Is this beer consistently tasty? Are the brewers good people? Is the project laudable? Is the beer, brewery or style in need of our support?
It’s entirely possible to answer yes to one question but not the others.
A dreadful idiot who behaves appallingly can brew a great beer, and a wonderful local brewery owned by the loveliest people on earth can produce complete rubbish.
For some people, ethics, localness or independence are the only important factors, and they can probably live with a mediocre or even flawed product on that basis. (Perhaps their brains even trick them into genuinely enjoying the beer more – a feature, not a bug.)
But others will say, no, beer quality is the only thing that matters. (We try to be objective like this, but we’re only human.)
Still others might make their decisions based on price, out of necessity, or through a principled belief that the market is the ultimate arbiter.
Where there might be a problem is when people fail to express the distinction between those different ideas of “good”, or perhaps even to understand it.
BrewDog, to quote a notable example, brews (on the whole) beer we enjoy drinking. But believing that and saying it doesn’t mean we endorse their values, or uncritically support everything they do.
On the other hand, we felt a little churlish the other day when we couldn’t give Tynt Meadow, the new British Trappist beer, a wholehearted recommendation.
It is interesting.
We’re glad it exists, and expect it to improve.
If we lived in Leicestershire we might even feel somewhat proud of it.
But we’re not going to say it’s GREAT! because we like the concept, just as we’re not going to say Punk IPA tastes bad (it doesn’t) to take a cheap pop at BrewDog.
Whether local equates to good when it comes to beer has been debated endlessly over the years. Increasingly, we’re coming to the view that while it’s never as simple as that, there are certain beers that get as close to good as they ever will when they’re consumed near the brewery, where people know how they’re supposed to taste, and the quirks of keeping them; and where there’s a chance the brewer might pop in for a pint every now and then.
We certainly hope people can read these codes when we use them:
- ‘fond of’ or ‘soft spot for’ is personal and emotional;
- ‘interesting’ is about narrative, culture and significance in the industry;
- a mediocre beer that’s very cheap can be ‘good value’;
- ‘worth a try’ means we didn’t like it, but can imagine others might;
- and you might not want more than one glass of a beer that is ‘complex’.
In practice, of course, the question we’re most likely to ask is: “Which of this limited selection of beers is going to taste the best?” (Or perhaps, depressingly, “least bad”.)