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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Immature Markets and Rating Sites

My RateBeer post yesterday produced some great comments, including a link by an anonymous poster to this thread over at BeerAdvocate. In it, a member posted an email exchange he had with Cigar City Brewing in which a slightly snippy customer's email devolved into this final response by the owner:
I think you'll be happier buying your beer from Redhook or someone similar. Their customer service tastes so awesome! I am choosing to take the business path that is much less traveled and sincerely say, Dennis I do not want your business. And I encourage you not to do business with me.
In the day comments were open, the thread got 184 comments. To the question who was the bigger jerk, responses were running just about even. And here is the problem. When a public discussion breaks out about whether or not you are a jerk, as a business owner, you've already lost the battle.

To me, the whole thing is further evidence of an immature market (the point I was making when I highlighted Cigar City's stout, identified by RateBeer as America's best beer). It's the kind of thing a brewery might have done in Portland in about 1990. Now breweries are practiced at handling criticism and actively engage on the blogs, Twitter, and Facebook. I can't imagine that kind of incident happening here.

A second theme in those comments was the value of ratings sites. One view:
Beer and pub ratings are silly, are they not?
I don't think they are silly at all. ... They also open people's eyes to a world of beer they might not know of. In your case get people to hunt down fresh cask beer.
My opinion? RateBeer's a little silly, but BeerAdvocate is a great resource. In terms of the ratings, I find BA quite useful. Many a time I have stood in front of the coolers at Belmont Station and looked at a beer on BA. Particularly when I'm looking at a new brewery, I find the ratings useful in identifying which beer to buy. When I was at EastBurn recently, I looked up a beer on their taplist. BA is also a great resource for news and general brewery information. I go there regularly.

Ultimately, a ratings site is only as good as its raters. The folks writing about Northwest beer on the site are quite reliable. You can click on names and see how they've rated beers you like and see where their biases are. I haven't given a shout-out to BeerAdvocate before, but I should. Good work, gents!



  1. Sigh, really Jeff? Some day we'll have to sit down over beers so I can tell you all the great stories of smug remarks I've heard from local brewers.

    2ndly, I'm surprised you call one "silly" and one "a great resource", they are very similar as I've visited both sites for years. Can't you get that same score from RB while standing in front of the cooler? BA has a larger local group of contributors in the PNW, but RB's database is far better. Quality of ratings on both sites are hit and miss.

  2. I used Beer Advocate to help identify the styles of beer at Bailey's Cellar Fest that I was not familiar with. I certainly did not take the ratings into account when deciding which to try, since I could care less about whether someone else likes a beer that I like.

  3. I had posed the "silly" comment as a question for a reason, hoping to see if it was attractive bait. The whole concept of beer reviews is a topic I've wanted to blog about for a long time, but don't feel I have accumulated enough wisdom to tackle it. In short, though, I think that the previous comment about using review sites for identifying beers and breweries underlines the non-silly aspect about review sites. The rest is subjective. Dare I suggest that perhaps the favorability and/or frequency of review postings might be directly correlated to the size and financial success of a brewery and its proximity to a large city. A skewed review, in other words. Why does one seldom hear about Wakonda, Block15, Caldera and Klamath Basin, for instance?

  4. Re: I can't imagine that kind of incident happening here.

    Well, here's an account of a depressing interaction between a Portland beer snob and the brewer at Fearless.

    But I do agree with you (and disagree with Derek) about Beer Advocate having better reviews than Rate Beer.

  5. Ted, I actually appreciated your "silly" comment, because I sometimes feel that way, too. A ratings site has to be careful not to veer off into sillyland.

    Bill, fair enough. I would probably amend the comment by saying "major" brewery.

  6. Oh, and Ted, the average ratings for the breweries you identified on BeerAdvocate:

    Block 15: B+
    Caldera: B+
    Klamath Basin: B+
    Wakonda: B

    Pretty good!