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New Beer Rule #3: 2 pints are better than one

NEW BEER RULE #3: You must drink at least two servings of a beer before you pass judgment on it.

Good tasting, huh?I starting writing the rule before this wandering conversation at Seen Through a Glass, but it makes a great point. In the middle there is a discussion about how, or if, drinkers come to appreciate a range of beer flavors.

My answer: Pay attention.

At first I was going to propose only a single serving (that size may vary according to style). However, George Reisch of Anheuser-Busch suggests a “three pint rule” when he speaks at beer dinners. Several years ago Brooklyn Brewery’s Garrett Oliver put forward a “Four-Pint Principle” to other brewers.

Oliver explained he means “that I want the customer to WANT to have four pints of this beer.” Circumstances may dictate otherwise but he or she should want to continue drinking that beer. Oliver was speaking to brewers, telling them they needed to get out and drink their beer where other people drink.

“Just before the end of every pint, every customer makes a decision – ‘Will I have another one of these?'”

A commercial brewer got me thinking about the rule when he wrote this in an e-mail:

“My favorite rating of all time goes something like this. I went to X festival where I proceeded to drink 4 ounce samples of everything they had 55 beers in all over a 4-6 hour period. Right about the time I was set to go home, some guy broke out this beer that I (really wanted). I was so late to the bottle opening that I got only an ounce of dregs from the 4-year-old bottle of bottle conditioned and unfiltered beer. God, it was the best one-ounce tasting in my life. I can still remember seeing the light at the end of the tunnel after swallowing it…. Or it could have been that I drank so much before and I was seeing Jesus himself? Either way, I give it 19 out of 20 and it would have been a perfect score but I had trouble with its ‘clarity.'”

You can understand why he OK’d using this, but without his name. He likes the beer rating sites and appreciates they’ve been good for his business. But he knows that customers buy growlers where he works, go home to hand bottle the beer, then ship it all over the country. He knows enthusiasts will split beer into tiny portions to share with friends.

That’s not the way he intended his beer to be enjoyed. (OK, when a consumer buys the beer it becomes her property, but we’re getting the beer we do today because brewers put some of themselves into the product.)

Yes, I know that judges at the Great American Beer Festival or World Beer Cup only sample a few ounces in deciding which are the “best” beers.

No, this isn’t a screed against beer community sites – I’ve written before about how vital they are to the beer revolution. And I’d still tell you assigning a score to a beer for anything other than personal use is silly even if you guaranteed you’d drink 10 servings first.

This is a rule for your personal use.

Reserving judgment isn’t going to make a great beer taste mediocre, nor a boring one suddenly take on nuance. Reserving judgment means paying attention throughout – whether it is a beer high in alcohol, low in alcohol, high in hops, low in hops, malt forward, malt backward, yeast dominated, yeast sublimated. What’s the rest of the story?

You might be surprised what you learn. Besides you got nothin’ to lose. I’m giving you a reason to have another beer.

NEW BEER RULE #2: A beer consumer should not be allowed to drink a beer with IBU higher than her or his IQ.

NEW BEER RULE #1: When you open a beer for a vertical tasting and there is rust under the cap it’s time to seriously lower your expectations for what’s inside the bottle.

17 Responses to New Beer Rule #3: 2 pints are better than one

  1. Loren April 27, 2007 at 4:24 am #

    You realize this rule, if followed, will completely destroy the #’s at both RB and BA, right? Not to mention the serious consequences inflicted upon Nick @ 3 Floyd’s for this weekends upcoming Dark Lord release suarez.

    Good stuff Stan…but realize there are those who “tick” because they enjoy it, they’re not in it to provide “feedback” for brewer’s usage. Some are, most aren’t. And there’s no real harm in that. And I think most brewers know this…and take “ratings” with a grain of salt. Or not…


  2. Lew Bryson April 27, 2007 at 4:34 am #

    Best rule yet. I give it 4.5 out 5, because I had problems with its clarity.

  3. Steve Beaumont April 27, 2007 at 5:47 am #

    First off, Stan, your rules rock!

