Beer Reviews: Relative Versus Absolute

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by JuniperJesus, Feb 17, 2013.

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  1. JuniperJesus

    JuniperJesus Aspirant (270) Feb 26, 2011 Illinois

    I don't understand why people give a beer an unfavorable review with the following explanation: "There are just so many better beers in this category, this one is average."

    I believe reviews should be written on the merits of the beer and not a comparison to other beers in the same category. There are countless threads in these forums comparing this beer to another - and that's fine, and expected - but the reviews should be an unbiased exploration of a beer. You don't rate women this way, where you say Shakira is an 8 because Salma Hayek is a 10. No, you don't; they're both 10s, and you'd jump at the chance to tag either one of them if they even so much looked past your beer gut to give you a wink.
    beardown2489 likes this.
  2. kzoobrew

    kzoobrew Meyvn (1,167) May 8, 2006 Michigan

    There is nothing wrong with comparison, I really do not even have a problem with the quote you initially use as an example. If you want to write a better review you should probably articulate why those differences equate to higher or lower scores.

    How we think about beer, food, cars, women, anything has to do with preference and it is one natural to for comparison to sneak in. I am not sure your example really illustrates the point you want. Yes, two beers can be fives (or two women tens) due to different characteristics and reasons. But if you introduce something less favorable according to your preferences, it rates lower probably because it is lacking in an area where the other isn't. Comparison is just natural.
    TheBrewo likes this.
  3. JuniperJesus

    JuniperJesus Aspirant (270) Feb 26, 2011 Illinois

    If we were deciding one purchase over another, I can see the need for comparison, but not every beer is available to everyone. Founders Breakfast Stout is a great example. It's widely available and fantastic in every way, world-class, but someone might review it and say, "It's no Abyss," or "It's decent if you can't get Hunahpu". Abyss and Hunahpu are two very different beers from Founders Breakfast Stout and they should be reviewed on their own merit. Founders Breakfast Stout shouldn't suffer because it's available; it should be recognized as the flawless elixir it is regardless of what's available.
  4. Highbrow

    Highbrow Devotee (473) Jan 7, 2011 California
    Beer Trader

    honestly when you rationalize beer reviews are regular old opinions, constructed by regular ole' people, how much should one rely on a single review anyway? i guess my point is reviews are random opinions, whether or not we feel those random opinions are well put together is a secondary opinion.
    Bluecane and Stormfield like this.
  5. CircusBoy

    CircusBoy Initiate (0) Mar 10, 2008 Ohio

    Call me crazy but I think that's almost a perfect way to review. If I drink 5 different IPAs and 1 of them is not as good as the others, why would it get as good of review?
  6. lookrider

    lookrider Defender (628) Apr 22, 2007 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    I guess it all depends on how an individual looks at reviews. For me, the reason I read the reviews is to get the comparisons.
  7. Arbitrator

    Arbitrator Initiate (0) Nov 26, 2008 California

    Let's give everyone first place, including the one who finishes last.
  8. Sarlacc83

    Sarlacc83 Crusader (752) Mar 2, 2008 Oregon
    Beer Trader

    So your problem is with people comparing two beers of different natures rather than with comparing two beers. Your OP is rather scattered on this point (and your analogy misses what a lot of people say all together).
    Stormfield likes this.
  9. Sarlacc83

    Sarlacc83 Crusader (752) Mar 2, 2008 Oregon
    Beer Trader

    *inserts picture of Syndrome but doesn't because of ban hammer*

    When everyone is special... no one will be.
  10. mattbk

    mattbk Devotee (471) Dec 12, 2011 New York

    whats interesting about this idea is how your view of a beer, or anything else, will change once there's something better around.

    you drink a beer five years ago and its perfect - 5 out of 5. you spend the next five years seeking out and then drinking 10 different beers, all in the same style, that are all somewhere between slightly to definitely better than it. you then drink the same beer you had five years ago today. now its a 4 out of 5... but you remembered it being better five years ago! now you write on a message board that so-and-so's beer "just isnt as good as it was five years ago."

    which is right? its all subjective. which means both ratings are right, at that particular time and place. no point looking into it any further.
  11. TMoney2591

