Why extremophiles are a danger to us all

I was going to ignore the latest claim by Ratebeer to have found “The best 100 beers in the world as rated by tens of thousands of our worldwide tasters” on the grounds that nobody in the real world cares what a bunch of loopy extremophiles drinks or thinks. Especially when there are far more important things going on outside in the streets. Really – a “world’s top beers” in which seven out of the top 10 are imperial stouts? You are having a laugh. As Stephen Beaumont pointed out on his blog, “In the style listing of the top 50 beers, the word ‘imperial’ appears 39 times!” This has nothing at all to do with what most people who enjoy beer actually drink or want to drink. I enjoy a good imperial stout, but it’s just one of a wide range of styles I rate highly, and not even the top one.

However, as I watched Mubarak attempt to save his sorry arse by telling the Egyptians it was all the fault of the people he had appointed, and he was going to appoint another bunch of people instead, a corner of my brain was rolling over the deeply dangerous implications of Ratebeer people’s obsession with the extremities of beer.

Because the first problem is that more normal drinkers, if they see that list, are going to look at it and get an utterly distorted and entirely false idea of what really great beer is all about. It’s like telling people that the best dishes available in restaurants are all vindaloo curries, or the best bands in the world only come from the different varieties of metal. And that won’t encourage them at all to explore the huge variety of other fantastic beers that are available.

It will also encourage journalists who know no better to frame beer enthusiasts as people totally out of touch with the “normal” beer drinker, and only interested in beers with 100 IBUs and abvs of 10 per cent or more.

The second, and perhaps worst problem is, as Stephen Beaumont hints, that this sort of utterly distorted listing encourages brewers to concentrate on “extreme” beers, with more hops, more numbing flavour, more strength, to try to impress the blinkered tasters that seem to form the majority of Ratebeer members, to the detriment of those of use who want nuance, subtlety and depth in our beers.

And if you want a perfect example of how the “enthusiasts” of Ratebeer know absobleedinglutely nothing at all about beer, here’s their “best beers of the British Isles 2011”, in which Guinness Draught Stout, a barely average beer at best, is not only at number 13, but three places ahead of Guinness FES, a world classic.

(Incidentally, when that Ratebeer list first went up, it listed the styles of each beer, so you could speedily see that the top was dominated by imperial stouts. Strangely, after uncomplimentary comments about that aspect of the results, the “styles” column has disappeared. You may think this is an Orwellian attempt to rewrite history: I couldn’t possibly comment.)

196 thoughts on “Why extremophiles are a danger to us all

  1. I think you have spoken for sensible beer enthusiasts everywhere with this. I also read these lists with something approaching slack jawed incredulity – their relationship with the real world (and the “bread and butter” beers that breweries rely on to survive) is tenuous at best.

    1. you don’t really know what you’re talking about, and I’ve doubt you spent much time interacting with people on ratebeer.

      I’m on ratebeer… it introduced me to the world of beer in general. If it wasn’t for ratebeer, yes, I wouldn’t care less about 10% barrel aged imperial stouts. But I also wouldn’t have any 5% session pale ales either.

      Like any other beer enthusiast, we spend most of our time drinking those bread and butter session ales. Every once in a while we find a whale to get excited about.

      1. Um – 5% is NOT a session beer. And no, I don’t spend much time interacting with people on Ratebeer because my experience is that it’s populated – your good self excepted, I’m sure, and also one or two others – in far too large part by people who have nothing to say that I find interesting.

        1. Martyn, you’d have a hard time convincing me (and many others) that a Düsseldorf Altbier or Kölsch isn’t a session beer, even if they clock in at around 4.9%. Same applies to many of the Franconian countryside Keller lagers. This still leaves your observation about the Ratebeer lists intact. If you look at their “best beers” of Germany, the list is similarly dominated by various flavors of strong lagers and wheat beers: Schlenkerla Ur-Bock, Aventinus Weizenbock, Ayinger Celebrator Doppelbock, and on it goes. Subtlety is clearly not a value with this kind of “best beer” list.

          1. Yes, but the point about a British ‘session” is that it involves drinking a minimum of four to six pints – or more – while remaining sober enough to have a coherent, enjoyable conversation. That’s why the first popular British ‘lagers’ were so much weaker than their continental equivalents, and why so many British beers are around 3.8%-4.2% abv.

        2. Yes it is. Budweiser, Coors, and Miller High life all have an abv of 5%. I would think these beers qualify as session beers.

  2. The amusing (or alarming) thing is when brewers are rash or ignorant enough to point at a high rating on TickBeer as a recommendation for their beer. Actually it’s more something to be embarrassed about.

      1. But it’s not “beer enthusiasts” who like these beers, it’s “Ratebeer enthusiasts” – a very different animal, and frankly, a very peculiar one. And one whose distorted idea of what beer should be must not be allowed to colour what brewers brew, what bars stock or what the rest of the world thinks about beer.

        1. “And one whose distorted idea of what beer should be must not be allowed to colour what brewers brew, what bars stock or what the rest of the world thinks about beer.”

          Exactly! That my friend is CAMRAs job consarnit!

        2. I drink a lot of different style beers. Saisons, Gose, Berlinger Weisse, Pale Ales, ESB, Marzen, Dunkels, Stouts, Porters, IPA, etc.. . I am looking for balance, style specific charactersistic, and complex flavors. I find it very helpful to try a beer and look how people are rating and describing the beer on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. It is really about what the individual is tasting, smelling, seeing. I think anyone that is paying attention to these things while drinking a beer is a beer enthusiast.

          @Martyn. I think you are misunderstanding how people use beer rating websites.

  3. This all makes me very glad that at least one of my local brewpubs is committed to always having a session beer in their rotation taps, and 3 of their 4 permanent beers are below 5%abv. Sure they do “extreme” beers, but they also do excellent classic styles, including properly made pilsner and to be tapped on Tuesday a Czech style tmavy lezak. I wonder sometimes, in the US context, if sessions beer brewers are actually more innovative than the hop head focus group?

  4. Beer Advocate and Rate Beer are irrelevant to the world of beer, they certainly don’t define a reasonable rating system of quality , other than ” here are the top 100 extreme beers in the world ” Welcome to the 21st century, “here’s your new tattoo” and where reality TV is king and it’s not worthy unless there is conflict, sex, and wanton a gratuitous violence.
    Qu’ils mangent de la brioche !

    1. Hey tough guy, can’t you find something more important to rant about than the largest ever-growing database of beers in the world, which is highly relevant and intertwined with the brewing industry?

  5. I think this is a little unfair – the ratebeer list is only as relevant as any award whether it be the champion beer of britain, michelin stars or the 1000 albums to hear before you die. Any award is just representative of the tastes of those choosing the award. We may think that US drinkers are extreme but I’m not sure that’s accurate – they just have different traditions and different tastes, as reflected in the award.

    I don’t see ratebeer or beer advocate as irrelevant either but they fairly reasonable guides to what I might enjoy. I’m sure that there are people that follow it slavishly and read it is law but I’m equally sure these people are in the minority. Personally my tastes correlate with it so I’ll use it as a guide – as in I don’t always agree but on average I’ll trust that a beer with a higher score will be more enjoyable than one with a lower score.

    Different strokes for different folks and all that…

      1. “The World” being who? RateBeer is an enthusiast community frequented by the same. It’s not like people going to buy a brown ale at the store are being forced to check the RateBeer profile first.

        I agree that the RateBeer (and even worse BeerAdvocate) tend to fetishize certain extreme styles, like IRS for example, but they also aren’t really an influence on the midlevel beer world. There isn’t a guy sitting there in the beer aisle, thinking about buying a 5% Pale Ale and then saying “Oh, crap! I can’t buy this, because it’s not in the top 100 on RateBeer!”

  6. I agree with most of what you say – even being a quite active participant on Ratebeer. But some of your comments are loose ends, and show a serious lack of consistency. You rave against the rampant ABV’s and overdoses of hops etc., and moan about the lack of subtelty. I agree. And then, as supreme example, you compare the rating average of Guinness draught against that of the Guinness FES (to me, the “Belgian” variety of Guinness). Now, I don’t consider neither of both to be true world classics, at least on the enjoyment scale (as opposed to trendsetters). But at least, the kegged version is light in ABV, in comparison to the heavy handed FES, that I certainly wouldn’t analyse as “subtle”…
    I have repeated this over and over, and probably will be for years on. Ratebeer (and Beeradvocate) are great tools – if you use them right, that is: take out that what is meaningful to you, and forget about the rest. At least, that’s how I envisage it.

    1. Joris, draught Guinness is simply not a very good beer, regardless of its ABV. And to rate it as above Guinness FES shows a deeply worrying lack of appreciation of the merits of the two beers. If Ratebeerers like extreme beers, how can they rate DG above FES?

      1. Draught Guinness is almost certainly rated above FES due to the disparity in total ratings. FES has 576 ratings to Draught’s 3464. FES actually has a better average score (3.64 vs 3.43), but the ratebeer rankings are most likely adjusted in a way that weights number of reviews. Furthermore, 90% of ratebeer raters are in the US, as is stated in the description of the new rankings, and FES has limited American distribution (slowly expanding in the past year). Also, I imagine that Draught has a higher percentage of ratings from people with more limited experience with rating beer.

        1. I’ll start this by saying I’m the Editor of the Hop Press, RateBeer’s collection of beer writers.

          To what David has to say, you’re arguing both sides to fit your argument. Either these are beer geeks who don’t know subtlety or they’re novices who think Guiness draught is better than it really is.

          Also, 90% of the Top 10 raters live OUTSIDE the United States. Your stat is quoted incorrectly. RateBeer draws from a global pool of users.

          In my experience, RateBeer’s Best is a list of beers that could most closely be compared to the “Beers You’d Pay the Most For.” I have a great love for pilsners or for other smaller styles that seem to be ignored by the annual list. That said, I’d be willing to pay far more for one of these bottles on the list than even the best pilsner. These bottles can be shared and enjoyed in small servings while I’d much rather have a full keg of my favorite session.

          To the author, to question the release of this list during such important events as the uprising in Egypt, you’re guilty of the same thing.

          There’s more to RateBeer’s Best than a list of Imperial Stouts. Check the Best By Style rankings for representations across the board, including a Low Alcohol section. http://www.ratebeer.com/RateBeerBest/ByStyle_012011.asp

          1. Mario, I’m dreadfully sorry, but seem to be guilty of the same errors as 90 per cent of the people responding to this post, thinking that I’m making an attack on (a) extreme beers and (b) American beer drinkers.

            “Either these are beer geeks who don’t know subtlety or they’re novices who think Guinness draught is better than it really is.”

            It’s perfectly possible to be both. But that’s not my point.

            “90% of the Top 10 raters live OUTSIDE the United States. Your stat is quoted incorrectly. RateBeer draws from a global pool of users.”

