In order for a brewery to get a score of 4 or 5 from us, the environment needs to be welcoming and the beer has to be good. How do we quantify “good” beer? We looks for two characteristics: 1) Is it to style? 2) Is it delicious? Interestingly, we feel slightly different from each other on these two points.
First, is the beer to style? Now, we are not BJCP-certified judges, but we have tasted beer from a _lot_ of breweries. Let’s say we’ve had a golden-style beer from 50 different breweries. We can extrapolate from the average of those to make a determination on what breweries in America believe a golden should taste like. When we encounter our 51st golden, we can compare it to the average and decide, “Yes, this tastes like the majority of goldens we’ve had,” or “No, this tastes different than most goldens we have had.”
We also consider the BJCP guidelines, so that it’s not simply a popularity-of-taste contest. Finally, we identify iconic examples of the style, as mentioned in the BJCP guidelines or from expert beer judges, and compare to those exemplars. If the taste is not consistent with the style the brewery has applied, we ding it down. Some styles we dislike heartily- such as IPAs- can still accrue points for their brewery if it is well done for the style.
Second, is the beer delicious? Some beer is not necessarily to style but is really quite tasty. Sometimes, there IS no style. We had an incredible cranberry cinnamon which did not describe any base style. What is this? How can we judge it to others of its style? Obviously, we can’t, so we just need to decide if we like it or not.
We try to minimize our personal preferences and make as-objective-as-possible assessments. We might try a pale ale and decide, “You know, WE don’t like it, but this is a darn tasty pale ale and those who enjoy this style would like this beer.” I can drink a sour and say, “*I* wouldn’t drink this, but this is a really nicely done sour.” Obviously, off flavors dramatically impact this. When I get fusel alcohol off a beer, I consider it undrinkable and score accordingly.
Susan is slightly more interested in the deliciousness and Erik is slightly more interested in the to-styledness. For example, we tried Moa’s Breakfast Beer in New Zealand. It claims to be a Cherry Wheat. Erik felt it was very much not a wheat beer and the cherry flavor was not very cherry-like, but Susan found it to be delicious (overall we gave Moa a 4). This persists with breweries like Dogfish Head, which makes very little to-style beer: Susan enjoys their experimental, no-real-rules approach much more than Erik does.
Either way you approach beer, you can enjoy it. We like being analytical about it, because that is who we are. We encourage you all to be analytical, too, because we think it will deepen your enjoyment of the experience. What do you think is more important: to-style or deliciousness?