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What if Robert Parker were a beer writer?

Beer critics?Today’s Wall Street Journal reports on a topic that’s been simmering in the wine blog and wine discussion board world for a while: the ethics of wine writing, centering on Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Read it, and check out blog entries from Dr. Vino and Wine Enthusiast columnist Steve Heimoff.

Now to beer (and a couple more wine links). More than a year ago in looking for an excuse to use a lovely quote from Kenneth Tynan (“A critic’s job, nine-tenths of it, is to make way for the good by demolishing the bad”) I tossed up a post that generated a silly number of comments, leading to a discussion about the ethics of beer writing.

That probably doesn’t need to be revisited. But there is something else to think about. During the course of the Parker flap, the author at asked several prominent wine writers a variety of leading questions. Good reading. But if you check out just one response make it Jancis Robinson’s.

She answers questions not asked, including the issue of writing about people who turn into friends. She writes, “I cannot think of a single wine writer who has managed the sort of hermit-like existence that would be required of them if they were to ensure that they had no real human contact with anyone in the wine trade.”

The discussion about wine junkets and samples of ridiculously priced wines makes it pretty apparent how wine and beer continue to differ (thank goodness). But friendship, that’s universal. It’s one of the joys of writing about beer. Something for me to remember when I write and you to remember when you read.

By the way, if you read this far I applaud you. Despite the lengthy discussion’s at Parker’s website and all the words typed on wine blogs this is a subject I’m not sure how many wine or beer drinkers give a good burp about. Witness the rather meager 11 comments at


4 Responses to What if Robert Parker were a beer writer?

  1. Arthur May 26, 2009 at 9:32 pm #

    Thanks for the mention and the link to my wine-writing-ethics piece.
    The funny thing is that the post saw a huge number of readers, just not that many commenters. To this day, the piece keeps getting hits.
    I talked about this disparity between views and comments with a number of people and all I can chalk it up to is the fact that I put the (rather lengthy) piece together with a calm, even and respectful tone, avoiding sensationalism and inflammatory comments.
    People care about this, I just don’t think they are inclined to speak up when the discussion is intelligent, informed and even-keeled (rather than full of accusations and polarizing hyperbole).
    I wouldn’t categorize my questions as “leading” though. They get at a very real element of the wine writing culture.

  2. Pivní Filosof May 27, 2009 at 6:09 am #

    I don’t see anything wrong with wine, beer, younameit writers being friends with people working in the industry they happen to review. As long as the relationship is of genuine friendship, that is.
    So, let’s say I am a beer reviewer that happens to be friends with some head brewer and I have to review the latest product from said brewery. Let’s say I didn’t like that beer and I write an appropriate review of it. If our friendship is true I know my friend will not take the bad review personally and will accept it as any other critisism from a friend.
    I don’t see the ethics conflict in such context

  3. E.S. Delia May 27, 2009 at 6:54 am #

    Full disclosure is key when it comes to these types of situations. If there is a relationship between writer (or mere “blogger”) and brewer, then knowing that information up front helps the reader make up their own mind. No harm, no foul.

    However, it also goes back to the context of drinking a beer – another thing for the author to offer and the reader to consider. It may taste much better at the press junket with colleagues or at the bar with friends than alone in your own home.

  4. Blair May 27, 2009 at 9:35 am #

    I think it would be hard for anyone in the industry not to form some sort of ties with wine maker or brewer within their industry. I do not see it as a conflict of interest if you as long as still rate that persons product as you would any sample.

    What I see as a bigger problem is the Robert Parker effect on wines. His scores can be the difference between life or death for some wineries. There are now a lot wineries that produce their wines to fit Parker’s palliate and I think that is a shame. There are now less wines staying true to their wines by producing terrior driven wines that are a snap shot of that vintage.

    In the beer world there is no real equal to Parker. Redhook is not going to go out of business because they got a C at Rate Beer. The perceived complexity of wine and general mystique about wine that is used as a marketing tool by the wine industry made people like Parker. I am glad that the beer industry seeks to educate the masses and does it in an inclusive way that prevents this problem in the beer world.

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