    TMoney2591 Poo-Bah (6,694) Apr 21, 2009 Illinois

    The title and OP reasoning involve a false dilemma: when you review a beer, unless it is the first beer you've ever had in your life, you're both considering it in and of itself (absolute) and, whether you realize it or not, compared to pretty much every other beer you've ever had (relative). An overall opinion of the beer is thus created in your thinking piece (brain). Now, when you critically consider it, you can compartmentalize your thoughts a bit, actively comparing it to others in its style or trying to isolate it from everything else, but all attempts are probably moot, as you can't help but allow your sub-/unconscious biases/preconceived notions/opinions/random thoughts concerning the multi-talented Ms. Hayek (this is both a symbolic and absolute reference...mmmm...) to invade.

    In other words, you're always thinking about the other beers you've had and comparing them to each other, whether you think you are or not and whether it manifests itself "on paper" or not. As such, I have no problem with stating so in a review.

    (Insert obligatory "Everybody reviews in his/her own way, if you don't like it just move on, Go do I love subjectivity, variety is the spice of review life".)
    jgluck likes this.
  12. Handle

    Handle Initiate (145) Mar 16, 2009 North Carolina

    The hops don't lie.
    sukwonee, zestd and Bluecane like this.
  13. draheim

    draheim Poo-Bah (2,431) Sep 18, 2010 Washington
    Beer Trader

    I don't even know how you would do what you're proposing. Is it possible, let alone desirable, to isolate a single beer in a vacuum, outside of the context of every other beer you've had? Can you taste a beer of a given style and not evaluate it relative to every other beer you've already tasted within that style? How can you not apply your past experience to the process? Some beers are simply better than others. Which beers those are depends, at least in part, on each person's unique, subjective palate.
    TMoney2591 likes this.
  14. Rockfarmer

    Rockfarmer Initiate (0) Jan 8, 2013 New Jersey

    This topic is a concern of mine as a newcomer to BA. I'd like to contribute more, but the relative paucity of my beer tasting experience might cause me to rate a beer that is considered by most as merely "good" to be "exceptional". Knowing this, I feel like I should be conservative in my praise of any beer, and might therefore rate a beer that is considered "world class" as being merely "good". Next year, 100 beers from now, my opinion of a particular beer is likely to change.
    Additionally, it is clear to me that some reviewers have olfactory and taste senses that are capable of discerning subtleties that elude my own. I suspect I am also untutored in how some of the various flavors and aromas that are described so eloquently in the reviews might present to my own possibly older, battered and abused senses.
    So, should I just give it a go and say what I think, or should I wait a while and sample a few hundred beers and different styles before I do more than just list a "Had"?
  15. GreenCoffee

    GreenCoffee Initiate (0) Jul 2, 2012 Illinois

    If everyone could review each beer in an "absolute" sense, then the "relative" would be something you could deduce from the "absolute" scores. That said, I think people have already described why this is problematic - your evaluation of any beer depends on what beers came before it.

    I prefer reviews that emphasize a more "absolute" approach, though. In your example, FBS may very well be < Abyss/Hunahpu. But FBS may itself be > a shitton of other similar brews. I prefer a review that just discusses the merits and issues with any given beer and scores accordingly. Having a wider range of experience for comparison should ideally make it easier to describe those pros/cons relative to the competition. "This isn't as good as X" doesn't tell me much about why and it's the why that drives the review for me.
    JuniperJesus likes this.
  16. TMoney2591

    TMoney2591 Poo-Bah (6,694) Apr 21, 2009 Illinois

    Just go for it. A review is simply an opinion of a beer, based on its physical characteristics and the taster's perceptions thereof, at a given moment in time. Can/Will your opinion of a beer differ from others'? Definitely. Will you opinion of that same beer change over time? Definitely. Will you get "better" at reviewing as time goes on? Probably. Does any of this diminish a review made now? Hellz no, babycakes. Do it!
  17. cmannes

    cmannes Disciple (379) Mar 15, 2009 Minnesota
    Beer Trader

    While I love long-form reviews.

    I kind of wish the short 1-5 ratings could be submitted multiple times, allowing an aggregate rating of my own tastes over time.

