Rating Beer…A Confederacy of “Numerists”

A little bit of beer is divine medicine- Paracelsus

I believe the vast majority of Americans (perhaps, the world) believe that numbers equate with truth. If you and I each have a glass of beer, there are two beers in all. The outside temperature is 45°F on my thermometer. I was born on January 3rd. I have $57 in my bank account (oh, dear!). Definite, indisputable, safe (except for the money thing). In situations such as these there are no gray areas, just black and white. But I believe almost all of life just can’t be categorized so simply, especially if humans are involved. I was debating with a friend from high school who was demanding that things are usually simpler than they appear and I was arguing the exact opposite. There is always more depth and complexity to be found if one chooses to dig. My friend was very comfortable looking at the world through his particular lens, because he could almost immediately evaluate any situation and never have to challenge his underlying beliefs. “How do you know what you know?” has been a favorite phrase of mine for years. I have been “unfriended” on Facebook for proposing alternative views to such statements as “Everything President Obama does is bad” or “Everything Israel does is right”. A restrictive lens may make you feel more comfortable, but it masks the beautiful, terrible complexity of life.

As a long time educator, if my students left my class feeling good about themselves, being excited about learning, looking forward to the next challenge, then I succeeded. If they went onto college, great. If they took another path, that too was just as great. I was slowly disillusioned when my district’s vision become overly focused on test scores and college prep and not on the joy and value of lifelong learning. Yet many people look on those scores as a defining characteristic, some sort of inviolable truth. Getting this test scores means you are this kind of person, and that is simply dangerous thinking, because any such number relies on a large number of fallible, human factors.

But, wait…this is about beer and ratings. I do rate beer on one site, Untapp’d (http://beeredland.com/2013/08/13/untappd-its-like-boy-scouts-for-beer/) and there are two others that I often consult, Beer Advocate and Rate Beer. So if I rate a beer as a 5, what does it mean other than I think it’s one of the best beers I have tasted? But what exactly does THAT mean? Because I am human (on most days) my tastes may be similar to yours or differ quite substantially. It is the description that I like to focus on, same as with a book or movie review, as that will give me much more information, even though it may be harder to digest or, in this case, swallow. I need and I want you to go beyond the number which seems woefully inadequate by comparison.

So from this post onward, I will rate two beers, one that is served in one of our fine, local craft breweries (this will take awhile as there are probably 15 within 10 miles of here) and another available at my favorite beers stores. But before you read any of my reviews, I must digress to talk about my tastes in beer, so you can “read between the ratings”, or taste, anyway.

I tend to have fairly wide ranging and somewhat seasonal tastes in beer. I favor IPA’s and Belgian ales in the spring and summer and extra special bitters (ESB), porters and stouts in the winter and fall. But certainly not invariably! Because of the vagaries in our weather caused by the Rocky Mountains, it is not unusual to get a brief snowstorm in May and even early June, thereby making perfect stout weather Moreover, given the low humidity in Colorado, the temperature drops significantly after sunset, so I can enjoy a stout almost any evening, even during the hottest months of summer. But even on those hottest days, the shade of a large cottonwood tree provides enough cool shade under which one can enjoy the dark elixir. In fact you could probably hold a leafless branch over my head and I would enjoy a stout. Time for confession…I could be sitting naked in the middle of a desert and happily enjoy a stout, provided there was ample sunscreen available (and deepest apologies for the image now embedded in your consciousness).

If all you know about stouts is Guinness, then I have some “splainin” to do. The Beer Judge Certification program details six subcategories of stout- dry, sweet, oatmeal, foreign-extra, American, and Russian Imperial. You can read more about the types here (http://www.bjcp.org/2008styles/catdex.php) as well any other style of beer. I heartily encourage you to check out your favorites and begin to develop the vocabulary to describe it.

Beer Review


Espresso Oak Aged Yeti Imperial Stout by Great Divide Brewing

9.5% ABV (Alcohol by Volume), $9.99 for a 22 ounce bomber

Style- American Double/Imperial Stout


American Imperial Stouts are inspired by Russian Imperial Stouts which were a favorite of Catherine II of Russia and other members of the court. The American versions are often barrel-aged with additions of coffee or chocolate. They have much higher ABV’s than their historical counterparts. This one pours very thickly, even the head is a light chocolate brown. Aroma has elements of chocolate and coffee (espresso was added during the brewing process). Oak aging adds some vanilla overtones. I could taste the hop bitterness on the back end and it provides a nice balance. This is a cozy- night-by-the-fire sipping ale. Due to its long finish, this bottle will easily last for an hour or more. This is a fine dessert beer when matched with dark chocolate.


Local Brew Review (to follow)

Awsome girls