On the Opinion Expresser

Taking Notes

OR Everybody’s a Critic Syndrome

“Beware when the great God lets loose a thinker on this planet.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Or a lotta thinkers. Everybody’s a critic, or so the saying goes.

Stan at Appellation Beer brought up the question of the Beer Critic’s role (A [beer] critic’s job? Demolishing the bad?), and a great flow of excellent comments followed. I’d encourage you to give them a good read-through.

This discussion brings a renewal of my own ponderings on the topic: Honesty is the best policy. It all boils down to this.

Now, I should say that it was my intent from the day I set up brewvana to shy away from the negative attitude. Really, that’s just how I am, but I believe it’s good to have some positive beer places out there . I strive to make brewvana that. However, sometimes I drink a lame beer. Sometimes I have lousy service in a beery place. Sometimes I don’t understand a brewery’s choice.

What’s a guy or girl to do? Or how to do it? And is it a self-proclaimed Beer Blogger’s place? Since opinions are like belly buttons, and everyone has one, the criticisms are bound to emerge, and not solely from paid beer writers. We’ve got the bloggers, beer review sites and forums galore as outlets for our bright ideas.

This beer sucks!

Back when I used to teach English, I told my students that it was out of line to say this poem (or story or novel) sucks. Tell me how it sucks, why it sucks and how it could keep from sucking, and I will consider your opinion with greater weight. All too often, I see or hear beer lovers’ opinions expressed in the “it sucks” way. I think credible Opinion Expressers should work on this one.

Jumping to conclusions

I once wrote a post (in conjunction with Matt at Flossmoor) called Over-analysis Syndrome. It wound up causing a stir over at Rate Beer. The thread really saddened me, because both Matt and I were trying to be encouraging and positive and smart-aleckily introspective. There were many scathing comments from people who completely missed the point, some from people who had clearly not read our posts, or even the entire thread. I think the credible Opinion Expressers should work on this one.

There’s subjectivity involved

I, personally, don’t enjoy American hops as much as others do. Consequently, I don’t include a proportionately large amount of IPA in my diet. But I do appreciate the qualities of a good one. I say so from time to time. Sometimes I hear or read folks that are clouded by their own biases or preferences. I think credible Opinion Expressers should work on this one.

Nobody’s fault but mine?

Before one cracks on a beer, it sometimes makes sense to take other factors into consideration. If the “bad” beer was a sour draught, it’s not necessarily the brewer’s fault. The pub or distributor needs to clean the lines. That bottle was bad? The store could be to blame, as their treatment of the beer factors in. How far did the beer travel in its distribution? Was the truck refrigerated? That PU was skunked? Well, we could blame the store for exposing it to light, or we could ask why the brewery uses those ridiculous green bottles. I think credible Opinion Expressers should work on this one.

A grain of salt is sometimes good

It has been with uber-discipline that I manage this post without 15,000 (give or take) specific references to the good comments left on Stan’s post. However, I must pass along this little tidbit from Lew Bryson:

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read negative reviews of beers, brewpubs, and beer bars that showed more about the reviewer’s prejudices and ignorance than they did about the reviewee’s. Of course, the same goes for positive reviews.”

You could take that statement with a grain of salt if you wish, but in my opinion, you’d be foolish. Abe Lincoln once noted: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Some Opinion Expressers are very revealing in all the wrong ways. They might be new, they might be young, they might have issues.

Digesting it

The Opinion Taker-Inner really needs to consider the source. It doesn’t take long to sort out the personality, preferences and level of expertise of a columnist, a blogger, a forum poster, a waitress or the dude sitting next to you at the bar. The better Opinion Expressers back up their arguments, emanate a deeper understanding of the subject at hand and manage to critique while not appearing critical. At least the ones I lean on in my quest.

Honest and obnoxious are two different things. Negative reviews aren’t bad. If executed well, they can result in improvement, and that’s not always a “bad” place shutting down, or a brewer finding a new vocation (or hobby). Where my own homebrews are concerned, criticism has revealed elements of brewing for me to address. My beers continue to improve. The same can happen for a commercial brewery, for a beer bar and for the introspective Opinion Expresser. Or not.

Much like poorer beers will weed themselves out, so to will the poorer Opinion Expressers. Whether they know it or not.


A few related (or semi-related) posts:

Beer Geek, Not Beer Jerk


Stan Poses a Question on Criticism and Gets Critical Attention


One Response to On the Opinion Expresser

  1. Bailey says:

    I’ve always appreciated music reviews which say things like: “If you like X, Y and Z, you’ll probably like this.”

    It’s funny sometimes to read a gushing review of a beer I hate by someone I respect. My usual response is to think: “Well, maybe I need to try it again, with an open mind.”

    And I must say, I don’t mind people saying “I just didn’t like this beer,” without saying why, as long as they don’t follow up with: “and anyone who does like it is an idiot.”

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