            Er – what stat? Nowhere do I mention Americans, or the US. And the “global pool of users” is irrelevant to my complaint.

            Let me state my case again. (1) Ratebeer assessors – whichever country they’re from – clearly have an obsession with extreme beers, or they wouldn’t give so many of them such high marks that such beers dominate the rankings. (2) There’s nothing wrong with extreme beers, but having extreme beers dominate the rankings is very unhealthy, because it obscures the 95 per cent of wonderful beers that are not, in fact, extreme, and gives totally the wrong impression of what beer is all about.

            That’s it.

          2. I’m confused with this statistic: “90% of the Top 10 raters live OUTSIDE the United States. ” I read that of the 10 top raters in the world, 9 people live outside the US? What is the percentage for raters 11 to x who are OUTSIDE the US. (Just curious.)

          3. Mario,

            You seem to be taking my comment in entirely the wrong context and sorta putting words in my mouth.

            To be clear, I was merely trying to explain the discrepancy between each beer’s numerical rating and this year’s RB Best rankings. I’m not trying to argue any point, and I have no idea where you got the impression that I was saying that ratebeer raters don’t appreciate subtlety. I’m a very regular ratebeer rater and actually disagree with much of this post (though, I generally love the blog).

            I read the 90% stat wrong. Whoops. Though I have to say, as a regular user of ratebeer, that seems off to me. Do you know if that percentage refers to total reviews or total reviewers? If the former, my point may stand, since the the top 100 reviewers would be skewing the stats and I’d guess that most of the reviews for Guinness Draught and FES are from the US. I freely admit that I could be dead wrong about that. It would be nice if rb allowed more sorting options, so this type of stat could be more easily collected.

        2. Just to throw some light on the Draught Guinness situation, the best beers by “country” rankings are heavily weighted towards ratings from that particular “country”. The Republic of Ireland did not feature in any “country” lists in previous years. This year the UK list was extended to British Isles to allow beers from the Republic of Ireland to appear. Although I can’t pretend to have done any detailed analysis of the scoring, I would not be surprised if the high regard in which many Irish drinkers seem to hold draught Guinness had some bearing on its elevated position.

      2. I don’t know how the Ratebeer “Best of the British Isles” list was formed, but I suspect that it’s like beeradvocate’s Top Beers list, where those that have more reviews have a greater chance of ranking higher, even if those with less reviews have a better rating (for example: Russian River Supplication, with an average rating of 4.46/5 and 750 reviews, ranks much higher than Founders’ Canadian Breakfast Stout, with an average of 4.59 and 309 reviews). If you look at ratebeer, you’ll notice that FES indeed has a higher average rating than GD, but far fewer reviews — which should be no surprise, considering the availability of the two. If this explains the perceived anomaly of extreme beer lovers preferring GD over FES (that is, by explaining that on average they in fact do not prefer GD), your pompous BS about ratebeer users knowing “absobleedinglutely nothing at all about beer” is moot.

        The whole tone of this article is obnoxious and almost cynical. I, by my own admission, love extreme beers. I also love a lot of (maybe even more) not-so-extreme beers. As another commenter pointed out, it makes sense that the extreme beers tend to rank higher, since these rating systems don’t take into account sessionability, subtlety, or character. When one of the facets for assessment is simply “taste,” it seems natural to me that those with bolder, more numbing flavor will acquire higher ratings. I think that’s more “normal” than the kind of serious analysis you seem to be advocating.

        You referenced “normal drinkers” a couple of times in this article. By the numbers, “normal drinkers” prefer Budweiser over anything else they’ve had. And “normal drinkers” prefer Guinness Draught over any other stout in the world, which makes your dismissal of it as “simply not a very good beer” look extremely hypocritical.

        1. “it seems natural to me that those with bolder, more numbing flavor will acquire higher ratings.”

          It doesn’t seem natural to me, it seems stupid. Would you rate Indian cooking higher than French simply because it numbs your mouth more?

          1. Actually using a lot of chili spices is not done much in classical indian cooking. Chilies were introduced from Latin america by european traders.

          2. @Zach
            That’s pretty much an irrelevant comment. Whether it started that way or not, Indian and much of SE Asian cuisine rapidly assimilated the chili into their local cuisine and has continued to do so for about the last 500 years.

            Before that, Indian food made more substantial use of spicy peppercorns – so the idea that Indian food represents a more intense (though not implicitly superior) sensory and taste experience still stands.

  7. I think that after people spend $15.00 or more for a bottle of beer, they make themselves feel better by rating it high so they don’t feel cheated. I’ll be the first to say the “emperor has no cloths” Pliney is too much of everything. It sucks! Gimme a Harpoon IPA any day.

    1. The whole world is welcome to participate in the site and the rating sytem factors in all ratings, not just American ones.

      1. The problem is that the crowds doing the ratings are dominated by geeks who think having their taste buds smashed in by a baseball bat of a beer is evidence that this is the greatest beer in the world, whereas people with a more normal view of what beer ought to be are too busy leading meaningful lives, rather than spending all their time opening beers with one hand and writing up tasting notes with the other. So thanks for your invite, but really, my main concern is to get the world not to take Ratebeer’s ratings seriously, rathe than try to get them to reflect a true appreciation of beer.

        1. By that measure since the average American drinks only lite beer we should confine ourselves to talking about that type since that would be the only way to be relevant to the typical beer drinker. No thanks. The Ratebeer crowd are beer enthusiasts and as such are prone to be a bit extreme and obsessive. They rate the beer by how much they enjoyed it – not by style, price or availability so this naturally skews the final results. Think of it this way, if there was an online community for hamburger enthusiasts that made a list of the best hamburgers in the world the list would largely consist of extreme, flavorful and somewhat “out there” burgers – probably not the stuff you grab in the pub weekly. You could decry the list as being irrelevant to most burger eaters since McDonalds sells more burgers than anyone else in the world at those burgers are nothing like the top 50 burger list but you would be missing the point.

          Lastly, with this being a blog obsessed with beer and beer culture from 200-400 years ago it is odd for you to be calling anyone out for being “out of touch” with beer culture at large. Neither this blog or Ratebeer are representative of current beer culture internationally, but that does not make them without merit or interest.

          1. “if there was an online community for hamburger enthusiasts that made a list of the best hamburgers in the world the list would largely consist of extreme, flavorful and somewhat ‘out there’ burgers” – no, I don’t think it would, actually. It would be commending excellent, well-made burgers, not wacky burgers with as much pepper and onion in them as meat.

          2. Don’t know much about burgers, but cinema is a good example: The IMDB (internet movie data base) has a list of top movies. If you scrutinize: >90% USA, few films from Europe, some Japanese, nothing from India or China. Well, we better forget about these lists from America. My recommendation: See a film from Upper Volta, try a beer from Togo. Discover the world, apart from Hollywood and Imperial Stout.

        2. So, the people on a beer website who rate beer’s opinion of said beer is not as valid as the person writing on a beer blog about beer? And the person writing a beer blog bashing the beer website has a life, while the people rating beer on a beer website obvious have none? Your logic makes no sense. And, your claim that these lists are dangerous because they do not match up with what most beer drinkers think…well, I think if you look at the best selling beers in the word, you will see that the “average beer drinker” is not the same as the average craft beer drinker, who is also not the same as the average ratebeer user, who is not the same as the average person reading this blog.

          But, its a lot easier to throw out a bunch of smug BS and think of yourself as superior to other people. Right.

          1. Well, no, like you, Andreas is missing the point completely. It’s not whose opinion is more valid, it’s that these sort of lists give an utterly distorted idea of what beer is and should be about. Which is NOT imperial stout, to the exclusion of everything else. Do try to stop seeing this as a personal attack.

          2. “these sort of lists give an utterly distorted idea of what beer is and should be about. ”

            I see. So for some reason your opinion is right, you know what beer “should” be about, and the thousands of beer aficionados on ratebeer.com are wrong.

            Wow, we’re sure you’re here to set us straight. :rolleyes:

            Seriously, what gives the arrogance to dismiss ratebeer.com’s collective ratings?

        3. >geeks who think having their taste buds smashed in by a baseball bat of a beer is evidence that this is the greatest beer in the world, whereas people with a more normal view of what beer ought to be are too busy leading meaningful lives

          Quite the opposite when attending events in New York City, wherein the most “extreme” brewers events—Stone, Dogfish, and now Cigar City, the Bruery—are always packed to the brim full of these “normal people” who don’t participate in beer websites, they just hear about beer and want to try the craziest, most extreme brands. The events of lesser known, more restrained brewers are invariably filled almost entirely with true beer geeks, a great many of them active raters on beer websites.

      2. Yeah right, then why is the site only in english for example? And why are 90% of the beers in the top 100 americans beers, who are look like donkey piss over here? This rating just shows exactly what the mentality of the american voters are: there is USA, and the rest of the world is a parking lot. This rating is worth shit.

        1. Donkey piss? So are you complaining that Americans only drink extreme beer, or complaining that Americans only drink Budweiser? You can not have it both ways.

          As for being American-centric the site is based in North America and most raters are from there. Quite a few brews from other places do quite well score wise despite the fact that the American raters rarely get to try them fresh. As the majority of the raters are American they will tend to rate what is readily available to them. I fail to see the problem with that. The fact that North America is also having quite a beer renaissance helps too. Lots of new breweries and interesting things to try. I’m sure we would love to have more raters from other parts of the world and to have their input too.

  8. This isn’t a million miles away from what Tandleman was saying a bit back, which in turn wasn’t that far from an old rant of mine.

    Someone should start a campaign for varied and drinkable ale – although as I say that I’ve got visions of crazed American tickers raving about the latest discovery being the most drinkable beer ever… it’s so drinkable it’s undrinkable! Maybe I’ve got an overactive imagination.

    Curious that only two Trappist breweries figure – and one of them only sells at the brewery gate. Apparently tens of thousands of highly-trained beer-tasters all around the world have tried Orval and said “Naah – got anything American?” (And that UK list is weird.)

    1. Orval scored a 3.92, which puts it in the 99th percentile for the overall site, and the 100th percentile for the overly broad category of Belgian Ale.
      Looking at the ratings distribution for it, the graph is heavily skewed towards the top end of the range, but the overall score is brought down by the very low marks from people who just didn’t like it. Pretty damn good for a beer that is hardly a mainstream offering.

  9. I think lists like these also lead to a backlash. I know on my blog I’ve begun to search out and review cheap yet “somewhat” tasty beers. If we had more session beers available to us in Louisiana I would be excited and would be reviewing those. The “extreme” beers can be fun and tasty but I’d rather sit back and drink tasty, low abv beers. Great article!


    The Beer Buddha

  10. Maybe the problem is that there aren’t enough people commenting on beer who take into account its “usability” or “sessionability”. It’s a bit on a par with saying the best cars in the world are Ferraris and Porsches, which in a narrow sense may contain an element of truth, but isn’t much use to the ordinary guy in the street who wants one to go to work and to the shops.

