Beer Advocate Gets It Wrong Again

Where do I start with this list?

If you haven't seen it already, it's a list of the "All-Time Top Breweries on Planet Earth" and "All-Time Top Beers On Planet Earth" as decreed by Beer Advocate (BA). Let me begin by saying I appreciate the vision and the concept behind BA. It's my default (although hardly final) resource for researching beer on the web. Generally, I like what they do.

These lists are garbage, however. A top-25-breweries-in-the-world list that doesn't include any German brewers? The same list including only two Belgian breweries, one of which being the relatively pedestrian Chimay? Rogue Chocolate Chocolate Stout appearing on the top-25-best-beers-in-the-world and the Abyss is a complete no-show? I can't think of any panel of experts that would sit down to the task of making these lists and come up with anything remotely similar.

And therein likes the problem. These aren't lists of the "top 25 such-and-such in the entire world." What BA has done is made a list of "top 25 such-and-such in the entire world as voted by our relatively isolated North Eastern American audience." If they'd called these lists something like that, I wouldn't have a problem with either of them. Given that they didn't, I can only assume one of two things: Either BA simply doesn't know what it's talking about or that BA has massively overestimated it's importance as a place for global critical beer review. In any case, as a fairly major player on the beer scene, I think it's pretty irresponsible of them to present their opinions in this way.

It gets worse, though. A discussion popped up on beeradvocate.com discussing the validity of these lists (you'll need a BA login to view that link). Things seemed to be progressing OK until Todd Alstrom, co-owner of BA, essentially places the blame for no-shows and low rankings on those that don't write BA reviews. I quote:

"Perhaps if people like you spent more time reviewing beers from Europe vs. wasting time with failed attempts at sarcasm the results would be different.

Just a thought.

Cheers!"


For the sake of argument, let's forget the fact that not every European speaks English and can participate in writing BA reviews (although we shouldn't). We're still left with a publication blaming it's accuracy problems on those who didn't have anything to do with writing them. This lends credibility to both of my assumptions above; that BA reviewers are generally inexperienced and that BA has a hyper-inflated perception of it's own authority. It's disappointing and it's bad for the global beer community. If BA is at the reigns of US beer ambassadorship, they need to get their act together pronto.

Beau Burke
December 19, 2008, 1:28 pm
Seasonal Accumulation

In addition to the marathon tasting done at the Holiday Ale Festival, I've been amassing a collection of winter seasonals for enjoyment at home. Deschutes Jubelale is great, as usual. Sierra Nevada Celebration is still a classic and remains one of my top ten beers. Bridgeport Ebenezer once again leaves me wanting something a little bit more, although I can't put my finger what that thing is.

I've been deeply impressed with two beers not yet listed, though. The first is Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome. I usually have very bad luck with bottles from this venerable English brewer. They're either skunky, musty, or have a distinct metallic taste. Luck was on my side this time however, and thankfully so. This is a very English beer. Lots of bready, biscuity malt combined with a velvet caramel sweetness, underpinned by subtle fruity esters. Like an ESB on steroids. Bitter, but not enough to keep it from being a little bit decadent. Probably the most balanced and quaffable winter seasonal I've had the pleasure of enjoying.

The second was Fish Brewing's Winterfish. I really like this brewery and often wonder why I don't buy more of their beer. For one, they're completely organic. I'm not much of a hippie these days, but this still scores big points with me. Secondly, they simply brew great hoppy beer. There are few quicker routes to my heart than a well-made C-hop heavy pale ale. Winterfish is one of them. It's clearly modeled after Sierra Nevada celebration, with a bracing bitterness supported by a moderate malt sweetness. Aroma and finish are all brash American hops, heavy on the grapefruit. It is absolutely imbalanced and I absolutely love it.

Beau Burke
December 13, 2008, 8:35 pm
The Holiday Ale Festival Was Epic

Playing hooky on a work day is easily the best way to experience the Holiday Ale Festival. Lines were nonexistent, special taps were pouring rarities, and there was plenty of room to meander from place to place. I really liked the addition of the second tasting tent. Our group managed to grab a table up there early, which made it a nice place to camp out throughout the day. I was worried the stairs would get harder and harder to navigate as tastes piled up, but I didn't see anyone having problems.

I managed to get through everything on my list, save for the stuff that didn't show up. Of course, that meant I had room to try a couple other things, none of which impressed me as much as the following three beers.

