Some Thoughts About Being Mean

The other day a friend told me that I’m mean. His actual word was “cunty.”

My friend is not in the beer industry, but he has friends who are. Something I wrote or said – or maybe several things I have written or said – upset those friends. I am too negative. I am too hard to please. I’m never satisfied.

I had a similar experience after Facebook posting my thoughts about a brewery in another state. An owner messaged me with a long missive expressing surprise at my assessment of their ales. He left a phone number, so I called. I sat through a 20-minute harangue. He had no interest in hearing my thoughts. I could say nothing more than, “I stand by my experience of your beers.”

Maybe I am too negative. Maybe my words are sometimes harsh. It’s true that I have become a bit jaded about the beer scene. But part of my role in that scene is critic. When faced with obvious process flaws and off-flavors, it is my job to call it out. Indeed, I have heard increasing demand from consumers and long-time industry professionals to do more of that.

The criticism of my critique is often that I’m not giving brewers a chance. I’m too quick to name the problems. These brewers are young and passionate. They have dreams. I’m stepping on these dreams when all they need is time to work things out. It’s a difficult step to go from brewing ten gallons at a time to brewing ten barrels. Rather than publicly calling them out, I should go in and talk to them.

In what other industry do we say this? Imagine a newly minted ladder company led by young people with a passion for helping people climb. Their stepladders look great, but a manufacturing flaw prevents them from being unfolded. Would we say to those ladder makers, “You’re young. You’re passionate. You just need time to work it out. Until you do, I’ll keep buying your ladders.” If Consumer Reports tested such a ladder they would give a scathing review. They wouldn’t call the company to gently walk them through the product’s flaws.

Somehow though, we’ve decided that beer is different. Passion, dreams, and the difficulties of scaling up are reason enough to learn the craft on the drinker’s dime. Inexperienced brewers should be protected from the consequences of their inability to deliver a quality product.

I reject this. Like any other manufactured product – and beer is a manufactured product – it’s not impossible to get it right the first time. Sure some recipe tweaks might be needed. But there is no excuse for process flaws and obvious off-flavors. It’s simply a matter of knowing what you’re doing.

Perhaps before opening a brewery, make the effort to learn how to brew. Before making the leap from your five-gallon Igloo cooler to a state of the art rig, learn how all that fancy equipment works. Go to brewing school. Work in a brewery. Get down and dirty with the chemistry of beer making. Learn about water. Nibble on grains. Train yourself to recognize the flavors that should not be there. If you don’t want to develop that expertise yourself, hire someone who has it.

Get your shit together and I’ll stop being a cunt.

14 thoughts on “Some Thoughts About Being Mean

  1. I generally agree with your points. However, there isn’t really a ladder scene. I’m not sure of any ladder writers or bloggers (I’m sure there are some). People
    Don’t spend time together socialising and climbing up and down ladders. Ladders have one purpose. Beer has many. There’s being constructive and there’s being a cunt.

  2. Sometimes even the best trained, best invested, most knowledgeable brewers make mistakes. Sometimes they’re picked up and rectified in the brewery and a commercial decision must be made. Sometimes they’re not picked up until after packaging and sale. Not an excuse just reasoning.

  3. I, for one, love this response. Well played, ‘Michael Fucking Agnew’! Cheers to you, my dear friend. I assume this discussion was had with our ‘cunty’ friend over a great glass of rosé this weekend, yes? LOL. Carry on.

  4. When someone recommends a beer to me, I judge that based on my previous experience with their recommendations. A review works the same way. It’s one person’s opinion, based on their background and training. So people should follow the reviewers they tend to agree with, and ignore the one’s they don’t. It’s that simple.

    Personally, your reviews always seem reasonable to me. From reading your posts, I know that you and I have slightly different taste preferences, and I take that into account. But I also trust that you know what chlorophenols taste like, and you will call someone out when they serve flawed beers. I appreciate that a lot.

    There are already plenty of “critics” out there who try to avoid saying anything bad. Thank you for telling it the way you see it. If that’s being mean, then please be continue being a meany.

  5. Spot on. Keep the honest reviews coming. It’s one thing if you don’t care for a particular style, but if beers are loaded with diacetyl or under attenuated, breweries should be called out for it. Just like you should send back your over done steak or raw chicken at a restaurant and probably wouldn’t return if they constantly fuck your order up. Time to trim the fat.

  6. Not a great comparison of beers and ladders. Ladders aren’t made with ingrediants that can change all the time. It isn’t a living organism. Beer is a complex organism.

  7. But here’s the thing with that. Unlike wine, which is pretty much grape-press-ferment and very much dependent on what happens in the vineyard, beer is manufactured. It’s the mechanical operations that maltsters and brewers put those ingredients through that make it beer. The variance from crop to crop is fairly small. The industry demands a great deal of consistency from suppliers, and they receive it. Brewers who know their stuff have all the information needed from maltsters and hop growers to tweak processes and recipes to account for variances. If they miss a number here or there, they have the ability to blend batches. And there are a variety of hop products out there like lupulin powder and bittering extracts that allow for great precision in whatever parameter they are designed to meet. And craft brewers – even small ones – do use these products. Despite minor changes in ingredients, brewers are able to produce an extremely consistent product batch after batch. Think about it. If you order a beer once, you will expect it to taste the same the next time. If it doesn’t, there is a problem. Thus the beer nerd refrain of, “this tasted better last year.”

    Additionally, the kinds of issues you mention have nothing to do with the kinds of issues I was alluding to. A brewer could use an entirely different malt and still make a beer that is not dripping diacetyl. The alpha acid percentage of hops could be significantly higher than the last crop, but a brewer worth their salt could still make a beer that wasn’t astringent. Process and technical flaws are only a sign of an inexperienced brewer, not a sign of the complexity of beer.

  8. Well said, keep up the good job on your reviews. We are in a culture that sometimes doesn’t​ seem to want to hear the truth – everyone must brew in Lake Woebegone as everyone is above average and makes fantastic beer. Sadly, that extends to other products beyond beer – just get me started on all the crappy software being released to the public by people that don’t have a clue.

  9. I’d say the same is true for anyone who puts stuff out there for general consumption. Artists. Chefs. And beer writers.

  10. Years ago, before craft brewers, I took a tour through the Molson brewery in Montreal. Afterwards they let us drink all we wanted of the Molson Ale. Not the golden. I remember the smell of the yeast from the tour and the taste of the malt. It was sublime. I don’t do the hoppy ales now and am always looking for a more malty ale. I also drank an ale called Black Horse Ale and Ballantine Ale. I don’t remember them being hoppy. This was late 60’s. Suggestions for a malty Ale with a hint of the yeast aroma?

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