To Review or NOT to Review...That is the Question

26 November 2008

To quote Mrs. Beerbuzz...."Beers are for drinking...not reviewing"


We've had this discussion many times at many bars, and after chatting with Lew Bryson at the MBAA meeting, I started thinking (a very dangerous thing) about beer reviews. We've all seen them, we've all read them, and I suspect we've all chased or avoided a beer based on them. But why?


Beer reviews are subjective. Beer reviews are simple opinions. Beer reviews help and beer reviews hurt. Most would say that a Michael Jackson review is worth it's weight in gold for a beer lover. And as much as I'd normally agree with that, lately I am starting to disagree. Why you ask? Well I've done some readin' of reviews on various sites on the interweb, and I'm finding it more and more disturbing. People review beers. Some people are nice, some are mean, and some even review beer after beer of a particular style they clearly just don't like. I started asking myself why do they feel compelled to shed their opinions on me and why do I read them?


Time after time I find a beer that reviewers hate, that I love. Time after time I find a beer I hate, that reviewers rate A-super-duper-plus great. So whats going wrong here. Shouldn't a majority of people loving a beer mean that I'm most likely going to love it also....Nope. Sad to say but I find beer reviews useless. I'll be the first to say, who cares what mybeerbuzz thinks about a beer. I'll also be the first to say, who cares what anyone thinks about a beer, Michael Jackson included. For me they're all just opinions which means I probably have a 50-50 shot (or perhaps a 60-40 shot with Michael Jackson) of liking a beer...but that's it. So what's the point?


Now don't get me wrong, I love the beer-chatter that goes on at Happy Hour every Friday. We talk about beers we like, we talk about beers we dislike and it's all fun. The key difference here is that I know my beer-buddies tastes. I know what beers we've agreed on in the past and what styles they like and I respect that and enjoy that and it doesn't leave the bar (and doesn't get posted for the world to see.)


But here's where it takes a disturbing turn. Beer reviews hurt. When some self-appointed "beer expert" decides he or she is going to slam a beer on a popular beer-review web site, that beer takes a hit. Somewhere on the Internet there's some other person or persons that don't buy that beer because of Mr. Expert Reviewer;-- and somewhere out there is a brewer who's making less money because of it. Lets say I brew 35 different beers in a year and they all come out fantastic. I guarantee somewhere out there is some stooge that's going to dislike one of them AND take the time to slam it in a high profile forum where it becomes part of my "permanent" brewing record. Ten thousand people may love that beer and NOT write a review, but one bad review and beer sales CAN be hurt. Opinions are opinions, but are opinions really helping anyone? To me it's simply not fair, not meaningful and down right mean in the end. Beer reviews do hurt.
Also the next time you're surfin' the reviews...ask yourself this. Does the site I'm reading have any financial interest in the beer world? Do the people making money running this web page stand to profit based on what brewer gets a good review and what brewer gets a bad review? Is this site an impartial member of the beer community, or do they have a conflict of interest going on that we're not aware of? You'd be surprised what you'll find if you dig deep enough.

You'll notice I don't allow any reviews on mybeerbuzz.com. So what do you think? Are we smart enough to ignore a silly review? Is EVERYONE that reads a review smart enough to understand it's just one person's opinion? Does it help or hurt to review beers? Are people making or losing money based on subjective opinions of the taste of a beer?

Clearly for me....Beers are for drinking and not reviewing...

32 comments (click to read or post):

Lee Botschaner,  26 November, 2008 14:36  

Agreed. We went from our parents generation who basically said "there's no such thing as a bad beer" or "my favorite beer is the one I'm drinking" to a super-critical bunch of opinionated, boring, self-appointed experts.

No reviews. How many times can you read about how a beer pours, what its head is like, and how much brussels lace there is?

