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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Damn You, Bill

A few weeks ago, Bill at It's Pub Night posted a wicked little piece about how (pick one: bad, phony, useless, pretentious, silly) most beer reviews are. By way of skewering bad beer descriptions, he made a little review generator that produces a pointless, cliched language better designed for concealing the writer's ignorance about beer than communicating anything about a sample--with a touch of The Onion for humor. ("Pours a translucent strawberry blonde with a soft, pillowy head. Heavy lacing. Brilliant tart scent, with just a hint of sour milk and hops.... I also get some papaya and split pea soup.")

It has haunted me ever since. Of course, much of that language might have been lifted verbatim from my own descriptions. When I was writing up my notes from our grand weekend of imports, I felt my brain cramp up as I searched for adjectives. I waffled between the uselessly ultra-spare ("pale, white head, alcoholic, excellent") to the uselessly florid (but I didn't go so far as "split pea soup"). In the end, I felt like I should just offer hand signals, as if steering in a 747; ones that directed you toward or away from favored or despised beers.

I now confront the specter of a Three Creeks review, knowing that I'm going to have to do better than what I managed to scribble at the time. ("Wheaty," really? Hey past self, thow me a bone here.) I want to take the blue pill and go back to when I thought I was doing a decent job with these damn descriptions.


  1. It gets hard once you've been taking notes on a lot of brews. I am just at 900 beers on Ratebeer and I struggle to not sound redundant all the time -- even though I intend for my account to be a personal log rather than hoping my reviews reach those interested in reading them.

    Once you have had hundreds of IPAs, what makes one hop assaulting beer stand out from another, that's where I struggle sometimes; to try and make my notes for each beer sound unique from one another. Rather than having, "poured amberish-orange with a white head -- floral aroma -- fizzy, well carbonated palate -- hoppy flavors with earthy, sweet malts for balance."

    You could have that description for probably most of the IPAs you can buy at a Fred Meyer

  2. I think you are essentially correct: focus on the language that best communicates to a would-be sampler of the beer the basics about its taste, small color and quality. If 'straw colored' is as descriptive as the 'color of unwatered grass from the high plains in the gloaming' go with 'straw colored.' But otherwise, don't be too self-conscious, it'll just make it worse.

    One caveat to this however, apropos to Matthew Ds comment, is that one likes to know what makes it distinct and this often pushes the vocabulary in ways that are fun and informative. What is the essence of the difference bewteen Roots IPA and Ninkasi's for example?

  3. Uh...that was supposed to be 'smell'

  4. I will buck up under the strain. Still, I curse Bill and his clever little post.

  5. Jeff, I'm honored to be cursed by you. Actually, I'm enjoying all the reactions, it's all in fun.

    Don't be too haunted by the adjectives the BRG uses. They turn up in beer reviews a lot because they're useful to describe certain flavors/aromas/colors. What I really meant to lampoon -- lovingly -- was the cadence of online beer reviews. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a Beervana review that falls into that cadence.

  6. This recycled jargon for descriptors is a big part of why I gave up on ratebeer. That and the spell of it crashing every few days some months back. How many times can you use these: citrusy, piny, grapefruit, soft head, pillowy, amber, copper, tawny, etc... As much as I dislike Coors, what about these three: Cold, down, easy.

  7. Off the top of my head, I can't think of a Beervana review that falls into that cadence.Hmm, that makes one of us! Let's hope it spurs me out of complacency.