I’m going to make a confession that may seem to some like a heresy. I don’t care about the Ratebeer Top 100 lists. In fact, although I have been writing for the Hoppress blog on Ratebeer for over a year, I really never look at the Ratebeer ratings pages. Nor do I look at Beer Advocate or any of the other myriad beer-rating websites. I have never posted on any of them. Nor am I likely to in the future.
It’s not that I’m concerned about the much-discussed bias toward big and extreme beers. Craft-beer fans, like any other kind of geek, have a tendency to seek out the newest, biggest, and baddest. Like those who comment on internet news stories, I would guess that many people who feel compelled to rate beers on these sites tend to go for extremes. I can accept this. I do feel that the relentless drive toward extremes could harm the industry in the long run. It’s hard to grow market share beyond a certain point by recommending an 11%, bourbon-barrel aged, tongue-scraping, triple IPA to Michelob Ultra drinkers. But it is what it is. Extremity is the nature of the beast.
Nor is it that I disagree with the breweries and beers on the lists. Many of my favorite breweries made the top 100; J. W. Lees, Founders, Samuel Smith, Dieu du Ciel, among many others. I am especially happy to see a couple of hometown brewers recognized. Surly and Minneapolis Town Hall are making some great beers. I go to Town Hall often. It’s my favorite Twin Cities brewpub. I love the beers that brewmaster Mike Hoops is making. But is Town Hall one of the best 100 breweries in the world? Probably not. And I do feel that Surly gets more than its fair share of hype. No offense Omar and Todd.
Aside from a certain novelty factor, I simply don’t have much use for these lists and sites. To my mind they promote beer ticking, and beer drinking for me isn’t about beer ticking. I’m not in hot pursuit of the next big thing. I don’t anxiously await such-and-such brewery’s upcoming limited release. I don’t need to try every great beer in the world, and couldn’t even if I wanted to. Besides that, the shelves of my local beer stores are stocked with way more great beer than I will ever be able to sample. I will get to them at my own pace and can decide for myself what is good or bad. I manage to stay reasonably plugged-in to what is happening in the beer world. I don’t need to rely on the masses to guide me. I don’t care what they have to say. Perhaps it’s the old-school, punk rock, anarchist still lingering in me from younger days. Or maybe I’m just a technophobe overwhelmed by the bombardment of information on the web.
I don’t mean to sound harsh. It’s just that craft beer for me is about slow enjoyment and personal discovery. I make a point of revisiting old friends rather than always rapidly moving on to whatever is next. I enjoy the magic of discovering regional beers when I travel. I don’t care to have every beer available to me either in my local market or on the underground trading circuit. I like the anticipation of picking up beer from a brewery I’ve never heard of. It may be good or it may not, but I love making the discovery on my own.
I’ve also read too many reviews on these sites that clearly missed the mark. These are not just reviews with which I disagree, but reviews that knock a beer for the vary characteristics it is supposed to display; reviews by people who had no idea what they were drinking. And then there are those who simply trash or hype a thing just for the sake of trashing or hyping it. I realize that these are the minority. I have read the statements from statisticians saying that the beer-rating sites are examples of effective group-rating practices. But these things still leave a bad taste in my mouth. It messes with the flavor of my beer.
You may think I am being hypocritical. I do, after all, post tasting notes on my own Perfect Pint blog. But one should view those for what they are, my own subjective experience. Take it for what it’s worth. Or don’t.
I say turn off your computer. Leave the hype. Escape the rat race. Forget about the lists. Pick up something that you like, or maybe something you have never encountered. Slow down and drink it. Then decide for yourself.