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The wisdom of beer crowds, or not

Where are the hops?

Surely you are familiar with Beer Madness at the The Washington Post. If not, read this.

Basically, beer fans get to vote between two beers — for instance, right now you can pick Breckenridge Vanilla Porter or Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout — a panel of eleven has tasted blind. Then the paper reveals the results and another round commences based on the beers the panelists favor.

Had I not been traveling Oregon’s sometimes snow-covered roads* in order to learn the mysteries of hop genetics, quality pelletizing and other information that belongs in a book about hops I would have liked to have handicapped the tournament.

* The road got more exciting after I took the picture at the top. Eventually I came to flashing lights that demanded vehicles have chains or traction tires. My travel tip to you is: visit hop country when hops are growing.

Well, maybe not the whole thing. But I’d just read one of way too many analyses about how to win your office March Madness pool; this one based on find value. The example was Texas, which was undervalued (correctly, it seems) since a respected numbers guy gave Texas something like a 5 percent chance to win the tournament and at that moment more like 3 percent of people entering some online mega-pool picked Texas.

You’ll have to trust me on this, but I was going to suggest that Great Divide Claymore Scotch Ale offered similar value. At the time, Founders Dirty Bastard was already burying Claymore, which is such a beautifully balanced beer I feel compelled to comment on how that balance and finesse is what seems to set Great Divide’s beer apart every time I drink one. In fact, Dirty Bastard won the popularity contest, 1,017-351. The panelists preferred Claymore.

I’m not really that brilliant, but you knew that. Because I had a 50 percent chance to be right. This contest is a random walk through better beer land. That’s not a bad thing. I love Edmund Fitzgerald Porter &#151 one of these days the T-shirt I bought in 1993 is simply going to fall apart — but it received more than 70 percent of votes from fans. The panelists preferred it over Hoppin’ Frog Silk Porter by a 6-5 vote, which probably better represents the difference between two.

Personal preference is good, and the contest is fun. But I’m not sure it is different than flipping a coin. In the first round, the panelists and crowd agreed sixteen times. They disagreed fifteen times (Anchor Old Foghorn and Weyerbacher Blithering Idiot tied at 512 — or 32 pints apiece — in the popularity contest. It doesn’t get more random that that.

My value bet for this round? How about Smuttynose Finest Kind Finestkind IPA? A 1,228-357 underdog to Bell’s Two-Hearted it captured eight of the eleven panelists’ palates. Now it is running way behind Lagunitas Maximus.

(And speaking of fans, check out how many votes have been lodged in the showdown between Evolution Rise Up Stout and Port City Porter.)

7 Responses to The wisdom of beer crowds, or not

  1. Jeff Alworth March 21, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    A secret trip to Oregon acknowledged after the fact. Many will be disappointed to have missed you. But not all!

  2. Stan Hieronymus March 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm #

    Ah for the good old days when writers wandered the earth, immersing themselves in research (and a bit of beer) without feeling the need to tweet or blog.

  3. Jeff Alworth March 22, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    Digging around the stacks, thumbing through the card catalogues–thems were the days. But I prefer the Google and the blogging.

  4. Steve March 22, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    “How about Smuttynose Finest Kind IPA?”

    According to Richard Hooker (and the Smuttynose brewery), Finestkind ought to be one word. 😉

  5. Stan Hieronymus March 22, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    So much for calling that upset. Lagunitas Maximus advance by a 5-4 margin.

  6. Steve March 22, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    “So much for calling that upset.”

    (grrr — sorry) Meant to add to that quote:
    Too bad too, I always root for the underdog.

  7. first stater March 24, 2011 at 3:41 pm #

    Since the tasting panel decides who advances I guess voting is kind of like kissing your sister. That being said I’ve voted in both rounds and I’ve not kissed my sister.

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