Wednesday, 24 June 2015

The Case for the Crowd: Embracing Beer Reviews

Fret not, this post IS about beer, but begins with an analogy.

I started with plans to write about several of my favourite interests: baseball (especially the Toronto Blue Jays), politics, GNU/Linux, and beer.  Though I never truly explored many of these other aspects, and so I simply embraced the beer, there is something in common between craft beer and Linux (and the politics of Free and Open Source Software).

You see, Linux thrives through its community.  It is, essentially, coded by, fixed by, updated by, maintained by, and supported by that community.  Though I am a pretty skilled computer user, I am no programmer, and on occasion I seek help (and sometimes offer it) on various Linux forums.  The ready availability of assistance advises me on software packages, security solutions, problem solutions, tips, tricks, and more.  I love Linux, but I could never have been 7+ years free of Windoze (and wishing we had divorced sooner) if it hadn't been for searchable assistance through the online community.

The community, though, works because users re-contribute perpetually back to the loop for the benefit of all.  We rely on that contribution and, in turn, we should contribute back when and where we can.

Though Apple and Microsoft have their own communities, they don't function the same way: the source material is closed, and frankly, users don't care.  This is the product that is desired; users take what's fed to them and embrace it without the knowledge that things can be different (whether or not they should be different for them, like whether standard 'beer' drinkers should switch to craft, is another issue than that of the model itself).

Likewise, macro brews attempt to construct a community (through poor advertising) but it lacks the sharing, trading, tasting, rating structure of the craft community (not to mention flavour).

Yet, beer geeks have a pretty solid community.  We out bad traders publicly, thereby ensuring a safe space, and often attempt to make up for the trading shortfalls of others.  Craft brewers often collaborate rather than compete, and some even "Open-source" their recipes offering them up on their websites or for those who ask (and can we have even more of this, please?).  We have a share mentality around products for tastings, and in such a manner I have made friends with many of those I am closest to in my new hometown.

We also check ratebeer and beeradvocate often.  When we find a new product or a new brewery, when we vacation and wish to find craft beer hotspots, we jump on their assessments.  The initial numbers are just a start and the comments further our understanding of the notes to expect - in hopes that such-and-such beer will present the characteristics we desire.

Yet too many of us rely on these community-driven sites, and at times lament some user ratings therein, but free-ride on the system.  Sure, we "tap" things on Untappd, but I have heard more complaints of Untappd ratings than of the bigger sites. Yet, despite this, NONE of my top craft brew-loving friends review in the very places where they seek reviews.  Perhaps, however, this is because Untappd's 140 characters are truly insufficient to capture the experience of craft beer moments.

Myself, though I do tap my brews and will probably continue to for the social aspect, I care little for the ratings or comments.  Untappd gives room to note but one thing well: usually the single most or least appreciated aspect, not the pros and cons in totality.  And, if you're at all like me, you've probably never sought out a beer rating on Untappd when you discovered a new product: we all go to the big guns.

Thus, my provocation.  The system works when we contribute.  Our rating complexity and lexicon improve as we do so.  Assessing beers in their entirety not only expands our assessment capacities, but enhances our enjoyment of beer (and assures we don't return to re-try a mess we had a few thousand beers back and had long forgotten).  If you aren't a member already, join BA or RB (or any other full review site you may like if you think we need to disrupt the status quo), and take beer reviews seriously.

Though each site has individual strengths and weaknesses, BA (for instance) allows users to rate (and comment-review) on Look, Smell, Taste, Feel, and Overall criteria, while weighting the components of each for an overall numerical adjustment based on the percentages allotted to each of these aspects by the widely recognized Beer Judge Certification Program.

I don't care if Untappd users give a beer a 4.23 on average - and I don't truly care if BAers give an aroma rating that is higher or lower, what I value is, rather, how thoughtful reviews give an indication of more individualized components while offering a more nuanced assessment.

If you're like me, and you rely on the system, when will you start giving back to it?

1 comment:

  1. Kudos, I joined RB and in Japan it's a pretty great community. More people need to step up though in Asia to fully cover the scene and up the profile of local craft beers...