Hair of the Dog Jim 2008 - This beer continues to astound and stupefy me. I don't know how Hair of the Dog does it, but they manage to make incredible beer that tastes unlike anything else on the market. This was big, sweet without being cloying, hoppy, and had a subtle spice finish. I don't think actual spices were used to produce it, but I'll be damned if it didn't finish like pumpkin pie.

Fort George Brewing North 2007 - A fantastic "multigrain wheat whine" that was a beautiful, deep red. The taste had this fleeting character that made it dangerously drinkable. I'd take sip, get overwhelmed with flavor and then it would end immediately with snappy, rye spiciness. I was constantly raising my glass, trying to get a handle on it.

Cascade Brewing Barrel-Select Baltic Porter - This one was a real genre bender. Imagine a baltic porter, aged in bourbon barrels and then slightly soured. It sounds like it shouldn't work but it wound up incredible. It was intensely woody with very big malt flavors. I enjoyed it much more than Sang Noir (which was good, but maybe a bit overboard).

There were a few disappointments, the largest being those no-shows I mentioned earlier. The keg of Vanilla Oatis from Ninkasi had somehow disappeared. I heard numerous stories from different pourers and the consensus seems to be that it was simply lost. The brewer claimed to have dropped it off, but it was nowhere to be found. I never asked about the Firestone Walker Parabola, but it never made an appearance either. At least, it didn't before I left around 6:30. Maybe there were problems with the keg like with the Hitachino Nest XH, which didn't appear until 3 or so? Whatever the case, those were two of my most anticipated beers and I was saddened that I didn't get to try them.

Of the beers I did try, I was a little let down by the Deschutes offerings. As a devout Deschutes fanboy, it pains me greatly to say this. Both beers they brought ('05 Mirror Mirror and Big Red Double Cinder Cone) didn't really rise to the spectacular levels everyone else was shooting for. They were certainly delicious and well made, but they suffered in comparison to the brave experiments other brewers had succeeded in pulling off.

Of course, not every experiment worked. I didn't particularly like Babushka's Secret, which was Widmer black raspberry imperial stout. It was very heavy on the fruit and chocolate, which wound up eclipsing the stout flavors rather than synergizing with them. It reminded me too much of candy. I also wasn't a fan of Lagunitas' Black Pepper Stout. Everyone at our table agreed there was too much pepper. Moreover, the pepper didn't come across as black, rather it tasted more along the lines of jalapeno. It was vegetal, thin bodied and just didn't work.

Overall though, it was a pleasant day filled with once-in-a-lifetime flavors. It remains my favorite local beer event.

Although I hope they turn the music down next year. Speakers were ubiquitous and I found myself shouting just to be heard everywhere I went.

Also, I hope that woman above doesn't mind being on my blog. I have no idea who she is, other than she was in front of me in line to get in.

Beau Burke
December 5, 2008, 1:44 pm
The Holiday Ale Fest Short List

God help me, I'm going to try to get through all this tomorrow.



Of course, I'll probably get halfway through and then make like that dude I saw last year who barfed into a trashcan right in the middle of the tent.

Beau Burke
December 3, 2008, 7:37 pm
The Holiday Ale Festival Looks Epic This Year

Have you seen the beer list for the Holiday Ale Festival this year? If you haven't, stop reading right now, grab a bib, click that link, and prepare to salivate. Done yet?

Seriously. I mean, seriously. I'm trying to put together my "must have" list and I'm already up to 14 beers. Most of them are well into the 8% ABV range. I'm either going to have to whittle it down, be there all day, or get carried out on a stretcher.

Whatever the case, I have no doubt this uniquely Portland festival will remain my favorite beer event of the year. While I deeply enjoy the raucous celebrating of the OBF and the myriad special events that happen regularly in our fair metropolis, the Holiday Ale Festival has a special place in my heart. There's a certain degree of stoicism required to venture out into the cold and wet of an Oregon December. The fact that the festival is packed every year with smiling, friendly faces is proof of our dedication to supporting some of the best brewers on the face of the planet. There's a sense of community under that tent I suspect is equaled in few other places.

Chris, some friends, and I will be there tomorrow at one. If you see a foul mouthed guy in a red shirt and pea coat, laughing loudly at someone's crude jokes, be sure to say "hi." It'll probably be me.

Beau Burke
December 3, 2008, 9:42 am
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