Just keep spreading news and inviting discourse.

mybeerbuzz,  26 November, 2008 15:34  

Good call Lee...

stingo 26 November, 2008 15:56  

I think people who put that much stock in beer reviews aren't much different from the sheep that drink Bud, MillerCoors etc - they just flock to a different shepherd (yes, pun intended). As with ANYTHING, reviews should help you make an informed choice, NOT form your choice if you're going to have a beer. The trick here is to find reviewers that seems to have similar tastes to yours. A bit of research and weeding out will be of tremendous help, especially if you know the people behind the reviews. For example, I'd not ask mybeerbuzz here for his recommendation on a lager, because I know lagers generally are not to his taste (something he freely admits to), but I would follow his taste when it comes to ales. Let's face it, as beer geeks, our talking about beer IS our review, even if it's not printed anywhere - it's part of what makes talking about beer fun. All this said, make some beer geek friends and share beers and opinions, and you'll get more than your fair share of "reviews".

Anonymous,  26 November, 2008 16:31  

beer reviews too often turn into a pissing contest (uhh, no pun intended) where beer geeks feel the need to show their chops by finding "flaws" that are invisible to most drinkers' tastebuds, or pointing out the 10,000 different flavors that they can taste in each molecule of the beer. i do read reviews to see if there's a common theme which would indicate a bit of truth (like, do a dozen people in a row say that the beer is full bodied? or just one?) but if i want to try a beer, i try it no matter what kind of reviews it has.... like you, i would tend to put a bit more weight on reviews by Mr. Jackson, Lew Bryson, Jason Alstrom, etc but taste is entirely subjective.

tazio 26 November, 2008 16:35  

Good topic. Personally, I don't read beer reviews nor have I ever really felt compelled to do so. I've probably tryed a couple hundred different beers in my life give or take a hundred and I've never felt that I had to go ``see how they rated on insert-your-favorite-beer-review-site-here''. Nor have I made purchase decisions based on anything I may have read in some anon. review. (Maybe I'm not anal enough about beer for that?) I'll try anything beer-wise and if I don't like it, I won't have it again. (Such as French Farmhouse Ale....But don't take my word on that! hahah.)

And, with something as subjective as the senses and beer's SIGHT, SMELL, TASTE, FEEL, and yes SOUND, how could I (or anyone) think that mine (or theirs) are the master-senses when it comes to describing good beer?

So, I don't think many people pay much heed to the reviews and I don't think it effects brewers that much, monetarily. Hard to quantify the dollar effect though, and I have no basis for that statement other than the beer drinkers I know and what sways them to purchase one beer or another.

mybeerbuzz,  26 November, 2008 18:25  

Thanks...I think it's an important topic and well worth discussing. Personally I like talking beers with friends and yes it's fun and yes we know each other's tastes. But why post that on a public forum when it's so subjective.

For every one of us that reads and knows "better" I'll bet there are two or three beer-beginners that may miss out on a great beer because of what they read on-line and because they don't know better.

I have talked to several of our local brewers and I can tell you they ARE worried that these reviews can and DO hurt them. I've had one local brewer relate a story of losing business because one of his beers received a "C+" and was reviewed by two people. Sad for a brewer who works so hard at his craft to have someone's opinion cost him or her business. This seems to me to be WAY outside the spirit of tasting and enjoying beer.

To Anon...I can tell you that even Lew Bryson thinks you or I should not necessaarily pay attention to his opinion of beer likes/dislikes anymore than anyone else. It's just another opinion. Even if I'm a beer "expert" or beer "professional" (hypothetical of course) my opinion is just that...my opinion. Why should my (or anyone else's) opinion cost someone business because of taste??

mybeerbuzz,  26 November, 2008 18:34  

Read the following reviews of the same beer:

"This falls into the "you have to be kidding, right?" category in terms of beer reviews. This beer is more like a cheap wine cooler than anything serious."

"This is a silly beer, and I can tell just by the aroma."

"This isn't a sophisticated after dinner lambic and don't approach it with that expectation."