    The only quibble I have with number three is that I think the beer should be enjoyed (or endured) at least twice under two different sets of circumstances. Which is to say, ‘natch, on two different occasions.

    Context in food and drink is key. Period. Something that tastes great in situ may not be quite as wonderful when enjoyed later on at home, which is why people who search for Tropical Beer X they loved on their equatorial vacation are so often disappointed when they have it again in February in their living room. The same can be true to a lesser degree with a beer tasted one day under ideal circumstances — clear mind, clear palate, good attitude — and another day under less neutral conditions, such as after a long day at work with a parched throat. Monster Beer Y, which was so impressive in the former instance, may well be dwarfed in pleasure by Crisp Pilsner Z in the latter.

    As you know from being a fellow panelist for AABM, that’s why we’re sent three bottles of each beer in most instances. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve submitted my reviews before all three bottles had been consumed, and never have I done so before popping the caps on at least two.

  4. Stan Hieronymus April 27, 2007 at 5:51 am #

    Loren, I’m fine with people keeping scores for their own use (personally, I know I’d be inconsistent, particularly scoring blind).

    I have no suggestion on how to do that in an online setting.

    If the sites didn’t aggregate then somebody would invite an online tool that made it easy for people to do it at home.

    It is an imperfect world.

    Brewers may take the scores with a grain of salt, but they are worried about the effect in the marketplace. These scores are being posted as shelf talkers.

  5. Loren April 27, 2007 at 7:07 am #

    “Brewers may take the scores with a grain of salt, but they are worried about the effect in the marketplace. These scores are being posted as shelf talkers.”

    Not for brewpub offerings. And I think any store owner worth their salt will do some of their own “reviewing” of products before willy-nilly slapping scores all over their shelves. For the unknowing consumer a score may help in selection…but does it for you and me? I’m more interested in the words behind the score. Which I don’t do anymore when taking notes. I let the brewer read into my notes and decide for themselves what to make of it.

  6. Alan April 27, 2007 at 8:01 am #

    I have an issue or two with this. If you put a 12% beer in a 22 oz bomber or even brew a beer of that strength at all you are not telling me to have a portion or even four pints of it. You are telling me this a unit of consumption for more than one person just as a 750 ml bottle of wine is a portion for more than one person. Beer has to stand up on the first pint only if not the first sip or, for a strong beer, perhaps the first nip as in a 7.5 oz or so bottle. Last week I sent one back after my first drink – which was all I needed to know a beer I had not had before was one I would never try again.

    I also reserve the right to wash out my mouth, eat crackers and move on to something else rapidly when the beer is poor. Oliver is right – I should want four pints but I have no obligations to bad brewers – especially as there is no mechanism for me to get my money back. Life is too short to read past page 23 of a bad book and too short to have a second pint of a bad beer.

    That all being said, I do not “score” beers (being only something of a mobile one-man Quinte Hotel) and am loath to publish any review of a bad beer as I would rather ignore them Yet a very few are so amazingly badly thought out or even infected that a public service announcement is warranted.

  7. Stan Hieronymus April 27, 2007 at 8:28 am #

    Alan, my post was godawful long to begin with – hurting its clarity – so I didn’t include the caveat we start by discarding flawed beers. You should do that.

    To your book analogy. Would you read the first chapter of a book, quit there and declare it one of the best books you ever read?

    That’s what people rating beer based on two ounces are doing.

    And I don’t think it is fair to require a beer to open with a triumphant blast. I had a 7.5% abv imperial stout a while back that was great. It’s going to struggle in blind tastings because it’s not as intense at the start as something like Siberian Night. But without alcohol to mask the underlying flavors those flavors were allowed to emerge. Fortunately they didn’t suck.

  8. Alan April 27, 2007 at 9:16 am #

    Good point. In my writing – which is we all agree as poetic (yet rambling) as any out there – it is about my own long term relationship with beer. There are continued referrals back to the best of what I have experienced to build up a single body of the report on my experience. As a result, I am not likely going to have two oz and declare that the New Jerusalem has now been founded upon earth (…I have never even been to the Jerusalem Tavern let alone any new ones.) I don’t really do blind testings and I do not purport to rate, score or rank. I only compare against my personal high water marks to date.