  11. Agree with most of your rant. I drink what I want at any given time. Like some low abv, Like some higher abv. Will look at Lists, for interest, nothing else. Beer Festivals you go to always have a Best Beer, do not always agree with their choice. Everybody has their own Tastes. You make your own Judgements. No list will encourage me to drink any Winning Beer !.

  12. This was laughable. To generalize all Americans based on this pointless list (which not all raters are from the US anyway) is hilarious. In the US we brew the best beer available. HANDS DOWN. We have mastered more styles and are so much more diverse than any country out there. ENGLAND? Probably the WORST of the brewing countries. Bitters and ESBs…oooooh! Very diverse. I think the guy who wrote this (and the comments) were posted by people who live in 3rd world brewing countries who are jealous what we have here.

    1. Err – did I mention Americans anywhere in there? No, I did not. There is nothing at all about Americans. So why, apart from your own paranoia/chippiness, are you accusing me of generalising about Americans? The overwhelming majority of Americans are very fine people. A tiny minority, sadly, come out with amazingly arrogant rubbish like “In the US we brew the best beer available. HANDS DOWN.” No, you don’t. There are many excellent beers brewed in America, but there are as many, if not more, brewed in the rest of the world. The problem with Ratebeer is that, apart from a few hard-to-come-by beers such as Westvleteren, it’s dominated by American extreme beers, which is NOT what beer should be all about. And I’m sorry you think English beer is restricted to “bitters and ESBs”: you need to read my book, which will show you that it’s anything but.

      1. Yes, we DO brew the best beers here. You English snobs think sitting at your stupid pubs drinking milds, bitters and ESBs (which all taste the same) is the only way to enjoy a beer. How about some DIVERSITY?? Arguing with you is like arguing with an infant about physics. Your one track, tunnel vision knowledge of beer is too one dimensional to try and explain to you. Go have some tea and crumpets.

        1. Amazing dispute. Please continue and discuss whether a Hummer or a Rolls Royce is the best car in the world. You both might be right. But keep in mind: The best beer is from Germany.

        2. Right on! The best beers available! Like the American India Pale Ale… Which, as everyone knows, is a totally American invention with no connection to the UK, whatsoever. The next thing ya’ know, somebody will say pizza is from Italy!

  13. I’d never considered myself a loopy extremophile but thanks for putting me straight on that Martyn. I’ve drunk thousands of British beers over the years and found too many of them functional but, frankly, a touch uninspiring. Perhaps if I had access to a similar number of big US IPAs & stouts I’d start to find many of those a bit boring after a while too. But I don’t and, as it is, I generally appreciate those beers as a welcome antidote to the diet of workaday low ABV brown bitters and golden ales enjoyed by the majority of “normal” drinkers (if, that is, they are not supping cack mass market lagers or Guinness – draught, not FES, of course). If that makes me a dangerous extremophile, I guess I’ll have to live with the monniker.

  14. it’s beer. love it or leave it. savor it or analyze it. covet and disregard it.

    i love beer (with the obvious exception of badly flawed improperly brewed beer). all beer of all flavors and institutions and ingenuity and tradition and all that rot, it is still just beer. a beverage of humankind, history, love, peace, war, and commiseration. but ultimately it is beer. beer is relative to humanity as a whole and to an individual as, well, an individual. hence a list, any list, is just that and only as relevant as one so deems it to themselves and their view on the world around them and the world that they live in.

    sometimes i am reminded of a thought on knowledge and all with which it encompasses that i read in some book back in my youth:
    ‘there is no such thing as bad knowledge, only that which man does with said knowledge can be called bad.’

    and so i would theorize in my own world so too is it with beer. most beers are good. how good they are is then left to our constantly shifting evolving changing vision of what is good, both individually and as a whole.

    what’s wrong with that? nothing i would say.

    but who am i, right? obviously i am just me, a happy-to-be beer geek ala beer ambassador living in the sunny state of Florida supping a Cascade Apricot because tis what i am in the mood for. what will later’s beverage of choice be? i don’t know…lager. pilsner. stout. brown ale. ipa. saison. lambic. single-malt. cocktail.

    i’m not sure but in this burgundian’s heart tis all good.

    i’m just saying ^_^

  15. Many of regular Ratebeer users do not even look at the top 100 list. I’ve been a member of Ratebeer for about 7 years now and have looked at it maybe once or twice in the past 4 or so years. If you want a better idea of what beer geeks appreciate, click on advanced search, sort by highest rating and by style and look at the beers with a decent amount of ratings. The advanced search tool will give you a better snapshot than the top 100 list.

  16. Your missing the point. Ratebeer isn’t about the beer you would drink on a deserted island. It is the beer you would drink the night you won the lottery.

  17. I’ve enjoyed learning the history of beer from your site but the pompousness of this most recent commentary really sets my teeth on edge. How you could perceive that thousands of raters from over 60 different countries must all share extreme taste preferences escapes me. The beauty of the rate beer site is simply that anyone that would like to record their opinion of a beer can. One need not be annointed as having a “correct” sense of what is good beer and what is not. I work about 60 hours per week. One of my small pleasures is hunting out new beers and recording my thoughts on them. Rate Beer affords me a convenient venue to store these anecdotes and see what other folks who enjoy beer think of the same. I suspect that the average consumer of industrial light lagers might not find the site useful but I have always found this site to be a wonderful guidebook for seeking out the next treasure to sample. So Martyn I have to say “boo” to you for showing yourself to be quite an elitist when assessing this site just because the commentary of the thousands of contributors there do not align with your own.

    1. “How you could perceive that thousands of raters from over 60 different countries must all share extreme taste preferences escapes me. ”

      Well, it rather escapes me, too, because I didn’t.

      1. But Mr. Cornell you did in your very opening paragraph by labeling those that contribute to RateBeer as ” loopy extremophiles”. How might you expect a reader to interpret that?

        1. Only those who vote in such quantity as to push extreme beers to the top of the list, mate. I’m sure there are very many members of Ratebeer who don’t want a brew that rasps their tongue raw. The do appear to be outnumbered, though.

  18. It’s a conditioned reflex for the fanboy beer drinker. Misunderstand the point of a blog post and monster the “hater”. Sad and predictable.

    I’ve been saying for a while that these sites aren’t good for beer. They hothouse hard-to-find beers and overpromote their brewers, and promote (unconsciously or not) a disturbing groupthink about what good beer is. As for beer trading, don’t get me started…

    1. Absolutely right – the obsession with Westvleteren is pathetic. I was at the Bruges Beer Festival before last, and I saw box tickers putting in their notes that Westvlteren was “the best beer at the Festival” at 11 am – ie before they’d had chance to taste any/many of the other beers available.

  19. Having been involved in the making of a few beers and knowing how they were brewed makes looking at their reviews great fun. I’d say a good 50% are total rubbish, with the reviewer spotting stuff that I know for a fact isn’t in there.

    I haven’t forgiven RateBeer for proclaiming Westvleteren 12 the “best beer in the world” a few years back. Before I’d been able to get hold of it fairly regularly at a pretty reasonable price. It’s now much more difficult to find and when it is available costs four or five times as much.

    1. Ron – you’re absolutely right. Most of what the self-appointed tasters put up on Ratebeer is ill-informed, prejudiced and ignorant. And, please don’t anyone say that it’s one man’s opinion/taste against another’s. Some of this stuff is just plain wrong. For example, it states as fact that Meantime’s Kellerbier is brewed at The Old Brewery, taken to Meantime’s main brewery to be kegged, and then brought back to The Old Brewery.
      Absolute fantasy, which the reviewer has made up himself. The Kellerbier is send from the lagering tanks, where it has spent 6 or 7 weeks, down to the serving tanks in the cellar, from whence it it delivered up to the taps by compressed air pressure, as is common in the Czech Republic. Ron will vouch for this, as he has been down to the cellars and seen the tanks for himself.
      Now, before anyone wastes their time posting that I’m being defensive because the (one) tasting notes on Ratebeer for Kellerbier are negative, let me say two things –
      a) the taster who posted the notes is so incompetent that he or she can’t tell the difference between the natural honey sweetness that you get from Maris Otter and diacetyl. Kellerbier gets 4 days diacetyl rest and we analyse it – there’s no diacetyl there.
      b) in warm weather, with the beer garden open, we sell 1000 ltr of Kellerbier a week from a very small bar, with 50 other world classic beers on offer. So what do yo think means more to me – the fact that my beer sells like hot cakes, or the opinion of some prat with tin taste buds?

      1. I liked the reviewer who found Pretty Things XXXX had an adjunct taste. It was brewed from 100% mild malt.

        Even better was the one who said De Molen SSS, brewed to a recipe from 1914, “wasn’t true to style”.

        1. So you’re annoyed at one uninformed rating and using it to call the rest of the people boobs? I don’t really see how that is constructive. Nor do I understand the anger about the price of Westvleren. You were perfectly happy to enjoy it when it was an obscure brew from an obscure brewery, but once it gets known (regardless of how that happened) you’re pissed at the resulting price increase. That’s economics – blaming beer raters for that is pretty ignorant. It’s very easy to write on a blog – you’re only responsible to yourself. It’s much tougher when you’re trying to represent what is, by definition, a disparate group.

          1. Where did I say I was annoyed? I was amused by the uninformed rating.

            I used to be able to get hold of Westvleteren easily and at a reasonable price. I really like the beer and drank it pretty regularly. Now I can only rarely drink it. This was the direct result of RateBeer declaring it the Best Beer in The World. It seems pretty natural that would piss me off. I’m not blaming the individual raters, but the site for issuing a press release.

      2. I am the person who noted on RateBeer that the Kellerbier was kegged at the main brewery. This was because I was at the British Guild of Beer Writers beer styles conference last year and at that conference, in response to a question about the kegging of the Kellerbier, Alastair said it was kegged at the main brewery. He may have made a mistake. Or the arrangement may have changed since then. But I took my information from that statement. I am assuming from your comments that you are Rod Jones, so you would know what you are talking about. No worries, at RateBeer we gather information from various sources and in good faith, and attempt to keep up with corrections, so I have updated our information. There is a “Feedback” link at the bottom of every page on the site to send in queries and corrections. If you or anyone else is concerned about some information, we will look into it and adjust it. We are a bunch of enthusiasts who like beer and like to share our experiences. We are not a business. The site is free to access, though people can pay to join, and the money helps support the site.

        We have noted that while some breweries welcome the RateBeer community and get involved, some do not. That is fine, and is to be expected.

        Meantime is a very successful and professional brewery, though on the whole I don’t think Meantime aims to appeal to the typical RateBeer drinker. As such there will not be the same sort of enthusiastic reviews as beers made by such as Thornbridge, Dark Star and BrewDog. I am pleased for you that your business is doing well, and that people drink a lot of your lager. I am not a kegged lager enthusiast, so Meantime is not a company that excites me – though I keep an open mind, and I enjoyed my recent tour of the facilities.

