Craft beer reviews and ratings are essential tools when I am at a bottle shop staring down a couple hundred different options. There are just too many beers available for me to risk guessing which to buy. Craft beer reviews and ratings are really the only way to ensure you know which beer is worth your hard earned money.
It goes beyond beer too, reviews and ratings impact a ton of my decisions. Yelp is my go to source for finding the next place to grab a bite to eat. Amazon is my preferred method for Christmas shopping. Both of these use ratings and reviews to help users make the best decision.
But is this user submitted data really helping us?
Ratings vs Reviews
Craft Beer Ratings
The reality is craft beer ratings often fall short of telling the entire story. These ratings are just a number that the users entered to represent their overall impression of the beer. It doesn’t give any insight into the WHY behind the rating.
I use Untappd and as much as I enjoy using it, it only allows for an overall rating. Beer is much more complicated than just a single number. For example, aroma, taste and appearance are other categories that could help better rate a beer.
These ratings are just an opinion. There are many people that love Bud Light and rank it very high. This goes for many other beers that I would consider to be very poor tasting beers. In theory, after a decent number of ratings are submitted, the average rating should compensate for the outliers (the extremely low and extremely high ratings). And it probably does but I get the feeling that ratings are a little higher overall than they should be; more on that later.
Craft beer Reviews
I really prefer a good craft beer review over a rating. The written word better shares the experience. The aroma, taste, look and texture of the beer can all be described. The craft beer review can also reference other similar beers to help draw comparisons. Making connections to other beers gives me instant insight into the beer being reviewed.
The problem is there aren’t enough good reviews out there. There are number of different sites to use and some are better than others with providing reviews. As an Untappd user, I feel this is their biggest flaw. They provide an area for comments but it is limited to 140 characters. And the reality is most people do not comment on the beer but rather leave random thoughts. Untappd can’t control the user so it is on us to provide details to why we liked or didn’t like the beer.
The Flaws In Both Ratings And Reviews
Not Liking The Style
When I read a review, I want to know about the aroma, taste, and overall opinion of the person having the beer. But they should also be objective based on the style.
Yes, sour beers are going to be sour. It is discouraging to see a low rating on a sour beer and the review says “I don’t like sour beers”. The reviewer should take the beer style into consideration. Yes, IPAs are hoppy and a pickle beer will taste like pickles. Poor ratings due to the drinker not liking the style really isn’t a good way to provide feedback. A good review considers what the style should taste like and grades it based on that; not their personal preference.
Ratings Based On Hype
There is always a list of craft beers that everyone wants. These trendy beers create hype and people go through elaborate measures to get a can or bottle. Right now, New England IPAs are the must have beer style. Hype impacts their reviews and ratings as I rarely see one rated under 4/5 on Untappd.
This is especially true of a beer that comes from a brewery with a strong history of making hyped beers. I think of Treehouse, 3 Floyds, and Monkish; just about every beer they release is going to rated high because of their history. Limited supply and trendy equals high ratings and high praise from reviewers. I don’t see that changing anytime soon as the excitement of getting these beers blind the taste buds.
Friends Aren’t Good Critics
This article by PunchDrunk hints that many ratings are inflated because we are all too connected. Since the brewers, bar owners, distributors and the reviewers are often friends, it becomes hard for honest ratings to be given. The craft beer community is strong; I say that all the time and I can see how that would interfere with honest critiques. If my favorite brewery releases a new IPA and I hate it, will I be bold enough to actually say it?
No review and rating system is perfect. There are sites dedicated to terrible Amazon reviews so it is not just the beer world that is subjected to this. However, as craft beer fans, we should advocate and participate in giving better reviews and ratings. I am not always great about reviewing via Untappd and could definitely be more critical with the rating as well.
To help me learn to give better reviews and ratings, I need to do more long form reviews like the one that I posted about Founders Frootwood. As well as, provide some tasting notes and thoughts on my Untappd check-ins.
So the solution is to do your part. Give better ratings that aren’t affected by your opinion of the beer style, the hype, or your relationship with the brewery. Provide some details on what you did or didn’t like. Give tasting notes or compare it to another beer in that style. Craft beer reviews and ratings are important to our community but they will loose their value if we don’t use them wisely. So consider how you can help others when they are staring down a wall of beer at their bottle shop.
Which review and rating sites do you use most often? Do you think they are accurate?