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Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Woe is the Reviewer

Pete Brown has a nice post about the difficulty in reviewing beers:
[D]escribing the flavour of a beer ... requires two separate skills: identifying flavours on your palate, and translating those flavours into text that conveys a sensory experience reasonably accurately in a way that will be meaningful to your reader.
Man, ain't that the truth. Although the range of beer flavors is pretty broad, the range for any specific element is not. Pale malts, for example, don't give you kumquat notes--you're limited to bread, cracker, biscuit and the like. And that's if you're even perceiving the cracker in the first place:
We're all born with a certain number of flavour receptors in our mouths, and that number varies widely from person to person. And like most people who prefer a hop bomb or Imperial stout over a perfectly balanced session beer, the simple truth is I'm a poor taster - I have fewer taste buds than average. That's why I also prefer hot curries and strong cheeses. At the other end of the scale, 'super tasters' have loads of taste buds, and can find the hop bomb I love almost physically painful.
I'd add that the nose is critical. I'm not a supertaster, but perhaps owing to being blind as a bat, I've got a pretty good sniffer. If you can suss out the aromas in beer, you're a long way to the flavors.

Fortunately, the beer review generator is a great time-saver. You do realize that's how I write my reviews, right?


  1. I'm glad to hear that not everyone in the world can taste all the flavors I read about. I do like malty tastes, and I've trained my palate to recognize some hop varieties, but I can't come close to finding all the flavors I read about.

  2. Thanks for highlighting this post.

    Fascinating comments.

    The topic of taste and human evolution is particularly interesting to me.

    You might envy the elucidative / educative level of the comments.

  3. i told a friend at work about what you do (ie "he reviews beer") and he said, "as long as he doesn't write like a sissy wine reviewer: 'flowery hints and vanilla notes'".

    i didn't have a response for that.

  4. God bless the Beer Review Generator.

  5. it takes a while to learn your own palate. I'm not terribly sensitive to diacetyl, but I know people who can smell it from across a room.

    there's also a lot of self-conditioning that goes on. I never realized how hoppy IPAs really were until I spent a few weeks in Germany drinking nothing but malty lagers and weissbiers.