        The Kellerbier I drank tasted of butterscotch / artificial butter flavouring . Quite a lot. My assumption when I experience that sort of flavour is that it is as a result of diacetyl. I’m interested to hear from you that the strong buttery flavours came not from diacetyl, but from the Maris Otter malt.

        Anyway, I gave my response. I rated the beer and left some comments. The comments were partly my own record of the experience, and partly some information for other drinkers. In the same way that we report back to friends on films we’ve seen or books we’ve read or albums we’ve heard. The intention was not a professional review, but a quick, off-hand note partly to remind me of the experience. Something a little more substantial than “I liked this” or “I didn’t like this”, but not too much more substantial. Thinking of us as “tasters” is giving us a little too much credit, and may be the cause of your unrest. That some of the people who drink your beer are “ill-informed, prejudiced and ignorant” is true. There are all sorts who make up the world – informed and ill-informed. Many of the people who drink your beer will not be able to tell the difference between honeyed Maris Otter and the fake butter notes of diacetyl (and would not even know what diacetyl is and might think that Maris Otter is a potato). They will just drink the beer and respond to it. You can read their responses: ignorant, informed, half-ignorant/half-informed, enthusiastic, bored, etc, at RateBeer. Or not. The choice is yours. And you also have the choice to post your views on RateBeer on various blogs. Such is the internet. Meanwhile you will continue to brew your beer and RateBeer folks will continue to drink it and give their honest and often ill-informed comments. Such is life.

        1. Thank you very much for your comments and good wishes. To be fair, you were not the only one who was deceived by the flavour of the Maris Otter. Accordingly, we changed the grain bill some time ago – it is now 50% Maris Otter, 50% Tipple – to tone the sweetness down. I understand that other brewers, including Fullers, have done a similar thing.
          Speaking personally, my point has been that RateBeer is a bit like Wikipedia – anybody can make a contribution whether they know much about what they are talking about or not, and therefore some of what is up there is wrong. I used the entry about Kellerbier as an example where I could be absolutely sure of the facts.

          1. I know what you mean when you say that some statements are “wrong”. However, the point I’d like to emphasise is that the ratings are the opinions of a range of beer drinkers. You are coming at the site as though the users are supposed to be beer expects, and are somewhat surprised when they turn out to be Joe Blogs from down the road who is simply someone who likes beer and wants to keep a record of what he has drunk. Making a record of what he has drunk tends to make him think more about the beer he is drinking so he does becomes a little bit more aware and informed. Some people will remain ignorant – but that is human nature, and we must accept both the reality of human fraility and that people do not always wish to learn more about the beer they drink, the cheese they eat or the shoes they wear. The site does indicate that it is a consumer site, not beer expert or beer judge or beer critic. However, I do appreciate that some raters do make comments as though they are beer judges – but that is again human nature, and happens everyday when people drink beer and talk amongst themselves, even though they are not putting their views on a website. It’s the same when people watch a game of football – people suddenly become both analyist and armchair manager: “Should bring on Giggs now, and push harder in midfield.” It’s all part of the fun!

  20. This is one of the most misguiding blog posts iv ever seen. Your putting forward your oppinion as facts. You ever thought that other people have different tastes to you and your, what must be, small group of friends have?

    Seriously its because of opinions like this and such negitive attitudes towards change from boring brown bitters that is constantly holding back beer from being a celebration of a drink.

    Away and drink some beers from The Kernel brewery and try to justify your thoughts on this matter.

    1. Jeez, does nobody read this post properly? I LOVE imperial stouts. But it’s much more damaging to beer’s image to promote seven imperial stouts as among the ten best beers in the world than to proclaim the glories to be found in bitter. Frankly, to misquote Samuel Johnson, a man who is tired of bitter is tired of beer.

      1. I totally agree with you on the top 50 btw, I dont like imp stouts generally and think its quite unrepresentive of the world beer scene, but its not something to judge the site by. The scoring system that RB use means that bigger and more extreme beers will always get a higher score, as its measured by aroma, appearance, taste, palate, overall. This is different from camra scoring systems as they include the likes of drinkability as an important catagory, much in the same way that BJCP scoring highly reflects to style.

        RB is the biggest beery resource in the world, though being an american site with around 80% of users being american, this comes through clearly in the scoring. To dismiss it as useless because of the top 50 is a silly way to look at it. If there were a top 50 camra list I am sure it would be just as laughable.

      2. Again…how can you speak of something when your knowledge of beer is based solely on a bland and watery style alone? You “blokes” over there are happy with mediocrity (which is fine) and are like sheep (fine also) just following the herd and not ruffling any feathers. Open your eyes to new styles and you will be surprised at what more beer can be other than the same old bitter or mild.

        1. “how can you speak of something when your knowledge of beer is based solely on a bland and watery style alone?” Eh? I am astonished at your ability to leap to conclusions about my beery experience based on no evidence whatsoever. I’ve drunk beer on five continents in almost every conceivable style and strength. I’ve certainly drunk some great imperial stouts. But my many years as a beer drinker make me certain it’s stupid to declare that imperial stouts make up seven out of the top 10 beers in the world.

          1. You seem to be really intent on harping on the fact that when you assign a numeric rating to things, limited specialty high end beers are going to tend to have a higher numeric rating than others, and when sorting by numeric rating, they will come up on top.

            I can’t figure out how you infer from that one list that nobody likes any more moderate beers, or that anyone is advocating that because such and such IRS is good, that other beers are in fact not good. Yes, there are IRS beers with a 100 rating on RateBeer. And Pales. And Wits. And everything else you can think of. Where are you getting this notion that a top 50 list on an enthusiast site is somehow defining a generation of beer drinkers’ tastes?

    2. Magic Dave –
      “Seriously its because of opinions like this and such negitive attitudes towards change from boring brown bitters that is constantly holding back beer from being a celebration of a drink”
      Sorry mate – no offense, genuine question, not trying to be funny (won’t mention the word”grammar”) but what does this sentence actually mean?

  21. Beer geeks (extremists) don’t like the taste of beer. That is quite clear. They only like a beverage that has enough flavour to kill a small animal or something they could still taste if their mouth were filled with cotton. Beer history is, for them, a sport – who can make up the best story about where IPA came from. And then, there are the labels. Oodles of labels – styles, brewery definitions (micro, pico, mini, etc.) – everything needs to be organised for them in easily understandable terms.

    Sad, really.

    1. Yeah…anyone who doesn’t venture outside of boring bitters and milds don’t know what they are talking about. Those who drink the same 2-4 styles of beer all their lives are more knowledgeable than those who seek out new styles and flavors in beer. Makes a lot of sense

  22. In Italy we often and cyclically have very passionate discussions about this topic. The perception of ratbeerians judgements has degenerated in the mind of many publicans and beer lovers. I like novelties but some people seems now more interested in running after all latest IS than looking at the freshest and drinkable session beers. It’s simply crazy to see than 39 of the 50 best beers in the world are IS… But there is another aspect, somehow more serious, at least in Italy. What it makes me sad is listening above subspictions publicans that are going to be more interested in staying on the top of the ranking than listening their passionated customers. This brought some fake reviews that made us ridiculous. Even if rating sites are useful many ways (principally as databases), I agree with your general view.

  23. This discussion reminds me of ones in the wine world, where high-ABV, highly “extracted” wines from California, say, are lauded by some but felt by others to be too one-dimensional and not go well with food. And the ratings that result from one or the other way of looking at it are correlatively felt by the other camp to be lacking.

    My view on ratings is, once one has learned a certain amount about beer, it is important to form one’s own judgement. Others’ opinions may be of interest, but they should be taken with a grain of salt because:

    – first and foremost, tastes are personal

    – the age and overall condition of the beers will often differ

    – s0metimes the very same beer, even given parity of age and condition, will differ in taste because brewers change or tweak recipes over time.


    1. I would concur entirely. The rate beer list is predominately a reflection of American beer enthusiasts. It is not restricted to these folks but these folks are its main contributors. Therefore they will likely have more opportunity to taste American craft beer fresh and American craft beer in variety and with frequency. Offerings from Britain, continental Europe and Australia are most often sampled after significant travel and storage challenges giving them a competitive disadvantage on the “Top” lists. Nonetheless, the site offers many a “local” opinion regardless of a beers appellation. Always enjoyable to establish your own opinion of a brew and then read other ratings to see if some have detected things that you may have perhaps overlooked…or perhaps missed out on because you did not have the option of tasting the beer fresh in its hometown.

  24. I’d like to add that I realize that many (most I think) passionate beer drinkers like beers of many different styles, malty and less, hoppy and non-, etc. But when translated to ratings, it is my perception that one or the other camp tends to pre-dominate (as in the wine world), and for the best-of list under discussion, the big flavour camp seems to have the bigger say. It’s just how they view it. For what it is worth, I don’t view it their way, and I agree with those who feel too much emphasis is placed on the big bruisers of the beer world.


      1. ad hominem.. ?

        and you call me a wanker.. sounds like you are just trying to sound smart when most people are laughing at your idiotic article..

        mommy needs to change your nappy.. ya twat…

        1. Ha ha, Bob’s had a sense of humour failure ‘cos he got called a wanker. I’m afraid you fell for that one, mate. Your best response would have been to ignore me, rather than try to answer back: by responding in kind you make everybody think your level of argument hasn’t progressed beyond the kindergarten. Look, this is beer we’re talking about. It’s not life or death. Nobody particularly cares what I say, except, evidently, a load of unbelievably sensitive Ratebeerians who can’t cope with any criticism and who, if they though what I said was complete bollocks, shouldn’t have given me a large lump of publicity, resulting in 3,000 hits on my blog in three days. For which I thank you all.

  25. I think this extreme beer obsession comes from a exhuberant personality that infects many homebrewers, as well as a misreading of the Belgium beer tradition. Micros make extreme beers for a few reasons -number one being higher revenues. But also extreme beers can hide brewing mistakes. Higher alcohol, higher amounts of malts and very high hopping rates can hide imperfections.

    Personally I can’t stand extreme beers. On a occaison I will try an Old Ale or Barley Wine. But those occaisons are few and far between. Most micros have a difficult time making a brew that is well balanced, yet complex. I would love to stop by a pub and get a simple English Bitter that fits the bill. I don’t want to get hammered, nor do I wish to have my tastebuds numbed from 100IBUs of Cascade hops. In an age where one can buy an Imperial Double Mocha Java Stout aged in burbon barrels that packs 15% ABV it is still rare to find a classic bitter on tap.

    1. There is a great deal of common sense and truth in this – one of the hardest beers to brew is a 3.8% ABV session bitter with real character and flavour, whereas any prat can get flavour into a super-hopped, super strong extreme beer. In Germany, Britain and the Czech Republic, it is rare to see anyone drinking beer much above 6% ABV.