"Getting beyond the sweetness was difficult and all I could really discern beyond that was some sourness and an awkward, artificial aftertaste."

"Not much at all for me. My wife who isn't a big drinker might have 2 throughout an evening. This will be the last of these I have. I think this is a poor representative for this style."

"This stuff was "down right pour down the drain" awful. The beer poured alright but the smell and all the bubbles in the head were a turn off.
I do not know who in their marketing dept thought this would be a hit...it is not for me or anyone else who likes beers."


Funny thing is I (mybeerbuzz) LIKE THIS BEER. It IS for me and I think (in my opinion) a very drinkable beer. It may not be a world class beer, but in my opinion (yes I keep saying that) it's not nearly as awful as any of these stooges think it is...and even if it was....What's the point?

It's a beverage...drink it if you like it, don't drink it if you don't like it....but whay beat up the brewer?

Anonymous,  26 November, 2008 20:29  

I enjoy reading and writing reviews for the same reasons I like reading and writing beer blogs. It is fun to write your opinion and read other opinions about things you have interest in. I agree that some beer topics and some beers for that matter seem to get very extreme to say the least. I am one of those people who can enjoy most any beer whether it be a PBR or a Prima Pilsner. When someone writes that they have never had a macro beer I find it amusing, they have probably missed out on a lot of things such as an American Legion post, a social club, a sporting event, etc. One drinks beer for enjoyment, to share with friends, etc. Some of the reviews and reviewers take their subjects and themselves too seriously.

mybeerbuzz,  26 November, 2008 23:08  

Good points...this is a Bourbon quote but it works here too..."there are no bad beers...just better beers."

stingo 26 November, 2008 23:27  

What about cases where the reviews help a brewer? If I don't know Brewery X's work, I can get an idea of what people think about them from reviews. No, a sample size of two isn't sufficient - but let's say a brewery's beers have a couple of hundred reviews each, all of them good to great... does it provide a representative picture of what people think of those beers? I'd say yes. Does it tell you if YOU will like their beers? No, it won't. It's all opinion anyhow, even if you can't understand why someone trashed a beer you thought was great - it's all part of the game.

mybeerbuzz,  26 November, 2008 23:50  

True...a review can help influence someone to try a beer.

mybeerbuzz,  27 November, 2008 11:12  

Do you think people are more easily influenced to try a beer because of a favorable review or less likely t try one because of a terrible review. I have to admit that a very positive review may make me say hmmmmm maybe I'll try it sometime....but I'd think a "dump it down the drain" review would make someone say no way...or I'd be displaying my lack of beer knowledge by buying that. I guess my thinking is that a positive review is less likely to get someone to buy a beer than a negative review is to make them avoid it.

Happy Turkey Day to those on-line (and avoiding the family)...

Anonymous,  27 November, 2008 11:18  

If I read a bad review I assume the person posting knows more than me (I'm a beer beginner)so I would not even try it most likely. If they post a good review I'd remember that, but I still might not go find that beer.

I agree with what your saying. These seem really unfair. I also think from what I read these ratings sites are making money and if they are making money then its not fair. 2 or my experienced beer friends say that on a popular beer rating/advocating site their negative reviews were not posted becuase that site was sponsoring a festival with the beer they reviewed poorly. Im no lawyer but this seems fishy!

Great topic and great write-up by beerbuzzy!

Anonymous,  27 November, 2008 11:22  

Great idea mybeerbuzz. I didn't think about how these may hurt brewers or the conflict of interest these web sites may have going on with these reviews. I agree with the previous poster. I SMELL FISH!

leoorl44 27 November, 2008 13:46  

As a brewer, we want to make beers that are stylistically correct. However, the bottom line is to make a beer that tastes great. Consumers don't drink a beer because it matches a style, they drink it because they like the way it tastes. Heck, you can make a beer that meets all of the BJCP qualifications, but if it does not taste good, what difference does it make.

