Young and Hungry

When Should a Beer Critic Trash a Brew?

Yesterday Tim Carman, Mr. Y&H himself, asked you an intriguing question: "When Should a Critic Just Trash a Place?" And you responded.

But can we ask the same question about good beer? Craft beer makes up just 4% of U.S. sales, while the other 96% is dominated by a few giant corporations turning out products that are so inferior they're insulting to beer drinkers. Reviewing, say, Stella Artois (AB InBev), would be akin to Tim reviewing Burger King Chicken Fries — good for a laugh, but not exactly a public service.

My thinking has been that I have finite space in the paper each week to review beer, so I might as well use it to highlight something good. But what do you think? If I taste a bad craft beer, should I pan it? When you read Beerspotter in the paper or me and the Lager Heads on Y&H, what are you looking for?

  • Alan

    As a critic, you should to provide an honest assessment/context. In other words, if a beer sucks, trash it.

  • David

    A review is just an opinion. If you can clearly articulate your opinion in writing (very hard to do) you get to be in print.

    Having said that the consumer needs to gauge a review in comparison to their tastes good and bad. Just because you think something is not good, does not mean that I won't love it for the reason you hate it. By knowing how we match up I can make decisions.

    For example I hate most Samuel Adams Lagers. I think they have too much sulfur. I may have a sensitivity to sulfur. If you like sulfur my negative review will tell you that you will like the beer. You may hate the horse blanket from a sour Belgian and review a beer poorly because of that, while I love some horse blanket.

    Plus every beer has it's place. Corona on a beach in the tropics is great. Corona after a day of skiing is horrible.

  • Tim

    I think the decision of whether or not to "trash" a brew or spend your finite space in the paper reviewing what you think is a bad craft beer depends entirely on the overall feeling of the article that you're shooting for: positive or negative. Personally, I don't think that reading an article that is solely about how bad a beer is really helps me out very much. I read reviews of craft brews in order to steer me toward something rather than just away from something.

  • Melody

    I would like to see a bad review once in a while. While there are times that I go out looking for a beer that you have recommended (OK, most times), there are other times that I run to the store and I am faced with a selection of beers that I have heard nothing about, and I am forced to be adventurous. That's fine, but if there is something I should definitely avoid, I'd like to know before I waste my money on a six-pack that will sit in the fridge until my underage siblings take it off my hands.

    In short - I like recommendations for the good stuff, but if there is something truly awful out there, please, help a sister out.

  • Tre

    On a blog geared toward hopheads and maltmen, you have a duty to your audience to review craft beer against peers--no grade inflation.

    When your audience is the public, your duty is to champion good beer as a category.

  • reilly

    I co-sign Tre's sentiment literally word for word.

  • alex

    I completely agree with Tre.

    I think a good rule to help guide when to trash in a blog that is likely read by people new to beer and people into beer alike is that to reserve trash talking for comparison pieces, where you're doing a head to head between a few beers.

  • Kathy

    I can understand the desire to be a booster for craft beer in a sea of bad beer. To that end I don't think it's necessarily wrong to favor posting reviews of things you've liked. I think where a critic would go wrong with this sort of approach is if he posted a good review of something he really didn't care for all that much. It's an interesting question, though.

  • RickG

    As a great beer lover I am much more interested in cross section of great beers with a focus on locally produced beers. As a Master beer judge I recognize that reviews of great beer start sounding alike and that the language used to describe dislike is much richer. Describing your experience using words that your readers can understand is the key. If they can sit down with a beer and recognize the characters that you describe than you've done a real service. The good/bad is a reaction to that experience. Sulfur David above is likely a German and Czech Pils hater, but a Helles lover... because of the sulfur. I experience reasonable levels of sulfur as something that forecasts an authentically dry Pils and accentuates the malt. The preference is your conclusion as a reviewer, the experience descriptors are the premises to your argument where you answer the "so what?" question. I'm more interested in your experience.

    Cheers, Rick

  • randy

    Use your space to talk about good beer: what makes it good and what's not so good about it. Freely compare good beer to bad by saying why ("craft ale X has less diacetyl than the terribly buttery Rolling Rock but much more than the balanced buttery flavors in Samuel Smiths") and not just say it "tastes like crap." If it were that bad nobody would find something to like about it and they could not afford to keep it on the market.

  • Scott-TheBrewClub

    I think that you should give each beer a fair shake. Your idea of good beer is likely different than other people's, and that's to be expected.

    Its also to be expected that once in awhile, craft beer or not, you will come across a beer that is just bad. Craft brewers aren't immune to making some duds now and then either! Call it like you see it, but with grace and class.

  • Kelly in the Big Blind

    Someone quoted Tim's last line in their comments and I think they hit it right "your motivation must have a higher purpose". Why are you writing the review? That should guide.

    Also I think it's important to give thing more than one shot, unless it's completely undrinkable. Context and innumerable other factors can change a tasting experience, as I'm sure you know.

    Fair and balanced.


  • Tammy Tuck and Bruce Falconer

    Agreeing here as well, and Kelly's comment rings most true. Giving a beer more than one shot over time is important and fair, since reviewing is often subjective and a matter of personal taste rather than gospel. My palette has certainly meandered here and there over the relatively short time I've been drinking beer. I have a lot of years of beer drinking to come and fully expect to love beers that I can't stand now, and vice versa.

    Reviews should be useful to others, so describing a beer, providing a caveat of why you think something is good or bad, is the best service you can do. Any trashing or raving should be fully explained so it's clear to readers why the reviewer thinks something is so good or bad. Then the reader can decide if they would agree.

  • Jawo

    I agree with many of the above commenters. Describe the beer as best as you can, as I read reviews to find new beers to try. While a negative review may be nice to vent, its not relaying useful information to the readers. If a beer tastes like water, chocolate, or grapefruit say it.