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Wine provocateur takes aim at beer

Robin Goldstein, already adept at raising a ruckus in the wine world, has turned his attention to beer.

The description of The Beer Trials, due in April, promises: “With brutally honest ratings and reviews of the 250 most popular beers in the world – both in bottle and on draft – The Beer Trials will challenge some of our most basic assumptions about beer.

“Do you think draft beers and bottled beers of the same brand taste similar? Do more expensive beers taste better? Are imports better than domestic beers? Each beer gets a full-page review, with a down-to-earth description and a photograph of the bottle for easy identification in the store.”

So who is this guy?

Well, for one thing he pulled off a hoax that embarrassed the Wine Spectator. Then he co-authored The Wine Trials, which compares everyday wines to more expensive equivalents in blind tastings and finds wine consumers like inexpensive wines better. Plenty was written about the first edition of the book — here’s a nicely balanced take.

The 2010 edition is out and Joe Roberts at 1 Wine Dude interviews Goldstein and gives it a glowing review.

I found the first 50 pages (which describe the approach and science behind the book, and hint at its future implications on the wine industry) to be some of the most profound reading on wine appreciation that I have ever come across. The Wine Trials doesn’t just poke at wine’s sacred cows – it skewers them, grills them, and serves them up with an inexpensive Spanish red (Lan Rioja Crianza in this case, which took the Wine of the Year honors in the 2010 Wine Trials).

Goldstein provides little information about The Beer Trials beyond the Amazon description, only that it “will take a different approach than The Wine Trials, but one that I hope will be equally useful to readers.”

He did reply to my email and promised more details as the publication dates nears. I’ll keep you posted.



Why are these people dumping their beer?


If you brew beer and you entered that beer in the World Beer Cup competition completed last week in Seattle you hope it did not suffer the same fate as the beer in this picture. That beer is being dumped, eliminated, bumped from the competition. In this case not fatal, because it happened in a mock judging session held for the benefit of the press. (Regular judging is closed to the public and press.)

What did we learn? That there is no perfect way to judge beer, but that the World Beer Cup/Great American Beer Festival system (they are the same) seems to be the best going.

A few years ago Michael Jackson – the world’s leading beer authority – wrote: “There is no better way to appraise a beer than to sample it ‘blindfold’ (ie from numbered glasses, with no other identification). This is the way beers are judged in competitions. In my view, the best such competitions are the World Beer Cup and the Professional Panel Tasting at the Great American Beer Festival.”

Yet the results still led to a flurry of posts on various Internet discussion boards. Many of the more interesting ones took place on the Burgundian Babble Belt, including this inside view.

In it, judge Joris Pattyn nicely summarizes some of the strengths and weaknesses. And there are weaknesses in judging blind. Kermit Lynch argues the point with particular passion in “Adventures on the Wine Route”:

“Blind, yes, that does sum up the vision involved in this popular method of judging quality. The method is misguided, the results spurious and misleading. I realized that I could not trust my own judgment under such tasting conditions. A number of wines are set up side by side, tasted, compared, and ranked. A tally is taken. One wine wins. The others are losers. Democracy in action.

“Such tasting conditions have nothing to do with the condition under which the wines will presumably be drunk, which is at table, with food. When a woman chooses a hat, she does not put it on a goat’s head to judge it; she puts it on her own. There is a vast difference, an insurmountable difference, between the taste of a wine next to another wine, and the same wine’s taste with food.”

Lynch goes on for paragraphs, making one solid argument after another, touching upon the point we all know that big flavored wines (and you could substitute beers right here) often shine in blinding tastings. “Those big rock ’em-sock’em blockbusters perform one function admirably – they win tastings,” he wrote.

But one of the stars of this competition was Firestone Walker Brewing, which captured five medals and was honored as Mid-Size Brewing Company for the second straight time. Firestone Walker doesn’t make big-ass beers designed to out-hop or out-malt the competition in a blind tasting, which is probably why those beers also aren’t stars at the Internet tasting sites. Instead, thoughtful tasters end up with words like “subtle” and “nuanced” in their notes.

There are many other similar examples listed among this year’s results. Yes, big-ass beers sometimes won, and they deserved to. Seems like we should pay attention to the results of a competition that manages to reward both sorts of beers.

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