      1. I guess Meantime wouldn’t want to make a 13.4% barrel-aged Imperial Stout that the extremophiles might like then Rod? In fact, although I obviously don’t have access to the Meantime output figures, I would guess that a fair proportion is 6%+. A few bottles certainly tend to find their way into my trolley whenever I visit Sainsburys.

        1. chriso-
          Meantime are grateful to you for supporting our beers by purchasing them. However, as a matter of fact, we only regularly brew 2 beers that are over 6%ABV – the London Porter at 6.5% and the India Pale Ale at 7.5%.

  26. Dear Sirs,
    in Deutschland lachen wir auch über das Ranking von ratebeer. So wie Imperial Stout die Top 50 worldwide bevölkert, so stehen auf der deutschen Top 50 Bock, Doppelbock, Eisbock und Smoked, Biere die in Deutschland wenige kennen, und noch weniger trinken. 60% der Deutschen trinken Pils. Jeder hat ein paar Marken, die er gern trinkt, und einige die er nicht gern trinkt. Im Laden zählt das Preis-Leistung-Verhältnis, und in die Kneipe geht man wegen der Freunde, nicht wegen der Marke, Deshalb wundern sich die Gäste von Übersee, dass viele Kneipen nur eine Marke ausschenken. Aber in der Kneipe zählt das frische Bier, und wenn ein Freund eine Runde ausgibt, gehen wir davon aus, dass das Bier o.k ist.
    Dear sirs,
    In Germany we are quite amused at the ratebeer rankings. In the same way imperial stout leads the Top 50 worldwide, the German Top 50 lists Bock, Doppelbock, Eisbock and Smoked, beers on a few know and even fewer drink. 60% of the market is Pils. Everybody has some favourite brands, and some he does not like. In a shop we care about the cost/performance ratio (still the best in world along with Czech rep) and we go to a pub to meet friends, not to care about brands. That’s the reason why most pubs offer just one brand. If it is fresh on tap, and a friend pays a round, the beer must be o.k.
    @Belgian Boy: Zijn Amerikaaners, die nooit in Europa geweest zijn, überhaupt in staat om over bier te praten? Alsje de stemmen van deze mensen aftrekt, word het bild misschien duidelijker.

    1. Sie haben recht – diese Leute kommen niemals, oder sehr selten, in Europa, und unsere Bierkultur verstehen die nicht – entweder ein Pils im Deutschland, ein Bitter in eine Englische Kneipe, oder ein polotmave lezak in der Tschechische Republic. Vergesen Wir dieser Quatsch ueber diese laechliche Biere, sage ich.

  27. My first thought is that you are just putting too much stock in ratebeer.com; it really has very little impact in the beer world at large. But the other side of the coin is that so does your blog, and every beer blog collectively. Beer writers are in the business of making a big deal about something that not many people care about. We love beer on a level that most people simply don’t understand. It drives us to stay up at night stressing over deadlines and headlines, sources and subjects. Our job is to make people interested in beer in new ways–to open their eyes to new experiences and developments in beer.

    I really think that what you do is important for beer. You fill a niche that keeps plenty of people interested in a big part of beer. But so do ratebeer.com, and other sites like it. I like the analogy above to the ranking of top performance cars. These beer rankings often come down to what beer the site users (and the übergeeks are the loudest in many situations) think is the most impressive. Normal, everyday stuff just tends to impress many of them less. I don’t particularly agree with them (personal taste is a wonderful thing), but that is the reality, and the numbers haven’t been doctored to show anything different.

    Please don’t take this list to mean more or be more important than it is. The vast, vast majority of beer drinkers don’t look at it, or at your blog. The world will still turn. Great beer will still be brewed and savored by appreciating drinkers in all situations. It might be a cerne in Prague, a bitter in London, or a double IPA in San Diego. Why attack others before you take the time to fully understand them? There is simply no need.

    1. “The vast, vast majority of beer drinkers don’t look at it, or at your blog”

      Oh, I know that. More people go into a single Wetherspoons than read my blog. But I do like a good rant at thinks that annoy me, or that I think are stupid.

  28. Bloody hell Martyn, you’ve certainly opened a can of worms with this one! Reading some of these responses I don’t know whether to laugh or cry – the determination of some of these people to miss the point is pretty impressive I must say. I think my favourite though is the guy who thinks we in the UK spend all our time drinking milds, bitters and ESBs. Such a complete depth of ignorance about the current UK beeer scene can only be admired. I wonder if he/she (but you know it’s going to be a he) has ever been to the UK and properly explored the diverse beer scene over here?

    1. Whenever I hear someone say that there is no subtlety in craft beer it is almost always a Brit. Perhaps that leads to our impression that you guys only drink session ales.

      1. Europeans, as I have said above, with the exception of a small minority of Belgians, very rarely drink beer above 6% ABV. Therefore your perception that “we guys”, ie Europeans, only drink session beers (NOT “ales”) is absolutely correct. Read what Ludger says (above) and try to understand it.
        Drinking (what you would think of as) large quantities of (what you would think of as) relatively weak beer is an ancient part of our culture. Go away and think about that until you can understand it.

        1. And on Ratebeer we judge each beer on it’s own merit, not by how many quarts of it we can down in one sitting. Skews the ratings a bit. But that is our culture. Go away and think about that until you can understand it.

          1. That might be true, but the impression the “best of” list gives is that you judge each beer by the amount of hops that have been stuffed into it, its rarety and its alcohol level.

  29. I wouldthink ratebeer is dominated by American contributors. They tend to stress the “high performance” products, on the lines of the car analogy mentiond. These things have an aura on them and are discussed avidly in the beer press, not just blogs but the brewspapers, which are influential.

    Also though, its a relative matter. I tasted a number of lagers in Central Europe recently and some were very highly flavoured even for me. Hofbrauhaus’s helles had a huge malty and hop flavour, more impactful than almost any craft lager I know in North America. It’s not extreme, but it’s a big-tasting beer, so is Urquel on draft, so are many others I tasted in Germany, Austria, Prague. And that doesn’t even take account of doppelbock and wheat beers albeit I understand these are minority tastes in the German lands. So it’s also a question of what you are familiar with and by the same token, I think local drinkers in the countries mentioned do expect a high degree of flavour even though they may not articulate it in thee American way.


    1. yes, Gary – your trip to Europe has taught you a good lesson – it is far more difficult to brew a 5% ABV beer with real depth of flavour than it is to brew a 15%Abv extreme barrel-aged Brett-infected Double Imperial Citrus Belgian Cherry Stout.
      One of my favourite beers is Ringwood Best Bitter – 3.8% ABV, lovely hoppy character, lots of flavour and YOU CAN DRINK IT ALL NIGHT!!!!!
      (Before anyone starts, this isn’t just a British thing – the Czechs also love lots of 4%ABV beer)

      1. It is even more difficult for Budweiser to make every batch taste exactly the same even though it is being brewed at 20 different facilities throughout a country as large as your continent. That difficulty however, does not make for a good beer. Your 5% beer may be more technically difficult but if the extreme beer tastes better then that is all I am going to care about. Go away and think about that until you can understand it

  30. There is nothing dangerous about the Ratebeer yearly Top 100, or more importantly the Ratebeer community that you blanketly labeled as being extremophiles…unless you believe any opinion about beer that is different than yours is a valid danger. Whether we want to admit it or not, neither you nor the average ratebeer member is considered the “normal” beer drinker…as far as mass opinion around the world is concerned. That list is only dangerous if someone offers it to a novice beer drinker and says “Here’s your starting point to better beer appreciation!”

    If your goal is to convert the masses from drinking macro lagers from the likes of Budweiser, it’s very likely your list of recommendations to begin the journey into better beer will be much different than your list of favorite beers of all time. I don’t know you. Maybe your favorite beers of all time are what someone would label as “gateway” beers to convert the macro lager drinker. That would probably be shear coincidence if that’s the case. There would also be nothing wrong if those indeed were your favorite beers. No one on ratebeer in their right mind would take the Bud Lite/novice/”normal” beer drinker and point them to the Top 50 or Top 100 of 2010 as a starting point.

    Let’s use some examples from your rant about Guinness FES and Guinness Draught. I completely agree that Guinness FES is better than Guinness Draught. However, which would you recommend to the “normal” beer drinker who’s never had anything other than a macro pale lager? I would tend to think the FES might be a bit of a palate shocker and might possibly turn the “normal” drinker off to ever trying another craft beer. Guinness Draft very well could create the same reaction, but I’d say it’s much more likely that it provides the “gateway” to better beer than Guinness FES. So are you dangerous because the “normal” beer drinker might see your comments and think that they need to pass on Guinness Draught and go straight to Guinness FES from Bud Lite?

  31. Could some of this US vs Europe/UK difference in perspective have to do with the context in which most of the respective drinkers drink?

    I feel like Prohibition so seriously damaged US drinking culture that even 70-some years later there still are relatively few great places to drink beer “out” in the US, and little public transportation to get the drinker from pub to home, with the result that far more drinking is done at home. And in that context a strong-ish beer or two has an appeal that is absent when the drinking is social and the volume of beer much greater.

    And really, I’m not sure that is such a terrible thing: it is a reactionary period, and there was a lot of rubbish to react against. Consider the flourishing of Imperial beers in the US a protest against the ubiquitous blandness of what had come to define beer.

    I do hope that the US culture can mature through this, hopefully retaining some of the fantastic big chewy beers of the youthful exuberance stage, but also embracing a world of beers that fit into a new drinking infrastructure of great pubs and beer in a social context.

    Until then, I will revel in the occasional decadence of an Expedition Stout, but also brew a lot of mild for myself and my friends. And look forward with the greatest anticipation to whenever I can get back to England for some long evenings of 3.8% abv Dark Star Hophead.

    1. While I believe there is some truth to this line of thinking, it ignores the fact that there are a LOT of brewers making a LOT of beers, and only a few of them are the big, bold styles. I am near San Diego, CA, which is the land of the big IPA, and if you go to the brewers down there they are brewing every style under the sun. It’s not just IPAs, or IRS, or any of that. It’s a massive variety of everything under the sun.

      The mistake here is to think that RateBeer’s top 50 is somehow representative of the top 50 beers in the country, which it’s not. If you look at the top “craft” brewers in the US by sales, a lot of them don’t even make ANY big IPA/IRS or any of that.

      Think of it like automakers….a brewer might have their one off, limited release, barrel aged imperial coffee bourbon porter….and that might get a lot of attention, but their big sellers still tend to be their “normal” beers. They’re using these beers as a “halo” effect, just like automakers use the big fancy sports cars to get eyes on them so they can sell more sedans.

      I talk to a TON of beer geeks around here, and none of us are drinking nothing but big ABV/IBU/$$$ beer. Do we appreciate them? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I’ll go buy a keg of Lost Coast Great White and enjoy that tremendously, just as much as I’ll enjoy a Pliny The Elder.