    So over time I could see my tastes change, and my ratings adjust accordingly.
  18. draheim

    draheim Poo-Bah (2,431) Sep 18, 2010 Washington
    Beer Trader

    I'll tell you what I did, for what it's worth (not that I'm a seasoned veteran or even an intermediate beer drinker). I didn't start reviewing until I had 200 or 300 different beers of many different styles under my belt. By that point I felt that I was ready to start, but always knew that my palate and experience level would continue to evolve. I don't think artificially "downgrading" beers to account for the experience you don't yet have is a very good way to go.
    jgluck likes this.
  19. Brunite

    Brunite Initiate (0) Sep 21, 2009 Illinois

    I love comparisons. Everything is subjective and subjectivity is usually relative to our own sphere of exposure and knowledge.

    That said; I'd rate Kimberly Wyatt as Celebration Ale and Ashley Roberts as Hopslam.
  20. reverseapachemaster

    reverseapachemaster Aspirant (244) Sep 21, 2012 Texas
    Beer Trader

    This illustrates one of the many reasons why the beer reviews are fucking dumb.
  21. jbertsch

    jbertsch Meyvn (1,096) Dec 14, 2008 Massachusetts

    Because the other beer in that category you thought was better is what defines what the best of that style tastes like to you. In other words, your perfect "5" rating for any style is only equal to the best you've personally experienced in that style. This is why your own definition of what a perfect score tastes like is elastic. It changes the more you experience other beers in the same style over time.

    But you can have multiple perfect scores for a style, because a beer's individuality comes into play. This is common today because more brewers are putting creative/unique spins on a beer and you also want to judge to what you think the brewers intentions are.
  22. Bluecane

    Bluecane Initiate (0) Dec 30, 2011 New York

    Very nice.
    Handle likes this.
  23. mattsander

    mattsander Zealot (558) Feb 3, 2010 Alberta (Canada)
    Beer Trader

    I think the ratings system becomes much more arbitrary when you aren't comparing one beer to another. How can you know what a '5' tastes like until you have one?
    liamt07 likes this.
  24. RonfromJersey

    RonfromJersey Initiate (0) Jan 25, 2002 New Jersey

    I find it very helpful to compare a beer to others in the category (this imperial red is more like Big Hoppy Monster than Nugget Nectar) or to other beers from the same brewery ( if you want one beer from Brewery X, try the Imperial Stout instead of this IPA).
  25. kdb150

    kdb150 Devotee (485) Mar 8, 2012 Pennsylvania
    Beer Trader

    Beer reviews are incredibly subjective. Every review is subject to tons of noise, from overall opinion of a brewery that a beer comes from, to other people's opinion of the beer/brewery. I actually sort of agree with the above commenter who says that beer reviews are fucking dumb, because they aren't very informative. I review beers anyways mainly to keep track of my own thoughts and preferences, so as to revisit them over time, but I very seriously doubt they have much, if any, value to anyone else.

    I'd argue that direct comparison to other beers of the style is the ONLY way to rate a beer. Now, maybe styles are far too broad for that to be useful too, which makes some sense when you consider that a category such as "American Double/Imperial Stout" can encompass anything from Tiny, to KBS, to World Wide Stout. Add to that also the fact that right now, a 2012 WWS itself is very different from a 2008 WWS, and the usefulness suffers even more. It's probably impossible to even answer the question of what beers should be compared to one another when devising a ranking system, let alone how to go about comparing them.

    I mean, 9 or 10 out of 10 BAs would probably conclude that a fresh KBS is better than a fresh WWS. But maybe only 8 out of 10 would pick fresh KBS over aged WWS. And then maybe only 5 out of 10 would pick aged KBS over aged WWS. Do a blind taste test, and the numbers might be totally different, especially if the people doing the taste tests have never had either beer before. Use people who have never heard of either beer before, and again you'd probably get different results.

