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What happens when you assign numbers to beers

A bit of culture shock for Daria on Saturday.

We stopped at Parti-Pak Discount Liquors in Indianapolis, mostly to see what sort of beers make their way into Indiana and what they cost. Heard a guy behind the counter say they stocked 2,100 beers and that is easy to believe. Rather complete lines of plenty of Michigan breweries (Dark Horse, Founders, New Holland, Bell’s), for instance. Indiana beers, of course. Largest collection of Italian beers we’ve seen since we were in Oak Tree Liquors in South Plainfield, N.J.

More than once my uncle, Omar Robinson, pointed to rows of bottles from Germany or Belgium and said, “I can’t believe they ship all these beers that far.” But this post isn’t about his cultural shock #&151; maybe more down the road, since he’s involved with his son, Clay, in startingSun King Brewing. Key words in their business plan: local and draft beer.

Back to what Daria saw. When you walk in there is a section of shelves with individual beers that have Rate Beer ratings below them. “Did you see that?” she asked when we left. “The top rows are all 100 beers and Rochefort (10) gets a 93.”


17 Responses to What happens when you assign numbers to beers

  1. Matt Dunn March 23, 2009 at 6:41 am #

    Stop anywhere else in Indiana? I might actually be able to get a where in the beer world from the Hoosier state.

  2. Stan Hieronymus March 23, 2009 at 6:44 am #

    Matt – I have photos of the Sun King equipment. Went to Oaken Barrel, but without my camera. We’ve moved on to Champaign. So, sorry, no Hoosier where in the beer world (this trip).

  3. John LeMasney March 23, 2009 at 6:52 am #

    Having been to Oak Tree Buy Rite, though it’s a little bit of a trek for me from the Princeton area, I can personally attest to their amazing selection. Here in New Jersey, we have a pretty great selection of places to go to get fantastic beer, but it sounds like you’ve got us beat with Parti-Pak. Good on ya. 😉

    Oak Tree has gone out of their way to make available as many of the best beers available in New Jersey according to and it’s a model I wish other sellers would emulate. I think it leads to means more awareness, more varied tasting, and hopefully more sophisticated palates. I love what OakTree and Parti-Pak are doing in terms of using (high) ratings as a selling point. It’s what got me most interested in sampling, because it took away some of the fear of paying higher prices for what may or may not be a delicious or highly enjoyable brew.

  4. Stan Hieronymus March 23, 2009 at 9:03 am #

    John – I think’d I’d take Oak Tree over Parti-Pak. More room, better organized. Easy to find things. A got a feeling much of the beer at Parti-Pak could have been past its prime. No reason to know that to be true, but just the feel you get in such a packed store. I must have seen Three Floyds beers in four different locations.

  5. The Beer Nut March 23, 2009 at 9:45 am #

    In the De Molen brewery shop, Menno has printed tables from RateBeer with his beers highlighted. When I took out my notebook in the tasting bar his eyes lit up. It’s cute.

  6. John LeMasney March 23, 2009 at 10:50 am #

    @Stan, I’d love to even have the opportunity to taste Three Floyds. Sigh. Perhaps someday.

  7. Lew Bryson March 23, 2009 at 11:59 am #

    So…no one wanted to talk about Daria’s shock? Are we all scared? Can’t believe THAT!

    I’ll say it: the ratings on the websites are skewed. Not wrong, but skewed, by rarity, by hot-flash fads, by group-think. Someone oughta say something, even though it’s like fish in a barrel.

  8. John LeMasney March 23, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

    Lew, I’m not saying it’s perfect, I’m saying that it helped me when I had no knowledge of what good was to get a better idea of what great beer could be. It gave me direction when I was just starting out. Those little 100s and 96s all got me buying better beers that I never would have picked up otherwise. It also showed me that there could be fantastic Lagers, which I only had a few bad examples of. Then I realized that just because something had an 60 didn’t mean I wouldn’t love it (e.g. Rock Art DIPA), and just because something had a 100 didn’t mean it would be my thing. (Higher ranked rauchbiers, guezes and Lambics come immediately to mind) However, now I have a better understanding of styles, tastes, ingredients, and breweries, and I can decide for myself. I’m slowly weaning from ratebeer and I’ve left BA completely, but I’ll always think of them with respect for helping me to understand beer better. The same goes for you, by the way. Cheers, j.

  9. Stan Hieronymus March 23, 2009 at 3:37 pm #

    Thanks for noticing, Lew.

    John, also thanks for your viewpoint. Worth remembering how people learn about a wider variety of beers.

  10. Erik March 23, 2009 at 5:44 pm #

    Nice to hear you were in my backyard. I love Parti-Pak but I do have to agree with you that I worry many times that some of those rarer beers are possibly getting musty. But it is the best game in town for the obscure beers.

    As to the ratings, I don’t really care for them. I do agree with some of the other posters that they do help guide the neophyte who may not know many of the brands on the shelf. But at the same time the ratings can push people away from drinking a lot of great beers that are a few points lower then something else.

  11. Bill March 23, 2009 at 6:36 pm #

    Lew and Stan — I’m not sure what Daria said — the sentence didn’t make sense to me. There are 100 beers on the top row? Or they were all ranked 100 points??? Does RateBeer even _have_ any 100-point-ranked beers? Is Rochefort getting a 93 somehow bad? Or are you saying it should have been worse?

  12. Stan Hieronymus March 23, 2009 at 7:14 pm #

    Bill – What Daria meant was the top rows were full of beers rate “100” and Rocherfort (one of her favorites) “only” received 93. She was asking if there are really that many beers better than Rochefort.

    Struise Cuvée Delphine is an example of a “100” beer – based only a grand total of 25 ratings.

  13. SteveH March 24, 2009 at 5:32 am #

    “I’ll say it: the ratings on the websites are skewed. Not wrong, but skewed, by rarity, by hot-flash fads, by group-think. Someone oughta say something, even though it’s like fish in a barrel.”



  14. Bill March 24, 2009 at 7:25 am #

    Thanks for the clarification. I’ve made my peace with the ratings being skewed.

    What would be nice is if the sites didn’t allow a shelf-card to be printed unless the beer had been reviewed by, say, at least 100 people… but how could they enforce it? Stores could create their own cards regardless.

    The “official” shelf-cards also could be dated and/or state the # of reviews. but again, how would folks not on the sites know the difference between the official and unofficial ones?

    Wine tags from Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate also have this problem — if stores do them, you’re never sure if the vintage with the score is the vintage on the shelf if they don’t put it on.

  15. Stan Hieronymus March 24, 2009 at 8:44 am #

    Bill – We’ve been in stores where the shelf cards are employee recommendations – like you see more often in a book store. “Karen likes Oberon,” for instance. That I like (even if a distributor is twisting Karen’s arm). Local accountability.

  16. Mario (Brewed For Thought) March 24, 2009 at 10:03 am #

    Stan, just checked RateBeer’s website, the 10 scores 100 overall and 99 by style. The 6 rates a 95/96 and the 8 also has the 100/99. Not sure where the 93 comes from.

    Personally, I prefer the Rochefort 8 to the 10 and a St Bernardus 12 to the 10 as well. Maybe a better use of RateBeer’s site would be to highlight Rocherfort 10’s #2 ranking amongst Quads and #10 rating in their Top 50.

  17. Stan Hieronymus March 24, 2009 at 10:59 am #

    Mario – Thanks for the update on the Rochefort scores. Wonder if those are old printouts, and what that might mean.

    We had the R10, W12 and StB 12 side-by-side-by-side in Belgium and the R10 won.

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