    So just as I might warn (as any good minor generally and rightly disregarded prophe might do from time to time) about the issues of gurusim and snobism as impediments to gleaning the wisdom of others about beer, then maybe I take your point to mean that the massed and massing of ratings of other are equally perilous as they are or become statistical in nature, prone to oath bolstering and can be based on a pretty fleeting relationship in the drive to increase the number of beers one can claim to have sipped. Excellent – I am collecting hobby-horses.

  9. KevBrews April 27, 2007 at 9:17 am #

    I couldn’t agree more with your approach, although I think the point Stephen made is particularly important–not only should you try more than one serving of a beer–you need to try it on a couple of different occasions.

    However, a lot of us get single servings of a rare beer in a trade–does that mean we shouldn’t rate them? Probably not, but it does put us under some sort of obligation to note that, doesn’t it?

  10. Steve Beaumont April 27, 2007 at 9:38 am #

    Ah, KevBrews hits on an interesting point, which is to say, or ask, what are the ratings/tasting notes meant to accomplish? Should he not rate a beer based on a single serving? Hell, who am I to say yea or nay? If he’s putting together notes for his own personal satisfaction, and meaning only to share them with his peers through a ratings website, then by all means, make them on the basis of 1/4 ounce for all I care.

    But, if such notes are meant to carry evaluatory weight, as the proprietors of certain beer ratings sites appear to be suggesting, then the review crafted as above is unfair to one and all, from the rater to the reader to the brewer and retailer. He and everybody else can note that “this review is based on one taste of half a 12 ounce bottle, shared with TopRaterGuy,” but when his score is merged in with other evaluations, that caveat ceases to have any relevance.

    In other words, perhaps the issue here is less the method than the intent.

    (That sound you hear is a family-sized can of beans being wrenched open.)

  11. Alan April 27, 2007 at 10:03 am #

    Well (and perhaps to mirror what Hugh Grant did with a similar amount of beans this week) the effect is compounded the more often a beer is rated. I may take a look or two at the actual sensory notes of a reviewer now and then but if there are 300 reviews, I am hardly going to read the 175 of them that rate the beer between 4.357 and 4.124. Maybe they need a more detailed statistical analysis so that I can learn that 87 reviews wrote orangy and another 93 said tangerine…but what does even that get me?

  12. KevBrews April 27, 2007 at 12:48 pm #

    Doesn’t this go back to an issue Stan wrote about a couple of weeks ago–finding reviewers that you trust?

    When I check the BA ratings for a beer, I never read all of the ratings. Usually, I sort by the highest ratings and read the first 3-5; then by the lowest ratings (again, reading the first 3-5). Then I check what the top reviewers have to say (usually the same folks time and time again). There is usually a common thread at the high end and a similar thread at the low end, so I can get an average sense of what folks like or dislike about a given beer.

  13. Stan Hieronymus April 27, 2007 at 1:27 pm #

    Kev – I think you are getting to one of the strengths of the beer communities.

    Whether its BA or Rate Beer (or even Real Beer, where you don’t get numbers) there are people you get to know. The ratings become a form of conversation.

    It is not as good as being able to drink and chat about beer with friends, but it beats waiting weeks or months for a brewspaper or magazine to provide some sort of panel presentation.

    I guess I should confess (the right word?) that I drink beer in smaller amounts than a serving. I get together with friends and we all bring beers that are usually new to us. Often ones you can’t get in New Mexico.

    We talk about the beers, related beers, ingredients, all the basic geek topics. We also accidentally talk about non-beer things on occasion.

    If I have a beer I particularly like I would not try to describe it based on that experience, but it could end up being one of the sets of circumstances Mr. B. alludes to.

    I’d be seeking out that beer, quite likely while traveling, and trying it again. Not with the idea of writing about it, but because I want to drink it. That’s how it went with Chouffe Houblon Dobbelen IPA Tripel. I have no urge to put a number to the beer, but I do know I’ll buy it (and as many bottles as I can haul home) when I see it.

