviews here (but I’d say you get whimsical too, wouldn’t you?).