    So much affects what people write when they sit down to type out a review that I find it to be of almost no value to put out a list of the top beers based on aggregate reviews. I think the only way you could really compile useful information when rating beers is to look at results of blind tastings within a narrowly defined style. I mean seriously - what the hell does it even mean to say that Pliny the Younger is a better beer than Westvleteren XII?
    moju likes this.
  26. Douberd

    Douberd Initiate (0) Jan 27, 2012 Netherlands

    What if a brewer creates a new style of beer? He uses let's say all the basic ingredients, water and malt and hops and yeast, but he adds something very original and creates a purple beer let's say with a very unique taste and smell and everything. It's never be done before. It's a new style. Is that a 5? And all other beers on the style should be compared to it?
  27. zenithberwyn

    zenithberwyn Disciple (341) Aug 24, 2012 California

    I think it's just more useful to rank relatively, based on style. Think of it this way: A great prog-rock album is not trying to do the same thing as a great hip-hop album. A great action movie is not trying to do the same thing as a great period drama. And a great pilsner or kolsch is not trying to do the same thing as a great imperial stout.

    Obviously, not everybody is going to like every style, and not every style is going to produce a broad, transcendent, across-the-board classic. But if you accept the premise that a style takes off and becomes a full-fledged style because enough people find some kind of connection or value in it, then I think it's worth trying to at least figure out why that is, and whether there's anything for you in it.

    What DOES drive me nuts about reviews like the ones the OP pointed out is when people say "There are so many better beers in this style!", and DON'T LIST ANY OF THEM. And then I go to the style page and only see like 2-3 consensus highly rated beers. Tell me what you think IS good, so I can try it! That's what I'm here to learn!
  28. kzoobrew

    kzoobrew Meyvn (1,167) May 8, 2006 Michigan

    Holding a beer to a standard that is can never reach is wrong. Down grading a stout brewed with out peppers and spices because it does not have the pepper and spice flavor of Hunahpu is wrong. Down grading that same stout because it lacks the body, flavor integration or mouthfeel and using that as a basis of comparison is perfectly acceptable.

    I agree that beers should be rated on their own merit but that does not mean comparisons do not have their place. Even if you rate 100% to style and based completely on each beers own merit you need other beer to compare it to in order to have the basis of comparison needed to accurately review.

    There are plenty of IPAs that I rank well below Two Hearted. They are not ranked lower because they are not Two Hearted, they are rated lower because they lack the general characteristics that make Two Hearted an excellent example of the style.

    Comparison is a powerful and incredibly beneficial tool but like any other tool it is only useful if it is used properly.
  29. JuniperJesus

    JuniperJesus Aspirant (270) Feb 26, 2011 Illinois

    The question you should ask yourself is why would you give a 5 if you don't know what a 5 tastes like? That's like asking the first pig you fuck to marry you.
  30. dbrauneis

    dbrauneis Site Editor (6,369) Dec 8, 2007 North Carolina
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    They are no different than any other type of review - movie, restaurant, food critic, etc... All have some amount of subjectivity in them and all are somewhat influenced by previous experience.

    I find the reviews that describe the beer well by different aroma and flavor notes to be the most helpful as I definitely have preferences to some flavors over others (i.e., I prefer tropical and citrus hops over piney hops).
  31. thegoon55

    thegoon55 Initiate (0) Oct 27, 2012 Massachusetts
    Beer Trader

    If no one has seen themind's reviews you really need to check them out, you will thank me later!
  32. dbrauneis

    dbrauneis Site Editor (6,369) Dec 8, 2007 North Carolina
    Subscriber Beer Trader

    For the most part I agree with you but there are a few people whose reviews I have come to trust when I am shopping as they tend to have a really good description of the flavor profile...and I have come to the conclusion that we have similar palettes but that is definitely not true for all reviewers. Also, the quality of the content (and by that I mean the value of the review content to someone other than the reviewer) varies from user to user and beer to beer.
  33. JuniperJesus

    JuniperJesus Aspirant (270) Feb 26, 2011 Illinois

    You guys are confusing rankings with reviews. If you want to rank them, go for it, but leave it out of the review and describe the beer on its own merits. Also, if you have to go back to a beer that was reviewed as a 5 - and give it a 4, for example - then it was never a 5; so, your reviews are untrustworthy, useless, and probably the result of whatever beer fad you're chasing.
  34. MrDanno96

    MrDanno96 Initiate (0) Aug 26, 2009 Ohio

    How else are you supposed to review a beer? If "beer w" is a pretty good beer, but it tastes/smells/etc. worse than "beers x, y, and z," why would you give "beer w" the same rating as "beers x, y, and z"?

