Monday, January 12, 2015

Curmudgeon's Corner: Beer Experts vs. Beer "Experts"

The following is a guest column from the Craft Beer Curmudgeon, a crusty old dude who has forgotten more about beer than you can ever hope to know. Read his archive of wisdom on MittenBrew.

The Craft Beer Curmudgeon
In Randall Munro's excellent comic "xkcd" one panel shows a lone figure feverishly typing away at a computer. From out of frame, a voice asks if he's coming to bed. "I can't... someone is wrong on the Internet."

Well, of course. Every basement-dwelling misfit with an internet connection and time to waste can position him or herself as an expert in anything from politics to beer. One guess as to which most annoys your faithful correspondent.

Here's my beef: If you prefer cheap mass market cider and heavily flavored gimmick beers chock full of hazelnut or tangerine or raccoon or whatever, that's fine. Your taste is yours alone and not up for a vote. However, your opinion on a particular pale ale is then suspect at best; you've tipped your hand to show that you prefer your beer flavors to be disguised with things even Faygo might reject.

What I am asking, then, is that you spare us your “expert” opinion, dorko. When websites like "," "," or "" compile lists like The 10 Best Beers in the World, you lot emerge from your poorly lit subterranean lairs, gabbling about your favorite XTREEM releases, and voila! another list of 10 gimmicky, heavily flavored imperial stouts presented as the best the world of beer has to offer.

Which is fine, as most true beer lovers, and experts, know not to place stock in the fevered web-scrawls of the trogs. Most. Unfortunately, some pros actually heed, and tout, their status in some of these lists and forums, which only encourages them. Worse yet, brewers may “play to” this crowd, with us, the non-basement-dwelling (and much larger) sector of beer drinkers, suffering the consequences. SOCUTITOUT!

So what if you are interested and enthusiastic but lack training and experience? Trying lots of beers definitely counts as experience, but that by itself will never make anyone an expert. How then to advance one's skills? One thing is for sure: You'll need more than the Internet. Online resources can be useful, but separating the wheat from the chaff paradoxically requires some knowledge of the subject.

Come out of the basement. Attend guided tastings, beer dinners, festivals, and the like. Taste beer with experienced judges, brewers, and other professionals and semi-pros when you can. Courses are becoming increasingly available in beer evaluation and appreciation. These can help you put a name to “that Band-Aidy taste,” “that sort of spicy smell,” etc. that you encounter from time to time but don't know what they mean. Time spent with real, live human experts is crucial and invaluable, and fortunately for you, we really like to talk about our favorite subject. Really, just try to get us to stop...

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