To Review or Not to Review a Beer – Part Two (A year later)

10 December 2009

Review Last November, after attending the MBAA Philly Region meeting and after discussing on-line beer review web-sites with many of our regional micro-brewers I posted THIS THREAD.  There was considerable debate as you can see in the comments, and a wide variety of opinions.  A year has passed, and I’ll admit I DO understand why some people do review, but I still have my concerns.

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 this new thread in the hope that we can discuss this topic.  Please feel free to comment here, comment on Facebook or even comment in the origial thread.

I think this is a topic worthy of discussion and I'd like to see the opinions of beer lovers, brewers and everyone else.

17 comments (click to read or post):

Deuane 10 December, 2009 10:28  

just because they avoided it because of a review they read on-line.

Well...if that is the case they are to close/weak minded then in the first place! I would NEVER let someones opinion sway me from trying a beer that I want to try.

We'll discuss this over a Bud Chelada Clamato or two some time.

No, no we won't...in fact we wouldn't even get through the first one to "enjoy" the second! How about I make some REAL Michelada and then we will enjoy what that drink is supposed to be like! A beer Bloody Mary basically!



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

Yes...in both senses. But, I feel more likely to help than hurt. One case is The Bruery. Patrick's beers are aimed at beer geeks for beer geeks....Black Tuesday has been ALL the rage on BA for over a month...and it one of the top rated beers there...only helping I am sure. As fas as hurting...maybe a little sometimes but our community is WAY smaller than many think it is.

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?

Could...see above comment.

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?

No....brewers shouldnt and I doubt do give a damn what folks "think". They know how and what the beer they are making should/will taste like.

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)?

Rarely if at all.

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?

In the case of the Alstrom Brothers I think they do a good job at being as objective as possible.

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

NO WAY....in fact I feel guilty reviewing a beer that I DONT like. I dont like to be the negative Nancy....but sometime a beer is simply not very good and I say so....but I also say WHY....I think that is VERY important.

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?

Better....no not really. But it would be nice to have an online checklist of everyting I have had. Get to work on that would ya?

Good thought provoking topic MBB!

mybeerbuzz,  10 December, 2009 10:45  

Thanks Deuane. Id so appreciate and respect your opinion. I think this is an interesting topic and one that I think is important to beer lovers abd brewers alike. After speaking with many brewers in our region, I was surprised and I think many others would be surprised too at how the reviews DO affect their bottom line, or at least how they perceive that effect. I do think you mak an interesting point and a point I've heard from Terry also. Are reviewers tougher on a simple Pale Ale versus a Double, triple or imperial more robust beer? Interesting point and one I'm anxious to hear more opinions on.

I would love to discuss this over a beer. I'm a tremendouns bloody-mary fan so I'd love to try a real Michelada.

Thanks again...keep'em coming.

Deuane 10 December, 2009 12:35  

Are reviewers tougher on a simple Pale Ale versus a Double, triple or imperial more robust beer? I


Without question....YES! Why do you think most of the BA top 100 are DIPA this, RIS that, BBA whosit, Quad whatsit! and Bretted thingamajig?

Most "serious" beer drinkers just want BIG AND BOLD!

I, on the other hand, truly do appreciate a well crafted pale (see my review of Sly Fox Phoenix or Southern Star Pine Belt Pale and I am a downright SUCKER for a oaky, malty and flavourful English Dark Mild! I am not a big lager fan in general but there isnt much better than a sharp, crisp Czech Pils or a big, fat, caramel malty dopplebock!

Damn....I think I need a beer!

I have said this time and time again...I care about TASTE and I want FLAVOUR! I really don't give a hoot what the ABV is or what the flavour du jour is.

As someone else stated....too many people review based on their personal taste and NOT on how the beer is SUPPOSE to taste or should taste. I mean if you dont like massive hops (loser) than how can you honestly review a DIPA? Or is smoked beers are not your thing (pansy) then how can you truly appreciate and properly review an Aecht Schlenkerla urbock?

mybeerbuzz,  10 December, 2009 13:21  

Well said Deuane. I'm a huge fan (pardon the pun) of big beers, but lately find myself really enjoying a simple Pale Ale more and more. I know the brewers tell me it is much harder to hide a mistake in a simple beer than in a big flavorful beer and I believe it.