  14. Matthew April 27, 2007 at 1:42 pm #

    Since I’m also big into wine, I’ll try to draw a comparison with the wine world: the maligned phenomenon of the “Parker wine” or the “tasting wine”…those bottles that are solely designed around the idea of standing out in a peer-group tasting. Which means that, if you are producing a Napa cabernet, it is going to have to be one butt-whupping, illogically extracted, oaky-enough-to-deliver-legitimate-tongue-splinters bad boy of a 15% wine. And that’s all well and good in a tasting. But they are not the bottles you reach for when you are having a dinner party, because they are meant to stand on their own. Or stand out on their own, not to share the table with your best effort at tomato sauce-braised pork shoulder. And they are not the bottles you go back to buy full cases of. I suppose the analogue in the beer world would be the 10+% 100+ IBU flavor freight trains that are so much the topic conversation these last few months.
    The problem for me is when I sit down with one of these Barry Bonds/Floyd Landis bottles and try to eat a pot roast with it, the beverage just doesn’t make sense. Even when I do tastings (and I usually taste in peer group flights, not in single beers, and at least 6 ounces per pour), some beers that really wake me up at first taste really start to be a drag by the time I get around to ounce five or six.
    Practical example bound to create controversy: Avery Hog Heaven. First sip: absolutely staggering. I was blown away. It is so intense, so full of everything. Second sip: wow. What a beer, truly great. Third, fourth, fifth. Sixth sip: Good god, beer, stop yelling at me. Eight ounces was more than enough for this guy.
    Another practical example, also somewhat designed to stir controversy: Chimay Cinq Cents/White. This is the beer that drew me into drinking Belgian beer (Hey, at 2.70 per pour on tap at the local Belgian bar in Madrid, who wouldn’t indulge?). It’s one of those beers that doesn’t jump up and slap me in the face (I believe my comment upon first sip was, “Ooh. That’s good,” and then my wife and I talked about the meaning of life or something), but it is a bottle that I continue to go back to. Despite all the crap Chimay gets about verve being sacrificed for volume, I still find this a tasty, enjoyable, and friendly beer that I will always go back to.
    I will passionately defend Chimay not because I think it’s great beer, but because it draws me back to it (as does Westmalle, as does Drei Fonteinen, as does RR Temptation, as did Heavywieght Biere d’Arte, God rest its glorious merry soul, and so on), whereas I will dismiss Hog Heaven–which, one could argue, is a better brew–ambivalently, because the tasting experience was enough. I am not drawn back for more, impressed as I was.
    To get back to Barry and Floyd, and then to wrap up. I want to believe in those guys. I want to believe that what they have done is legit (Did any of you see that ride in stage 17 of the Tour? I was in hog heaven when Floyd attacked!). But the urge to be bigger and better is tainting their reputations and the sports around them. Too, I’m tired hearing abour Barry. I’m tired of hearing about Floyd. But I’m still a Bobby Julich fan, even though he doesn’t win races. I’m always drawn back to watch him. I’m a Chase Utley fan, even though the Phillies themselves are dismal. I’m drawn back to watch him.
    I would say that, if you are not drawn back to a beer for a second, third, fourth pint (over whatever time period you want to impose), perhaps judgement shouldn’t be published.

  15. leigh December 9, 2007 at 7:15 am #

    I like this rule a lot – i’ve often passed bad judgement on the first pint/taste. it would avoid egg on the face, thats for sure. but the previous point is valid – its easier to pass good judgement on the second – i personally would’nt try a beer twice if it didnt set my world on fire the first time round! Excellent post.

  16. Ilya Feynberg July 28, 2010 at 7:06 pm #

    How someone can say no to a second pint…is totally beyond me. BUT despite the “funny” part of this rule, there really is some serious stuff here to merit it.

    As Leigh mentioned, I’ve passed one too many judgments on a beer on the first try. Sometimes it takes more than one try, and a change of environment.

    As for the rest of the debate here (and yes I’m well aware of how late I am to it), I think we’re missing the big picture here of the craft beer and even fine wine cultures. People that put so much freakin’ rating on…well…ratings and points is getting really bothersome to me. It’s not what this is all about here ladies and gents. 😉



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