  32. For anyone who reads Italian, these two critical posts are well worth a look. (The titles can be translated roughly as “This is why I never talk about these damn lists” and “Ratebeer 2011 – clowns rule?”)

    According to the second post, incidentally, only 19 of the top 100 beers are below 8% a.b.v.(!) and the average strength of the top 100 is 10.2%(!!). Yep, I’ll have a pint of that

        1. Martyn –
          Not over-exagerrating the argument, completely misunderstanding it, probably deliberately. But don’t get in his way – I am vastly enjoying how much I’ve managed to annoy him. “Go away and think about it until you understand” really hit a nerve……
          I agree with the suggestions above that this is a “punk” swing of the pendulum, and that the US brewing industry will eventually settle and mellow. Europeans will be drinking bitter, pils and lezak long after these extreme beers have been forgotten.

  33. I think the American favoritism towards extreme beers on Rate Beer (although if you look at the top 10 raters on the website, you’ll see most of them are Danes, and just as infatuated with extreme beers as the Americans) is analogous to the punk rock explosion in the ’70s. Back in the ’70s, many people were fed up with bland, boring, homogenous music (disco, prog, etc.). Punk rock musicians decided to make in-your-face, extreme music in an effort to bring down this terrible music that they thought was destroying rock music culture. In much the same way, craft brewers in America have been trying to make interesting, and in many cases, “extreme” beers to offset the mass appeal of bland corporate lagers like Budweiser, Miller, and Coors. These craft brewers want interesting, flavorful beers to topple the hold and mass-popularity that these three brewers have held since Prohibition, just as punk rockers wanted to overthrow bland and tasteless music. I don’t think seeing my local grocery store’s shelves stocked with more full-flavored craft beer than with the bland macro lagers that currently dominate is such a bad thing. Do you? More power to the craft brewers who are doing their damndest to revolt against mediocrity and blandness, in my opinion.

    Also, shame on the American poster who felt the need to attack British beer culture, as well as the “Belgian boy” who likewise attacked the American beer scene. I don’t think either of you are all that qualified to talk about another country’s scene when it’s clear that neither of you have any personal experience with either culture.

  34. I know you’ve hovered around the RateBeer forums Martyn, though I’m not sure if you’ve picked up on the discussions that crop up periodically on the RateBeer Top 50. It’s one of the perennial topics – “Why are there so many Impy Stouts in the Top 50”, along with “Why are there so many American beers in the Top 50”.

    The Top 50 has a fascination, much like a car crash on the motorway. We can’t help but look. And once we’ve looked, we can’t help but respond. The Top 50 has a life of its own, and there are a group of RateBeerians who are devoted to it – both in terms of concentrating on buying all the beers listed, and in getting new beers onto the list. It’s not hard to get a new beer onto the list – it has been done several times, all that is needed is for at least ten people to get a new beer and rate it the maximum score. For a while others get excited about this new high scoring beer and will do a Pavlovian / cultural conditioning response of following along with the high score. It’s a social thing – it’s quite normal, and is how societies function harmoniously. But it does mean that such lists are more fun than scientifically accurate. Is Pet Sounds or Sgt Peppers really the best album ever made? No. Are Crawley Town really “big spending”? No. They are only just out of debt, and pay their staff and players the lowest in their league. They have no assets, and the local council have agreed a preferential lease on the football ground to help keep them going. But once the media get hold of the “big spending” term, they all repeat it like a mantra.

    Few lists are “true” or “accurate”. How can they be? There is no such thing as the best beer. It’s all subjective. I had a poorly made lager in Syria, and part of the flaws in the bottling process let in some air and oxidised the beer enough to give it a wonderful pineapple flavour which on a very hot day was really quite wonderful. For that moment, this piece of crap beer with the label stuck on upside down, was the best beer in the world.

    A beer perfectly made – technically superb, can be very boring. A beer with flaws and inconsistencies – such as Harvey’s Best with the bacteria and wild Bret that sometimes makes it fly – can be quite quite awesome.

    But, even though we know a list is going to be personal opinion – one person’s or a group’s, it doesn’t matter – we are drawn to the list as a bluebottle to shit. We want to read it and disagree with it. We want to get enraged that our personal favourites are not there. And we want to cheer and feel smug when our favourites are there.

    Lists are fun.

    And, for Joe Tucker, the list is very useful in generating attention to RateBeer every year, so membership grows. And for Martyn Cornell, there’s the same effect. Say something about the list (good or bad, doesn’t really matter, as lists generate extreme reactions in both directions) and people will read your blog.

    It’s all good!

  35. […] eraan toe op Zytophile, naar aanleiding van zijn (voor zijn doen vrij stevig geformuleerde) bericht Why extremophiles are a danger to us all. Ik moet zeggen dat sommige reacties er totaal naast zitten, danwel zichzelf door hun taalgebruik […]

  36. I think that the most insidious thing about this list is that, yet again, Americans are depicted as hop-bomb, imperialists (pun-intended) super-strength, cowboys. Granted there are more than a few fans of the “neo-Imperial” styles, and obviously, there is a market for such beer. However, I the U.S. still has it’s fair share of true beer and ale lovers. I’m not talking about high-flautin, beer as a substitute for wine, snobs. I mean those who still appreciate ALL styles for what they are– Mild to bitter, yellow to black. Every tin-horn, college kid and neophyte introduced to true brewing, gravitates to the uberstyles, due to ignorance. The “wow this taste like pine scented floor cleaner” ideal and the “120 proof, Imperial Double Stout” beers are marketing ploys. Ploys that are working quite well, I might add. This Imperial movement has become an exercise in the ridiculous. These hopping rates and ABVs have become to brewing what the word “X-Treme” became to the sports world in the 1990s–A gimmick.

    There are still American’s out there who don’t subscribe to this nonsense.

  37. Craig, I agreed with many of your points until I came to the sentence about marketing ploys working quite well. According to the US brewers association, what they (laughingly, in my experience) call ‘craft’ beers amounts to a little over four percent of beer sales in the US. This is after they changed their definition of ‘craft’ to include the largest US non-industrial brewer.

    My point is simply this: given that the majority of non-industrial beer in the US is probably non-extreme, the actual share of the beers irrationally worshipped by Ratebeer and the other site is actually quite small. For the sake of discussion, I’d guess well under two percent and very likely, under one percent of the market.

    Now, if we look at not only these two beer sites, but also the millions of US beer bloggers (as well as one or two irrational UK bloggers), which beers are most often written about?

    Judging from what one sees on the Internet, these extreme beers are highly regarded by beer ‘experts.’ For the industrial beer drinker looking something a bit better, this may seem quite enticing. That is, until he tries it. At which point, he probably goes retching back to the industrial stuff.

    The extremists are helping no one. The only agenda they promote is their own peculiar one.

    1. Okay, point taken. How about, not so much marketing ploy, but more along the lines of band wagoning? Just because a hefeweizen can be made to 9%, is it necessary? The unfortunate thing is that a lot of true, craft breweries are begining to produce this stuff. Let’s be honest, these beers are being brewed to cater to a perceived demand, proliferated by, predominatley American judged, Ratebeer-esque, top whatever lists. Beer snob brewers, making beer for snobby beer drinkers. Beer is, was and shall for ever be, the people’s drink. Canonizing these beers, from an American perch, and catering to a small segment of an already small group is dangerous business. All I’m saying is they might want to go get a few more baskets for all their eggs.

      As far as the actual list goes, having a list rating the top 100 beers and to only have one from the UK, non from Germany and 95% from the US is about as ethnocentric as it gets.

      1. Yet again, the comments here are continuing to proliferate the notion that big special release beers are all or even most of the US craft beer market. Outside of a handful of exceptions, you pick any one of the brewers with an extreme beer on RateBeer’s list, and they make a full line of beer styles.

        Protip for the non Americans here: RateBeer is in no way representative of the tastes of US beer drinkers. You go to events with lots of beer geeks, and most of them aren’t using the site. In fact, amongst the minority who is inclined to go rating beers on websites, BeerAdvocate tends to be at least as popular.

        I can’t help but chuckle at all of the comments that basically amount to “Silly Americans with your silly extreme beers! You should try to brew something else!” which is about as informed as me thinking Bass and Newcastle are the only beers that come out of England.

        1. But you see, we’ve done that to ourselves. We’ve decided to produce the biggest baddest of all!!! Until that guy decides, no, he’s going to produce the baddest of all!!!

          Really all we’ve done is produce bad beer. A lot, not all, but a lot of craft breweries are producing this stuff, to get talked about and written about and blogged about. What that does, is create a perceived demand. Distributors and bars get requests, requests get filled. Instead of getting Fullers Past Master’s XXX, we get uber hop, pine beer and Imperial Session Ales.

          1. “Really all we’ve done is produce bad beer. ”

            Really? While I’m not one to chase down the rare IRS of the month, it’s a hard sell to argue that any of those beers are “bad beer.” People seem to throw terms like that around to describe anything that doesn’t fit their personal tastes, which is silly.

            The funny thing is most of the comments on this site are just a different side of the elitism coin. There are plenty of snobs who will chase rare beers and look down on the “normal” beers and annoy the piss out of everyone. The opposite of that is the “I only like mild beers, and you people are idiots if you like that high ABV/IBU stuff!”

            Both attitudes are really annoying.

            People like what they like. There are plenty of people who like the big special beers, there are plenty of people who like other beers. Imperial beers aren’t a threat to anyone’s precious mild beers, just as the opposite is also true.

            There’s a lot of room in the beer world. There’s something for everyone to enjoy. Why there are so many people who insist on casting their opinion as fact and using that to put down what other people enjoy, I have no idea.

            Me? From a light lager to an 18% ABV stout, if it’s well made I’ll enjoy it. Broaden your minds, folks.

          2. There’s a lot of room in the beer world. There’s something for everyone to enjoy.

            Jason – imagine yourself in the position of someone who doesn’t know much about beer, wants to find out what’s good, and comes across the Ratebeer 100. Do you think that person would get the impression that “there’s a lot of room in the beer world” and “there’s something for everyone to enjoy”?

            You might want to re-read Martyn’s post at this point.

          3. Why would you go to a list like that and assume that’s the only beer you should try? Do you really think that people just operate in a vacuum, somehow stumble onto that list, order a Westy 12 from eBay and then get bummed because it’s too much for them? C’mon now.

            People find beers the way they find anything…a friend’s recommendation, a label that looks nice on the shelf, something they tried out and about and they want to try something similar, ask the owner at your local shop, etc. etc. etc.

            The two fatal flaws everyone seems to have here are:
            – Assuming RateBeer is somehow representative of what beers people are drinking
            – Assuming RateBeer is a commonly used resource by people who don’t know much about beer.

            There’s one context I can see RB ratings coming up to the “average joe”, which is when stores us the hanger tags with the ratings on the shelf. In which case, seeing one Pale Ale rated 99/100 and the other is rated 90/100 might help you decide which one to spend your coin on.

