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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Above Average? Below Average? Who Am I to Judge?

I read a great article over at craftbeerjoe.com,  The Problem With Craft Beer Reviews & Ratings that really got me thinking about beer ratings and reviews.  In the article, CBJ highlights the different ways to rate and review beer and some of the pitfalls of them.  I highly encourage you to check it out and read some of his other work because it is top notch! His article and the comments that followed it made me think more about how and why I even put a rating on the beers I drink. 

The 20-80 Scouting Scale

I rate/grade beers on the 20-80 scouting scale used in grading baseball skills by MLB scouts.  There is a great post at Fangraphs by Kiley McDaniel, Scouting Explained: The 20-80 Scouting Scale, which breaks down how it used by scouts.  I decided to use this way of rating beers because I like baseball and thought it was a unique way to grade the beers that I drink.  
As it says in the Fangraphs article: "50 is major league average, then each 10 point increment represents a standard deviation better or worse than average." I follow the same principle in rating beers, so a 50 is a good beer, 55 is above average, 60 is plus, 70 plus plus, and 80 is elite.  In going the opposite way 45 is okay, 40 is below average and 30 is bad beer.  
Derek Jeter Scouting Report
Photo courtesy of The Baseball Continuum

When I grade a beer using the 20-80 scouting scale,  I assign a grade to the beer and provide some commentary and tasting notes on the beer's appearance, aroma, mouthfeel, flavors, etc.  When I do this rating, I don't compare the beer to other beers but try to grade it on its own.  My most common ratings are 50's and 60's. So how do I know which 60 grade beer is better? The simple answer is, I don't. And to be honest, I don't need to know which is higher ranked out of the two.  The 60 grade tells me it was a very good beer and that I enjoyed it.  The commentary that goes with it tells me what the beer was like and then I can make a judgement about whether or not I will drink it again. I try to think of the grades as tiers, if a beer is in the 70 grade tier, it was really awesome and is something that I will probably want again. Beers in the 50 grade tier are a solid average beer, so I will turn to the tasting notes that I do to help me make a choice about buying it again. But really, when it comes down to it there are so many options of craft beers available to me that if I have the option of a 70 grade beer or a 50 grade beer, the choice will come down to what am in the mood for at that time.


For most people who drink craft beer, their rating guide comes from Untappd. I try to be consistent about my ratings when I use the Untappd app and I try to add as much about the beer as I can in 140 characters. When I look up a beer on the app, I scroll for ratings that have a review because I just don't want to see how many caps a beer has, but I want to see what gives it that 4.5 caps rating. I take the ratings with a grain of salt because everyone has different tastes and experiences with the beer.
I don't know if the reviewer doesn't like a certain style of beer or if they drink their beer out of a glass or the bottle. Untappd ratings and reviews have a place in my beer buying process, but are not the end all and be all.

Who Am I to Judge?

I mean in reality, I am not a beer expert (although, I sometimes play one at the liquor store).  I do consume a good amount of beer and read a lot about it, but I am no Cicerone.  So there are times when I put a rating on beer and think, "who am I to judge?"  From reading the comments on the article at craftbeerjoe.com and talking to other people about it, other beer drinkers feel the same way.  I try to keep in mind that watching baseball and enjoying beer is my hobby.  I would love it to be my job, but alas no one is looking to hire someone to watch baseball while drinking craft beers. (Although if you are, I am very interested in that position!) Because it is my hobby, I should enjoy it the way that I want and if that means rating a beer so that I know if I should buy it again or recommend it to a friend then, I am perfectly qualified to do that. 
My goal in grading or rating a beer is to increase my knowledge of beer and to give others a general idea of what to expect when they try a new brew.  In every review, I try to be honest and provide some details on what I experienced with that beer. Hopefully my rating and the accompanying tasting notes can help others to have a great beer experience or find out about a beer they may not have heard about before.  Fellow beer drinkers have led me to some great brews because of their posts on Instagram, their ratings and reviews, and blog posts so I just hope that I can return the favor. 


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