The great thing is that there are so many different beer styles and someone can find one they like. So if we make a beer that as we, as competent brewers, know is good, I know there will be someone who does not like it. And that is okay. I take all reviews with a grain of salt. However, I do agree that they can sway people. Yet, the bottom line, is that we kow the beer we are putting in the bottle or keg is top notch, otherwise it would not be sold.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

mybeerbuzz,  27 November, 2008 21:48  

Good point Leo...I think that's why it's discouraging to me to see someone review a beer that is a quality product and a product of someone's hard work.

stingo 29 November, 2008 20:22  

I can't imagine anyone starting out by saying, "I'm going to make a really crappy beer." be they professional brewer or homebrewer. The result of the effort may not be a world-class brew, but rather a good, drinkable, everyday kind of beer. Just because it's not the absolute best doesn't make it the worst. To put it another way, (garnered from a non-beer forum I frequent) what would the forest sound like if you could only hear the top 10 birds?

In a more particular context, I think as beer fans, we're kind of like people who like hot foods/chiles - that we've drunk enough that our palates have become somewhat insensitive to less forward brews. (Hopheads being a good example of this idea.) If one is used to eating habaneros, a plain old jalapeno isn't going to give the zip one's used to getting. Does that make it bad? Certainly not - just not registered on one's palate. So, bigger, more flamboyant beers get higher ratings and more subtle/sessionable beers tend to get more subdued ratings. (I'd be willing to bet that most of these ratings sites have some form of IPA (DIPA, etc), or stout make up the vast majority of their top beers.

Anonymous,  01 December, 2008 08:51  

There are plenty of other websites to go to to read reviews. Please keep them off of this one, especially since you do such a great job of getting and posting information. No need to fill the website up with reviews.

mybeerbuzz,  01 December, 2008 09:27  

Thanks I agree....there are plenty of other places to NOT review beers and I don't intend to add them here.

Josh 05 December, 2008 10:06  

I both read and write a lot of beer reviews, which for me just adds to the experience of enjoying beer. A beer review is ONE opinion - plain and simple. There is nothing inherently bad about them. If someone were to read a review and take it as the Lord's truth without trying it themselves, that's their fault, not the reviewer or reviewing itself.

Personally I think this is a silly topic, but to each their own.

mybeerbuzz,  05 December, 2008 13:18  

I guess I don't really understand how reviewing a beer in a public forum adds to the experience, but as you said, to each his own. (although I'd love to hear more on that one).

Unfortunately that one opinion in a highly-visible public forum can appear to the un-trained eye to be a form of consensus on a beer. If I see a beer rated a D- and I don't see that only one person rated it, that beer to me is a D-...so one opinion can hurt...and people do read different things into reviews. If you assume everyone reads them the same way you read them or reads exactly what you intend to communicate, I'd argue that simply isn't true.

I guess the bottom line for me is value. Does a review help anyone? Does a brewer alter their future beers based on reviews? Does someone seek out or avoid a beer becaus eof reviews? Does a brewer lose business because of a review? Sad to say I'm hearing that they do.

Anonymous,  05 December, 2008 13:30  

So please Josh tell us why you review a beer, and beyond you who it helps and how.

And Silly? Apparently not silly enough for you and many others to not read mr beerbuzz's post and comment on it.

I think he's hit on a really interesting topic.

Rich J

Josh 05 December, 2008 15:33  

Reviews can clearly work both ways - sure, a bad review can hurt, but so too can a good review help. A number of good reviews can put a brewery on the map and make others want to try their product. It's no different for beer than it is for wine, or restaurants, or anything else that can be reviewed in a public forum.

There is absolutely nothing inherently wrong with reviewing - I enjoy it because it makes me think more about the beer; it makes me look for things I wouldn't normally look for, and notice characteristics that I wouldn't otherwise notice. It's also a great way to sort of 'log' beers that I've tried, and keep track of what I like and don't. This is why I enjoy reviewing.