            The type of person who doesn’t know a pale ale from a tripel likely isn’t going to stumble on a site like RateBeer, and if they do, it will probably read like Greek to them and they’ll quickly move on.

            People are having absolutely no trouble finding beers they like. The only people who seem to have trouble with lists like RateBeer are these anti-big beer folks who are just mad at the world that other people like imperial stouts.

  38. Jason,
    You’re absolutely right. Which begs the original question why generate a top 100 list at all, and then name 39 Imperials? We are producing “bad” beer under the pretense that “good” beer has to be super hoppy and super strong or both, apparently.

    I’m not saying I don’t like Imperial Stouts, I do, very much.

    Utica Club is good. Don’t try and tell me that Utica Club Imperial is better.

    1. Haven’t tried the Utica beers, they don’t make it out to this side of the world. I believe you, though, Imperial Pilsners tend to be gross.

      The list thing is simple. It’s a site with numeric ratings. They sort the ratings by highest rated. Ta-da! Top 50! It’s interesting for some folks to see what the highest of the high ratings are. I’m sure a very small minority makes it a point to try all of those beers. Why this inspires so much outrage, or people feel it’s a threat to their milds and bitters, I have no idea.

      1. UC is a regional, New York State, American light lager. One of hundreds. It is what it is. It’s viewed by most average “joes”, including Bud/Coors/Miller drinkers, as “piss water.” Beers like UC built the brewing industry in the U.S.. But, because they don’t have the trademark “Bow Tie,” of the King of Beers®, they are inferior. Which brings me to my point, craft brewers, micros and regionals have so much competition in the U.S. from the majors, convoluting there brands and offering these uber beers, DOES threaten milds bitters and porters and stout. Flying Dog Brewery, out of Denver, CO, offers an Imperial Porter, STRONGER than it’s Imperial Stout. Why get a regular, old, boring Porter when you can have 3% more alcohol. The U.S. beer market is infested with Imperials of all kinds. I have no problem with a brewery brewing whatever beer they like, what I do have a problem with is that I now have to ask about ABV before I buy a pint at my pub. Every time I turn around someone says, “Just to let you know, that one is nine-and-a-half percent.” I have to go home and make dinner, I can’t drink that! Find a session ale, in a U.S. pub? You sure can, it’s called Coors Light.

        1. The only beers available where you live are either imperials or industrials like Coors Light? There’s no middle ground? That’s either really odd, there aren’t any good beer bars where you live, or you’re exaggerating. Most good beer bars I’ve been to in the U.S. have everything from 4.4% Pilsner Urquell or something like Lost Coast’s Great White (4.8%) on up to those high abv beers. Granted that even those two relatively low abv beers aren’t considered “session” beers by the Brits, you can still have a number of them and still be able to drive home. Unless you’re a lightweight that is!

      2. Jason, I think the problem you seem to be having is that you think Ratebeer and it’s pals exist in a vacuum. If that were the case, this blog post probably wouldn’t have been written.

        I see you also have a tendency to overstate things. For example: “The only people who seem to have trouble with lists like RateBeer are these anti-big beer folks who are just mad at the world that other people like imperial stouts.” Mad at the world? No. Mad at Ratebeer and the like. Quite different, aren’t they?

        There are two reasons I am against what these sites do: first, they don’t only publish these lists, they then seek publicity for themselves by sending out press releases or other means and secondly, they lure people seeking information about beer.

        There are innumerable sites on the Internet where people ask for advice. There are far, far more sites than Ratebeer and Beer Advocate where people ask for beer information. Here’s one for example: http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?/forum/32-beer/

        The problem is that many of the ‘helpers’ at these sites (at least the ones I’ve seen) will religiously suggest Ratebeer or the BJCP or similar sites for the people who know even less than they do. If the Internet has done one thing well, it is spreading information – unfortunately whether it is right or wrong.

        If the Ratebeer top list was secret, I wouldn’t mind so much. It’s that Ratebeer itself, as well as its friends and members go out onto the Internet and spread the word.

        And that word, in my view anyhow, is: bullshit.

  39. A fun tool on Ratebeer is the “customizable top 50”, which allows you to customize an ABV range, number of rates and so forth.

    My biggest issue with RB (and I am a member) is that it only takes ten ratings to get into the top 50 or the top for a style. I think making that number, let’s say, 500 is a much better measure of what is the best beer. So, the results with 500 minimum ratings go like this:

    -20 IS (an improvement-but the most allowed by the beer style quota)
    -5 DIPA
    -3 Quads
    -4 Belgian Strong Ales
    -3 Barley Wines

    Still the same problem… big beers rule. How about 600 ratings minimum (the most allowed)?

    -Still 20 IS
    -5 DIPA
    -3 Quads
    -4 BSAs
    -2 Barley Wines

    So… the numbers are nearly identical, even with a 600 rating minimum. I think that makes thing pretty clear= with the majority of Ratebeerians, bigger and bolder equals better. (Ratebeer’s own) Statistics are stubborn things.

  40. Well, if the goal was to see how much bandwidth could be consumed, I’d say you succeeded. This might be the only triple-digit commentary on this site. Of course that statistic might tempt me to put this article on your “Top 5” list. In reality however, I’ve found many of your more erudite (albeit less stimulating) writings far more enjoyable. Guess a list can never capture the nuances of the thing being listed. This would however be a wonderful debate to have in a comfy pub with a pint of Fuller’s London Pride in one hand and a Sierra Nevada Hoptimum in the other.

  41. Who are the extremophiles? The people drinking extreme beer…or the people taking the extreme position of “Anyone who doesn’t appreciate beer in the same manner that I do is WRONG!” Ratebeer.com may be the former, but the latter is what’s is actually more dangerous…actually not dangerous, just EXTREMELY annoying.

    1. Martyn likes imperial stouts; he’s said so himself. He’s arguing for appreciation of a wider range of beers. How on earth does this make him more of an extremist than the people fixated on a couple of styles of alcohol-bombs?

      1. …and Ratebeer likes lower ABV/session beers. The sheer number of ratings flat out say so. They may not place highest on the “Top of 20XX” lists year in and year out, but Ratebeer isn’t solely “obsessed” with extreme beers. There are 330 members of ratebeer with over 2000 ratings. Did they got there by drinking 2000 alcohol-bombs? The simple and obvious answer is NO…and they didn’t get there by drinking massive amounts of alcohol bombs with a dabble here and there in the lower ABV beers. They got there by drinking and appreciating a wide range of styles. Now granted, I think it’s safe to say Martyn isn’t a paying member of Ratebeer and therefore doesn’t have access to premium features that are accessible to paying members (at a whopping $13/year), but if you pick at random any of those 330 raters, “extreme” beers are a fraction of what they are drinking/rating currently or drank/rated in the past. You can pretty much use those same percentages when looking at those with 1000, 500, 100, or 50 ratings.

        Ratebeer, Martyn, and many of his supporters that have posted responses ultimately have the same goal: get the normal beer drinker to realize there is more to beer than the mass produced yellow fizzy lager…and that’s great! However, Ratebeer says: realize there’s better beer out there, try it (and rate it if it suits you), find what you like, enjoy it, and talk about it. Martyn and his supporters say: if you don’t appreciate beer in the same manner we do, not only are you wrong, but damn it…STOP TALKING ABOUT IT AND PROMOTING IT!

        I find the guy that states America produces the best beer hands down, just as annoying as the guy who tells Ratebeer that they don’t appreciate beer correctly. As far as I’m concerned, drink whatever beers you enjoy and don’t bitch that someone else doesn’t enjoy the same commodity in the same fashion that you do. Which is more extreme, “I drink what I like and tell people I like it” or “I drink what I like and demand others like it too”? Different people/cultures have different tastes. For some reason that’s too extreme a concept for some to accept.

        1. “Martyn and his supporters say: if you don’t appreciate beer in the same manner we do, not only are you wrong, but damn it…STOP TALKING ABOUT IT AND PROMOTING IT! “

          No I don’t. I don’t care how you appreciate beer. I simply object to the implied message from Ratebeer’s “top 10” beers that only extreme beers count. That may not be the message that’s meant, but you can bet it’s the message that will be received by many.

          1. That message is only “implied” to people who are offended that their favorite beer isn’t on the list for some reason. Nobody is going to look at that and think it’s the only possible thing they should drink.

            If you look at a “top rated” list and assume that those are the only possible things to consider, of beer or anything else, well, you’re kind of an idiot. To be offended that there’s a top 50 list and it lists a lot of styles you don’t personally care for? Well, um, to each their own, I guess. They say “These have the highest rating” and you read “THESE ARE THE ONLY ALLOWED BEERS TO DRINK” even though none of the people reading or making the list come anywhere near limiting themselves to only those beers.

            The funniest part of this argument is that all of the people complaining about the list being too limited are only mad because it doesn’t contain their very limited scope of what good beer should be. “There are no British Milds on there? But that’s all I drink! Obviously, this list is stupid and dangerous!”

            Here’s a crazy idea, if you object to how the beers are rated, how about trying them yourself, giving your own honest opinion on them and moving the needle whichever way it goes after your voice is heard? What a concept.

          2. “There are no British Milds on there? But that’s all I drink!”

            Jason, name one person who has said anything remotely resembling that.

          3. It’s not just that the data are skewed, but also that pool of voters is skewd. Think of it this way, if you polled a group of people and asked if they were paid too much, the results might lean toward “no.” The list also implies that it’s unbiased, and it’s not, it can be, it a quantification of opinion. What is the point of compiling a list if it’s intent is not to sway opinion? Ratebeer is a recognized site, reporting beer information. If anyone thinks that distributors and buyers, don’t use it as a tool in determing what product to purchase, you are sadly mistaken. Review and critque site are wonderful, but numbering or grading, convoludes the whole process.

          4. That’s only the impression someone would get if they stopped at a single snapshot of one page out of hundreds of thousands of separate web pages that are available at ratebeer.com. If the “normal” beer drinker decides that he wants to explore beer in greater detail and stumbles across the Ratebeer’s Best 2010, I’d say chances are that he takes a look around Ratebeer’s website in general and doesn’t just stop at that one page. New members join all the time and post in the forums with the likes of “Hey, I’m new to the site and want to explore the world of beer. I’ve had beers X, Y, and Z. I really like beer X. I thought beer Y was interesting and beer Z is not for me. Where should I start?” The community as a whole follows up with some great starting points and generally does an excellent job of recommending some “gateway” beers that aren’t going to come off as total palate shock and lead him in the right direction. They never begin with 15% Bourbon Barrel Aged Imperial Coffee Stout X. Where the new member takes things from there is up to him/her. That hardly sounds like a dangerous community to me.

          5. I’m less worried about that than about the effect that promoting extreme beers as “the best” has on brewers wanting the publicity that comes with topping such lists, the effect on journalists writing stories about “trends” in beer, and the effect on drinkers who never go anywhere near Ratebeer but read those stories..