All this talk of beers has me a little thirsty too.

tazio 10 December, 2009 16:42  

Mr. mybeerbuzz: I agree with your last comment--I thoroughly enjoyed a gifted Saranac Pale Ale the other day. Sames goes for the Old Trafford from OFBC which was really good as a change of pace, imho.

mybeerbuzz,  10 December, 2009 17:31  

Thanks Taz...I haven't tried the Old Trafford from OFBC but I'm looking forward to it.

tazio 10 December, 2009 17:50  

I like this as it's sort of like the psychological evaluation you get when you go for a job interview.

As a beer cicerone.

There are no wrong answers, only questions you leave unanswered.

So, I'll take what's behind door three...

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?

No. I think that brewers know (through discovery) what their fans like so they make at least these beers and don't stray too far from the proven recipes. Put another way: to get to the point of being a full-fledged ``craft brewer'', the brewer had to have been doing something right, so by definition, the beers are at least ``good'' and have some fans.

Experimental beers are just that and brewers that try these beers are to be applauded. One that doesn't turn out that great (an indefinite term, no?) is no big deal--it's just an experiment. People that like to try different beers (and this brewers' beers in particular) won't hold this against the brewer.

Becoming a craft brewer in terms of a going enterprise, before having a ``go-to'' beer in the tank would be folly imho. Or love.

This really gets back to the veracity of online beer reviews, doesn't it? I think they're bogus. I know what I like and it's probably not what you like.

mybeerbuzz,  10 December, 2009 18:48  

Thanks Taz. Do you think a brewer that was perhaps beaten up by a reviewer on a previous experimental beer may choose to be not so creative or experimental the next time to avoid the bad review?

Jeff,  10 December, 2009 20:06  

As a BA'er who logs on every night I only go on to see reviews and see what people are currently into and browse the forums. I've never actually reviewed a beer on the site. I keep my own list and notes. That being said I have definitely tried/not tried a beer based on reviews.

If I like the style I will try almost anything I can get my hands on. If I'm not a fan of the style I'm more inclined to look at ratings to find the "best" representation of the style and go from there.

I'm not sure about your third question. Wouldn't the brewer try a beer and if it wasn't good just not put it out? He/she should know if they have a quality product or not and do some testing before release. If they don't I kind of think they deserve to go down. The beer speaks for itself.

Also #4, it seems there is a lot of camaraderie in the brewing industry and it seems unlikely. Are there brewing rivalries in the craft beer world?

#6 I've seen a lot more good reviews for beers than bad, so I would tend to say no.

#7 I think the ratings should be kept. It's a very useful way to sort through the beers and again the beer speaks for itself. If it's a good beer it will be rated higher.

After all that I do have a couple gripes with the BA crowd and overall current way people rate craft beers.

After reading many discussions I believe people compare beers that aren't in the same style. I don't think it's fair to be comparing a Pilsner which is a much more subtle style to a more complex Quad and then give the Quad a higher rating. I think they should be comparing the beers within the style. So they give the higher rating to a Quad perceiving it to be a "better" beer.

Relating to the previous statement I believe people inflate the numbers for more radical and big beers. Just look at the Top 100, I don't believe there are any Pilsners or Helles lagers on there but I'm sure there are top quality Pilsners for the style. It kind of insinuates that there aren't any good Pilsners, or that the style itself is just plain terrible as a beer. I believe it's gotten so bad that it's hard to find a good Pilsner that's true to it's style, they are usually overhopped. This also makes me think that it's possible that these more subtle styles may die out because people just want that big beer.

Jeff,  10 December, 2009 20:26  

Another note, I've also seen several people on BA say they rate drinkability higher if the availability of the beer is low. This also increases the ratings of big beers that are hard to get when it really has absolutely nothing to do with the beer itself.

mybeerbuzz,  10 December, 2009 21:30  

Thanks Jeff. You do make some good points. I would caution that when you say "if it's a good beer it will be rated higher" and the brewer wou "know if they have a quality product." "Good" and "quality" are in the eye of the beholder. Put 100 beer lovers in a room and 100 people may say you have a good/quality beer. Pick another 100 people and 100people may say you deserve to "go down." Personal taste is subjective and again it's like arguing about who makes the best pizza...there is no correct answer. We also need to be careful who we think speaks for all of us. Whether it's intentional or otherwise, I don't think it's in our best interests for a few people who post reviews on-line to represent our taste in beer and speak for the beer community. With that said you do make some good points that I completely agree with. Will the current state of beer reviews cause the "common" Pilsner, Blonde or Pale Ale to be lost in the mix of Quads, Imperials, and Double-barrel-Aged beers. I think it would be tragic if we lost some good session beers based on someone else's Top 100 beers. Good points Jeff...keep them coming.

