News, nuggets and longreads 18 May 2019: ratings, lager, and lager ratings

Here’s everything that struck as particularly interesting in writing about beer and pubs in the past week, from Carlsberg to Cambridge.

First, some news: those Redchurch rumblings from the other week are now confirmed – the brewery went into administration and is now under new ownership. This has prompted an interesting discussion about crowdfunding:

More news: it’s intriguing to hear that Curious is expanding. It’s a brewery you don’t hear talked about much by geeks like us – in fact, we’re not sure we’ve ever tried the beer – but it does turn up in a surprising number of pubs and restaurants.

Vintage map of Cambridge

This piece by Ramblin’ Dave S on the Cambridge craft beer scene is interesting because, well, it’s not about London, Manchester or any of the other places that get written about more often, and mentions some breweries we don’t much about:

On the panel, we had a representative from Brewboard, who took over Black Bar’s kit and premises in Harston in 2017, and rapidly brought out a solid range of well-executed US-style craft standards – the sort of stuff that might get lost in the noise in a town like Manchester or Leeds, but which Cambridge had been missing for a while… Milton Brewery, the veterans of the Cambridge scene, were represented by their founder Richard Naisby…. they’re probably best described as being part of the proto-craft / Weird Real Ale generation; founded in 1999, fitting comfortably within real ale culture in many ways, but pushing the style envelope rather more than most of their traditionalist predecessors.

Text illustration: LAGER

What starts as a savaging of Carlsberg’s supposedly new and improved Danish Pilsner by Martyn Cornell turns into an interesting reflection on trends in lower-ABV lager:

What this new style of lager is delivering is taste, something that, 20 years after the American IPA revolution, is finally becoming a mainstream demand, plus “cold refreshingness”’ something beers such as Carlsberg once had tied up and held down on the ground, but which is no longer enough. What [Camden] Week Nite is delivering as well is relatively low alcohol: it used to be that a three per cent beer would have to be made with roasted or high-dried malts, like a brown ale or a dark mild or a sweet stout, to deliver flavour. Brewers are now discovering that it is possible to deliver flavour in a low-gravity beer with American-heritage hops.

The Untappd logo

Michael Tonsmeire has analysed what makes for high ratings on beer websites and reached some unsurprising conclusions but expressed with particular clarity:

People love assertive flavors. Once you’ve tried a few hundred (or thousand) beers, it is difficult to get a “wow” response from malt, hops, and yeast. This is especially true in a small sample or in close proximity to other beers (e.g., tasting flight, bottle share, festival). So many of the top beers don’t taste like “beer” they taste like maple, coconut, bourbon, chocolate, coffee, cherries etc. If you say there is a flavor in the beer everyone wants to taste it… looking at reviews for our Vanillafort, it is amazing how divergent the experiences are. Despite a (to my palate) huge vanilla flavor (one bean per 5 gallons), some people don’t taste it.

And, related, here’s a fascinating piece from the Economist, unfortunately delivered with a snarky tone that’s a bit offputting, from the headline onwards: “Why beer snobs guzzle lagers they claim to dislike”. The point it makes, beyond the curled lip, is that lager rates poorly on Untappd and yet remains the most consumed beer style:

One explanation is fragmentation. Though reported consumption tends to be higher for individual lagers than for ales, there are far more ales than lagers. As a result, ales account for 73% of drinking of the 5,000 leading beers recorded on Untappd.

And, finally, here’s a gem from the BBC Archive:

For more reading check out Stan Hieronymus on most Mondays and Alan McLeod on Thursday.

2 replies on “News, nuggets and longreads 18 May 2019: ratings, lager, and lager ratings”

Thanks for the mention! FWIW I tend to be either Dave S as a person or Brew in a Bedsit as a blog – the Twitter handle is mostly a historic accident…

Anyway, some really interesting stuff about ratings, there – I’d always had suspicions about super-limited stuff getting a “special occasion bonus”, but it hadn’t occurred that the fact of being hard to get was essentially introducing selection bias (in the brewer’s favor) to the pool of raters. To be honest, I kind of hope that brewers get more and more shameless about gaming this sort of thing and the ratings get more and more obviously silly as a result – it might help to dispel the idea that “the 50 top rated whatevers” is a thing to be taken too seriously.

DaveS, agreed. I think it would be great if a brewery released two beers that, unbeknownst to the public, were actually from the same batch. They would have different names, different labels, and different distribution (for instance, one might be available only at the brewery), but otherwise they would be identical. I imagine that with a little effort you could engineer a pretty wide discrepancy between Untappd rankings for the beer. I’d like to think that would take some wind out of Untappd’s sails, but realistically I suppose very few people would know or care. Still it would be enlightening.

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