    I'm not even necessarily saying you need to review every beer on a curve. But once you have had enough examples of a style, you know what represents an "exceptional" rendition of the style and what represents just an average one and IMO it is impossible, and in my mind ill-advised, to just ignore that experience when writing a review.
  35. Kinsman

    Kinsman Champion (873) Aug 26, 2009 California

    Pretty much exactly how I review. At this point I've consumed enough beer from across the styles to have a pretty good idea about what I like and could pretty easily come up with 2-3 or more favorites from any given style. I'll review any new beer based on it's own merits but I'll keep in mind what characteristics I enjoy about those few favorites and downgrade if I don't find it. Of course, styles are often pretty arbitrary themselves and some have more variety within than others so I keep that in mind.
  36. liamt07

    liamt07 Poo-Bah (2,349) Jul 26, 2009 Ontario (Canada)
    Beer Trader

    And how does anyone know what a five tastes like? How can anyone ever say that any beer perfectly epitomizes it's style/flavour and has zero room for improvement?
  37. SpeedwayJim

    SpeedwayJim Poo-Bah (2,292) Jun 19, 2009 New York
    Beer Trader

    Aren't the merits of a beer determined partially by how it compares to others like it?

    If everyone woman in the world looked like Salma Hayek (which you say is a 10), then Shakira (who you say is an 8) WOULD be considered fugly..... why not? She wouldn't be as good looking as MOST other women.

    There needs to be a baseline in order for something to be compared to. If the baseline is high for a category of beer and one of the beers I try in that category is not as good as most others, why the heck would I give it an above average score?

    Not saying its wrong (I just feel differently), but this type of thinking combined with "hype" is a huge part of the reason why the ratings on BA are so inflated.
  38. Synapse

    Synapse Initiate (6) Nov 25, 2010 California

    The rating process is democratic on this site. A beer is excellent on its own merits even if many people do not like it. For example, I may not like the taste of maple syrup. Does this mean that every beer that has a hint of maple syrup should be given a poorer review? The closest we can get to a perfect review is to have a professional taste and review beers. Determining what a professional is the next question.
  39. CircusBoy

    CircusBoy Initiate (0) Mar 10, 2008 Ohio

    That could be due to people's palate changing over time. I've been drinking craft for 6 or 7 years now and as I drink more my opinion on some beers change over time. Yes, not every review is trustworthy. You have no idea how experienced the reviewer is, or how influenced by the other ratings they are. But in the end I think they average out to be pretty accurate for the most part.
  40. Immortale25

    Immortale25 Poo-Bah (3,023) May 13, 2011 North Carolina
    Beer Trader

    Foret - Brasserie Dupont sprl

    Sort by: Latest | High | Low | Top Reviewers | [​IMG] Alström Bros | Show Hads:
    « first ‹ prev | 1-25 | 26-50 | 51-75 | next › last »
    Reviews by the Alström Bros:
    3.38/5 rDev -16.3%
    look: 3 | smell: 3.5 | taste: 3.5 | feel: 3.5 | overall: 3
    750 ml green champagne magnum with no freshness date to be found other than the year 2002 on the cork which I assume it was the bottling year.
    Appearance: Has a hazed golden cider hue, crackling carbonation leads to a fallen head though the lace sticks around.
    Smell: Raw honey maltiness, brash grassy malt and hops, and herbal / earthy phenolic, cellar mustiness and yeast aromas all over the place. Suggestions of plums and mint come to mind as well.
    Taste & Mouthfeel: Fluffy crisp on the palate, grassy from the grain and withered hop flavour. Hop bitterness is there but seems bigger only because it joins up with some medicinal phenols and a yeasty bite. Vague spicing and more grain in the mouth. Warming alcoholic esters are in tow but not without some fruitiness in hand. Touch vinous and lemony middle to end.
    Notes: A simple beer, I expected a bit more. Rough around the edges showing some withdrawn complexities. There are other Saisons out there that are better.
    Serving type: bottle
    04-13-2003 11:31:21 | More by Jason
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