stingo 10 December, 2009 22:27  

I'm reminded of the quote/saying - "What would the forest sound like if you could only hear the top 10 birds?" It'd sound pretty quiet in most places I think. The forests in these rating websites seem to have mainly DIPAs, IPAs and Stouts for their top 10s and that's about it. Pity, because a LOT of excellent beers are missed - e.g., Yards' offerings.

That said, do I listen to reviews? Yes - that's how I got turned on to Shmaltz Brewing's excellent line of products. But that was only after listening to some episodes of the podcast where they covered beers I'd tasted, and their tastes seemed to coincide with my own.

Have I written reviews? Yes. But not in a long time. Why? Because I couldn't be bothered/am too lazy to do it anymore. Plus it's not nearly as fun as discussing a beer with friends.

Do reviews hurt/help brewers? Yes but not as much as one might think. Here's my reasoning - your steady customers are always going to be locals, and I don't see them relying on beer reviews from a website to decide what beers to have and where to have them - more likely they'll go on word of mouth (like with the paragraph above). One could argue that newbie drinkers might be turned away, but how much sales are we really talking here? Even among beer geeks, how often do we/they buy the same brewery's offerings? My guess is one offs here and there, except for maybe one, possibly two beers. I'm sure that Bullfrog (for example) has its share of people passing through picking up beer, but I'm also guessing most people I saw there at 1pm on a Sunday were locals enjoying the fine jazz trio with their brunch. I just don't think that beer reviews on a website have that much power. Now, a professional critic, like Lew Bryson might be a different story, but even then, I go back to saying that his tastes may be different from mine, so I wouldn't follow his recommendations more than likely.

A bit of a ramble there, but I hope it made sense. Salut!

mybeerbuzz,  11 December, 2009 08:55  

All good points and I could not agree more that talking about beer with friends is WAY better than writing some review on-line.

I'll have to realte (in person) some of the stories I heard from the brewers relative to on-line reviews. I think most people would be surprised at their opinion and how much of an effect they feel these reviews have on their business. Perhaps some of our local brewers will also chime in. In the Facebook discussion of this topic I have heard from a few of the guys and you'd be surprised.

Does anyone think the opposite....that good on-line reviews, perhaps even some falsely padded positive on-line reviews may make a so-so beer more popular?? What if a brewery were to register 100 false accounts on then positively review their own beers pretending to be customers? (Now of course I have no thought that a brewery would do this, but you never know what fan of a brewery would).

Jeff,  15 December, 2009 20:09  

One more thing to comment on here. I've just read several people's reviews on BA and they plainly state that they don't like the style. They then rate the beer low because they don't like the style. This obviously adversely effects the rating. If you don't like the style maybe you just shouldn't rate it. Again it seems they are rating it against styles or beers they DO like. If they state they don't like the style it nullifies their review in my eyes.

mybeerbuzz,  15 December, 2009 20:42  

Not sure how anyone would think reviewing a style you don't like would be helping ANYONE?

Scott-TheBrewClub 24 February, 2010 21:52  

I think these are all interesting topics and worth thinking about. I think that generally people should be allowed to express their opinions good or bad.

I think that the objective beer review sites will get notice, and the ones that simply trash a brewer without merit will eventually lose visitors anyway.

I also think, that for the most part, beer bloggers and beer review sites are the best advertising (FREE) for small breweries. Good or bad, having buzz about a product can lift you out of obscurity!

Heck, I had never even heard of Brew Dog until last year! Why? Well, I suppose that goes without saying without even talking about any beer!

mybeerbuzz 24 February, 2010 22:11  

Thanks Scott. I do think it's an interesting topic. I'll be curious to poll the brewers I spoke to about it again this fall and see if anything has changed. As I said, I'd hate to see a brewery hurt by a highly visible review-site but more importantly I'd hate to see someone miss out one what could be their dream beer because of someone else's review.

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