As for reading reviews, I do that all the time, as well. But I always do it with a major grain of salt. I would never not try a beer just because someone else didn't like it - no matter who they are and how much an 'expert' they are presumed to be. By reading reviews I have identified a handful of people whose opinions I respect the most because I have consistently found their opinions to be similar to mine. But even with those individuals I would never not try a beer because they didn't like it.

As I said, to each their own. The reason I think this topic is silly is because it seems to assume that it's the reviewing process itself that is problematic - it absolutely is not. Reviews are information, and it is the process of utilizing that information that can be problematic. But for that it is unfair to shoot the messenger, or in this case, the reviewer.

mybeerbuzz,  05 December, 2008 15:40  

Thanks for the info Josh. I'd agree with much of what you say.

I'd still disagree that these are clearly unbiased or just another review. Don't you see the potential for conflict of interest in both the hosting site and/or the posting person? Sadly this can affect a brewer.

Josh 05 December, 2008 15:43  

Let's also not forget that craft beer is a a product, and one that people spend good money on. I make a good living, and have enough disposable income to be able to try a lot of different kinds of beer. If I were operating with a much tighter budget, though, you'd better believe I would be using any information I could find to try to maximize the probability that the beer I was buying would be something I'd enjoy. A good source of information to do that? Reviews.

Are all of you seriously telling me that you've never used consumer reports, or looked at customer reviews before placing an order on Amazon.com? At the end of the day beer is a consumer product, just like anything else. So why should reviewing beer be any different?

mybeerbuzz,  05 December, 2008 16:51  

We may have to agree to disagree on this one Josh. I think it's fine to enhance your tasting experience by documenting the beers you've tasted and I'd agree that if you spend a lot of time in the reviews you may find reviewers with similar tastes to yours and their reviews may help YOU specifically. Beyond that they are simply opinions. Educated beer lover or otherwise the reviews are subjective. You may love what I hate and hate what I love. Your review may make me miss out on a beer I may ultimately love or waste my precious $$ on a beer I may ultimately hate. It's all very very subjective (even in it's most innocent form).

Trouble is in the brewing world 10,000 people may love my Stout and never bother to review it, and 1 person may hate it, and guess who writes a review. I'm not saying this is the case with you, but most people are not compelled to write a review for a beer they liked...but more likely for a beer they disliked. Add to that the ability to go on-line and create 20 or more different fake login id's and have all 20 poorly review a competitor's beers...and you have a problem. As if this isn't enough, then say for example that the site your reviewing beers on is co-hosting a festival with a brewery and they decide not to publish any poor reviews of that brewery, you have tremendous potential for a financial conflict of interest.

If you believe the reviews you're reading and the persons writing them then I can't object with that, but most people don't know better.

As far as trusting feedback or reviews....I stopped reading Consumer Reports when a suppposed impartial consumer advocasy group used (and subsequently destroyed) the Suzuki Samuri in an attempt to force the fed to establish federal roll over standards. They picked on Suzuki after Ford & GM failed the same tests at even lower speeds because Suzuki had a much smaller lobbying effort than Ford or GM. Are they impartial now....who knows. Were they then...clearly no. As far as Amazon or eBay, I learned long ago it is meaningless. Bad sellers have great feedback and good sellers have poor feedback...it's all very subjective, filled with cnflicts of interest and ultimately is harmful to those being reviewed.

As far as the tough love agrument (grow a thick skin and so what, the world is a tough place), I'd say as a beer community we should foster the love of beer and the experimentation of brewers in their craft....not slamming them with tough love every time they brew smething YOU don't love. Finally, ss far as being like the rest of the world...this is a beer blog. I don't want our community to be like the wine or restaurant groups. I want beer lovers to be welcoming and accepting...and in that frame, reviewing doesn't make sense.

And as one last point (I know I said finally already)....I've spoken with brewers and not one said anything other than the on-line reviews are harmful to them. I don't want the beer community to harm the creators of our passion....just doesn't make sense to me.

