Another beer post! — Egalitarianism in the Beer World

21 May

From Slate

Attempts to name a “best beer” may seem unenlightened, or even absurd, to some. After all, food and drink involve an element of personal taste—chacun à son goût, as the French say—and the greatest beer for you isn’t necessarily the greatest beer for me. But this critique misses an essential point about the political structure of the beer world.

Most fine comestibles, like wine, are ruled by oligarchies. A simple Google search demonstrates the point: If you search for “wine rankings,” you’ll find opinions from Wine EnthusiastWine Spectator, and the esteemed Robert Parker. I don’t doubt that these experts have exceptionally sophisticated and sensitive palates—that is, of course, the reason their opinions are supposed to count more than yours or mine. But why should a member of the ignorant, wine-swilling masses, someone who can’t distinguish an unexceptional 2004 Bordeaux from the magnificent 2005 vintage, base his purchasing decisions on the opinions of someone who can?

Beer lovers take a more democratic approach. If you Google “beer rankings,” the first hit is BeerAdvocate.com, the site that gave Pliny the Younger its fame. Although Beer Advocate takes its name from Parker’s Wine Advocate, the approach is entirely different. You won’t get the opinion of a single supertaster, or even a panel of experts. It’s a raucous compilation of thousands of opinions from ordinary schlubs just like you. As the art critic Clement Greenberg noted “[Q]uality in art is not just a matter of private experience. There is a consensus of taste.” The beer world takes that consensus seriously.

Ordinary beer lovers actually believe that their opinions matter, and they’re pretty much right. Professional brewers show up at home brew competitions to learn new ideas and techniques, and they read Internet reviews to learn what people are saying about their latest release. (I assure you the good folks at Château Latour do not care what some guy in Kansas thinks about the 2010 vintage.) The collaborative spirit runs in both directions, as professionals are expected to share their recipes with the public. Even Vinnie Cilurzo, the owner of Russian River Brewing Company, has divulged the recipe for his prized Pliny the Younger to the journal of the American Homebrewers Association.

Full article here.

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