I usually write this blog once a week. Typically Monday morning on the train... But my post yesterday seems to have generated more interest than usual, and seems to possibly offend some people. While I stand by my statements about the need for honest feedback, it was never my intention to attack or target anyone. So if I offended anyone, I apologize.
Some of the most interesting comments came from DSG, a fellow Israeli beer rater (you can see his comments on the previous post.) DSG raised an interesting point: That we are beer raters, not beer judges, and thus that bias is built into our rating. In other words, that we rate beer according to wither we liked it, not necessarily wither it is good or not. In fact, as he points out, that is how beer rating is described on the site.
While I still feel that we should strive to incorporate objective measurements into our rating, I have to concede the point DSG is making. If ratebeer calls for a "hedonistic" rating, then by all means how we like the beer should come into play. I will still argue that when I detect flaws in the beer it detracts from my "hedonistic" enjoyment of it, but to each his own.
But in reading DSG's comment I came up with two additional insights:
First, that there is a difference between a beer rating and beer feedback. And I think unlike a rating (that is done in public) feedback (which is done in private and often face to face) should focus on the character of the beer. Its strong points, its flaws, its process, what was done well, and what could be done better. And furthermore that it should be as specific as possible. In a nutshell, if rating characterizes the beer, feedback should analysis it.
Second, that the thing I was talking about, where a familiarity with the brewer or brewery may prejudice the rating, can work both ways. I know that when I evaluate a beer, I also look at were it came from. It is very possible that when I know a beer comes from a certain brewery, who's house character I don't like, it would prejudice my evaluation of a new beer by them (this happened to me with a certain New York brewery that routinely got great ratings. I tasted a bunch of their beers, and for some reason none of them seemed that great. It got to the point that I would smell a new beer by them and the particular "house smell" of their products would drive me away.) If one tried to be fair about this, one must allow for the idea that prejudice works both ways.
So I am going to try something and, DSG if you're reading this, you're welcome to try it with me: I'm going to take three IPAs, and blind taste them. One will be an IPA that I thought was the greatest example of its kind in Israel, one will be a beer a lot of people claim is the best IPA but I thought was a little lackluster, and one will be an IPA that some people rave about and that I straight-up didn't like. (you're welcome to message me privately for the specific names). For these three beers I'm planning to have my wife pour me a 100ml sample in identical glasses, without letting me know which beer is which. I'm planning to taste them one at a time, and write (on a piece of paper) a rating of each one as if I was doing it on the site. Between the samples I will eat plain crackers and sniff my own sleeves in order to cleans my nose and palate.
And then I'll compare these notes to the ones I posted on the site about these beers, and see the differences. I may discover some things about my own objectiveness. :) And it will be an interesting experiment at any rate.
I will end this post with one final thought: Homebrewing is a hobby. But it is also a community. As members of this community we need to embrace brewers on all levels, and know that every person brews at his or her own level, according to their tools, knowledge, and experience. BUT, and this is really the crux of my last post: I feel that we must strive for excellence. We must strive to improve, and learn, and experiment, and evaluate, and do all those things that we CAN do that professional guys can't afford to do. And in this quest for self-improvement, we must be honest with ourselves and each other about the results of our efforts. If I can trust you to tell me when you taste something bad, I'll be a lot more likely to believe you when you tell me something good.