          6. Having been to plenty of bars in the Seattle area, trust me, their beer culture is doing great. You may be shocked to find that none of them had an Imperial Russian Stout on.

            This thread has turned into an exercise of people who are nowhere near the US beer scene trying to use one website to project what they think is going on here.

            To sum it up, the US Craft beer scene is doing great, there are a lot more “normal” beers being made than “extreme” beers, and plenty of people are happily trying new things. While beer geeks fawn over the newest triple IPA, beer noobs experiment with the newest Orange Wheat coming out of the local craft brewer.

            You guys are acting like people are reading this RateBeer list, hopping on a plane and flying to Indiana to go to the Three Floyd’s opening event and then going “ew! this is too strong!”

            People aren’t idiots, and the people trying craft beer are getting a feel for what styles they like, and then seeking out other beers in that style. Your average person doesn’t look at a list and start complaining about all of the things the list is “implying” to them. They aren’t getting insecure that they like pale ales and giving up beer entirely because their favorite pale ale isn’t on the list.

            The only people who think that ONLY the top XX beers on a specific list count are people who seem to have sour grapes about the content of that list for one reason or another. “Wah, my favorite beers don’t count! Why aren’t they on the list?”

            Be a little bit more secure in your choices. Lots of my favorite beers aren’t on that RateBeer list(s) either. I don’t need that list to validate me. I drink what I like, just like most of the world, and I don’t need a website to give me an “attaboy!” and make me feel better about it.

            If you think these lists are what distributors are using to stock shelves, go ahead and go to a beer store in the US and see how many of these you find. You guys are way off base.

          7. Jason,

            There is know way in the world that you can look at that list, beer fan or not, and not acknowledge that it emphatically states (throw implication out the window) thet the majority of the best beer in the WORLD is both from the U.S., and is strong and hoppy. That’s not my opinion that is just what the list dictates.

            By the way, don’t assume that everyone on this site is not from the U.S.

  42. Thinking about this further, even for a relatively small sample of the beer geek world as ratebeer represents, that is still a decided preference for strong beers in particular. Not just 6% ABV but often half as much again or more.

    Yet, as was pointed out for Germany and I saw myself recently when in parts of Bavaria, lager (albeit often very good lager) rules the roost pretty much at around 5% ABV. Other beers are available, but seem quite a minority taste. Ditto for the U.K.

    Reports on Ron Pattinson’s site for the kinds of beers typically consumed from the mid-1800’s until the mid-1900’s suggested to me similarly that strong beers, e.g. traditional Scotch ale, double stout and other strong porter, and what we now call barley wines, also fetched a relatively small sale.

    What has changed, in the U.S. mainly it appears, to show a novel favoritism for strong and assertive beers? Is it the fact that strong beer is relatively cheaper in the U.S.? Is it the fact that the U.S. has a well-established whiskey tradition? Is it that people became used to fairly alcoholic and pungent Chardonnays and red wines from California and wanted the beer equivalent? (If you like 14.5% Merlot or Zin as you can often get these days, you may want something similar from the beer world). Is it the undoubted (to my mind) individualistic and exuberant bent of many U.S. home and other brewers and consumers? Maybe it is all of the above, or some of it.


    1. The U.S. is one of the few countries that does not tax beer based upon it’s ABV or original gravity. The trend towards lower alcohol beers in Europe and Britain has little to do with a taste preferences and more to do with economics. There is little economically (ever) to dissuade the American craft brewer from experimenting with big beers. There have historically been potent financial pressures against the creation of such beers in other sectors. I suspect your point about the U.S. pre-prohibition preference for distilled liquors also is an element contributing to the more intense taste preferences. If you view American culture in general we do tend to do everything culinary to the extreme. We have huge portions weighing down meet platters at most restaurants. We are disappointed if our buffalo wings do not leave blisters. We gravitate to desserts that have a sweetness that could immediately induce diabetes. Go big or go home is a motto that applies to much of what we do and apparently, as documented by rate beer, applies to at least some of our beer preference as well.

  43. Out of interest Martyn – what do you think should be the number one in the list? And is it the same as the best beer you’ve ever drunk?

    1. I don’t think any beer could (or should) be called “the best in the world”, they all deliver different attractions, and saying which particular set of attractions beats another is impossible: I could tell you, I dunno, 20 of my favourite beers, but even then I’d be leaving some out, and I doubt I could narrow that list of 20 down to even five “absoiute favourites” – I couldn’t even give you a list of just five top British bitters.

      1. Any list is, and should be, evolutionary. A definitive list implies a finite-ability. My favorite beer changes by the day. I think that’s what has gotten everybody so riled up about. The standardization of subjectivity.

        1. I don’t disagree with this statement, but my question is, if this type of list is somehow damaging to the new beer drinker and destroying beer culture…what’s the alternative? There are a lot of people decreeing RateBeer is evil and awful for allowing people to sort their list into a top 50 ratings, but what would be better? What resource should we be linking a new beer drinker to?

          If someone asks me about beer, I tell them my thoughts, but if I were inclined to send them a link, what, in the opinions of those who feel the RateBeer list is so damaging, is a better choice?

          1. We shouldn’t be linking new beer drinkers to any list. We should take new beer drinkers to the pub and say “Pick a beer” and then “What do you think? I’ll have to try that next”

          2. No one, other than you, has called Ratebeer ‘evil.’ In my view, their basic premise (and not only Ratebeer or beer sites) of letting anyone voice their opinion on what is basically a matter of personal taste is deeply flawed.

            What I think about a song or a film or a beer should not be of interest or importance to anyone other than me. Is that such a difficult concept to grasp?

            As I assume you know, beer has been around for about 10,000 years. Ratebeer, OTOH, has been around for 15 or so. That leaves roughly 9,985 years when people have been able to drink beer without consulting any lists. Amazing, huh?

      2. I couldn’t even give you a list of just five top British bitters.

        A man after my own heart. When people slag off British beer lovers as drinking nothing but <5% mild and bitter, part of me wants to say "and what's wrong with that?" You could spend a lifetime drinking different <5% milds and bitters, and still look forward to discovering something new in the next one you tried. (I also like Rochefort 10 and Guinness FES, among others, so I wouldn't be without the other styles and strengths. But still – variety isn't everything.)

  44. OK, it took me 3-days, but I finally got through all of the replies!

    I have enjoyed posts from Casey (January 31, 2011 at 9:18 pm ), St. Charles (February 2, 2011 at 1:59 am) and Gary Gillman
    (February 2, 2011 at 3:01 pm) that try to offer insight as to why these numbers/ratings are coming up in favour of more extreme beers. I don’t want to sound like an expert, but I have been floating an idea around in my mind for some time now about why a lot of these top10/50/100 beers seem to be ‘big’ (high IBU, alcohol, dark coloured) beers.

    Assuming, first that the ‘raters’ on ratebeer (or Beeradvocate) come from all over the world (also over the very large US) and second that the beers that are being rated tend to be tasted out of small pack (bottle or can) and are not extremely fresh, then maybe the fact that bigger beers have a higher then average rating is because they have better keeping qualities.

    For example, I think that if you were to send a 4-5% ‘session’ beer in a bottle (with or without yeast for secondary fermentation) from the US to let’s say Denmark, that the flavour wouldn’t improve or survive as well as a 7% and upwards beer. I’m saying this speculatively because of potentially poor traveling conditions (warm storage, continual agitation or long traveling times) could degrade the flavour of a session beer while the same conditions might improve or marginally have a negative impact on the flavour of a big beer by softening the flavour.

    So maybe the reason that there are so many IRS in the top10 ranking is because they have high alcohol, lots of hops and high acidity. Each one of those factors contributes positively to microbiological stability. Also over time the harsher alcohol bite of bigger beers and high hop dosage will mellow out in flavour. Darker beers have a bit of added protection against oxygen, as well.

    The flaw with this argument is if a big beer is tasted very fresh (maybe at the brewery) and is still given a high rating then the assumptions above don’t hold true, but I still think that most beer that has to travel from the brewery undergoes some harsh treatment before it hits peoples taste buds.

    I don’t know if this is a big factor to the whole story, if it has been suggested before on the ratebeer/Beeradvocate forum or if somebody has touched on it before in their blog. I’d be interested to here feedback on it.

  45. […] solely for the purpose of making his readers angry. The above quote, from the Comments section of a recent Martyn Cornell post about the dangers of “extremophiles” in the beer world, reads like a classic Shaughnessy diatribe against the baseball “stat geeks” […]

  46. I thought I’d chime in – even though I realize I’m a little late to the party with nothing profound to add to this discussion. I just wanted to mention that I share Martyn’s frustration with these ‘Top-50’ or ‘Top-100’ lists. That they are published and distributed is disturbing to me in that they perpetuate the trendiness of ‘extreme’ beers. I hoped I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

    I visit BeerAdvocate quite often, in order to quickly garner specifics on a beer that I’m trying – the rating is only of minor interest – and find its organization and layout more pleasing than RateBeer. The Top-100 on BA, however, is quite similar in its narrow-focus on what would generally be considered ‘extreme’ beers. What I do find helpful on BeerAdvocate is the top beer by style, which has helped point out some of the go-to beers for a variety of styles. It’s not that I don’t like any of these ‘extreme’ styles, only that I feel that there’s far more to enjoying beer than IPAs and Imperial-anythings.

    Case in point? I subscribe to the BeerAdvocate print magazine, which I generally enjoy. But if you open up issue #49, for instance, within the first 11 pages there are ads for 6 different ‘extreme’ beers with an average ABV of 10.4%. Fittingly, within the same issue, on page 10, is a very well thought out article outlining the need for American craft brewers to embrace classic beer styles. To act as if these best-of lists aren’t pushing these extreme beers to the forefront of the craft brewing industry seems like denial.

    There are plenty beer aficionados here in the US that aren’t obsessed with extreme beers – thanks for providing a voice of reason.

  47. I never like to respond to my own comment, but I just cracked open the latest BeerAdvocate print magazine that arrived in the mail today. The ‘Feedback’ section on page 4 features a comment that I found uncannily similar to the thesis of this original blog post. Here’s a direct quote:

    “Dear BA, love the lists, but I sense a bit of bias in that “Top Beers of 2010” one. Of the 25 listed, 23 have 8-percent ABV or higher, 17 are classified with the word “double” or “strong,” and all but one are USA brewed…you might as well name your mag/website “EBA” (the “E” for “extreme”)…”

    The title of the entry as written by the editor? “Blame it on flavor.” This bothers me to no end, as it seems to me almost a direct response that this list somehow does represent the “top beers in the world”. It also implies that there are no good tasting beers under some ridiculous ABV threshold.

    Maybe the fellow that submitted that feedback had happened upon your blog?

  48. Thank you Zythophile for saying what’s been on a lot of people’s minds and kick-starting a more rational American ‘craft beer movement’!

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