Classroom in a Glass – A Reasoning Behind Beer Reviews.

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.

With Respects and Apologies to Berke Breathed
With Respects and Apologies to Berke Breathed

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…

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