Anonymous,  05 December, 2008 16:53  

Well spoken myberrbuzzy I don't like to see our beer ocmmunity harming its own. Can't we find a better way??

Josh 07 December, 2008 11:45  

I do think we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one. I've already made all my points so I won't repeat. But c'mon...this is the big boy world here; we can't all just get together and sing kumbaya. If I think a beer is lousy, I'll say so. If a brewer doesn't like that, then brew a better beer.

mybeerbuzz,  07 December, 2008 13:30  

I agree Josh (on the disagreeing part). We'll discuss this again sometimes over a beer.

Keep in mind "lousy" is just your opinion. I may love your lousy beer and want the brewer not to change a thing...

Kumbaya.......

Deuane 10 December, 2009 07:07  

MBB stated....."there are no bad beers...just better beers.

I guess you have never had Bud Chelada then have you?!

As far as getting back to the topic. I review beers on BA. I have been doing so for a little over two years...why? To simply keep a record of what beers I have had and what I thought of them....simple as that. I am a lister, ticker, collector at heart. See my other hobby for keeping lists...birding. I have lists upon lists upon lists...every state, every PA county, counties in other states, other countries...etc!

For the most part I could give two sh*ts what someone thinks of my review and save for a select few people that I know and trust I really don't care about what others have to say either! Of the 8,000 plus beers I have had over the past 18 years I have only "officially" reviewed 1,200 or so.

So, review if you want or don't--makes no difference to me. But don't poo-poo my wanting to do so. Sounds like your giving a negative review on reviewing! ;-)

mybeerbuzz,  10 December, 2009 08:04  

Deuane...I guess I see the other side of the coin. Your reasoning for reviewing a beer is for personal record. Of course I'm not objecting to that or to your reasoning. My concern is that in such a large public forum, your review may not exactly serve the prupose you intend it to. My fear in the end is that someone will miss out on a beer that may be their gateway beer or their favorite beer of all time, just because they avoided it because of a review they read on-line. Now I know that is not your intent, I know you review with a positive tone and I know people have their own free will...unfortunately I think you are the exception to the rule and not the target of my comments. All too often people write scathing reviews, and in the end they don;t help anyone, including the brewers and beer lovers. Have I seen some different cases where I see a different reason (like yours) in the year since I wrote this...yes. But do I still think we need to think twice about what we do on-line and how it may affect others....yes. We'll discuss this over a Bud Chelada Clamato or two some time. I want people to drink and enjoy beers, and when I see somthing damaging that process, I write.

mybeerbuzz,  10 December, 2009 09:24  

Since this year-old thread has been re-awakened, I thought I'd pose some new questions for everyone to consider:

1) Do you think on-line beer reviews can hurt (or help) a brewer's business?

2) Do you think on-line beer reviews can cause someone to avoid (or find) a beer that could have been their favorite beer of all time or could have introduced them to the craft beer world?

3) Do you think on-line beer reviews may cause a brewer play it safe and be less-experimental to avoid risking a bad on-line beer review?

4) Do you think on-line beer reviews may be used as a weapon(i.e. a competitor may damage your brewery's reputation via on-line beer reviews)?

5) Do you think there may be profit-driven motives or a conflict of interest between on-line beer review web-sites and the companies they do (and do not) do business with?

6) Do you think people tend to only review a beer when they do not like it?

7) Do you think we'd be better of with web-sites that allow you to track what beers you have tasted, but simply record details such as date, serving type, serving temp ... and NOT necessarily give the beer a grade?

I've started a new thread on mybeerbuzz.com.

http://mybeerbuzz.blogspot.com/2009/12/to-review-or-not-to-review-beer-part.html

Please feel free to comment there, comment on Facebook or even comment here in the origial thread.

I think this is a topic worthy of discussion and I'd like to see the opinions of drinkers and brewers.

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