RateBeer Hates On Lagers…

Posted on Posted in BeerAdvocate.com, Extreme Beer, Lager Beer, RateBeer.com

So in writing the book, I’ve used the major beer websites for cross-referencing information and other research purposes. So tonight in looking at RateBeer.com, a site I don’t often find myself on, I was perusing its Top Beers of 2009 and Best American Beers lists. I was struck not so much by the alcohol bombs that dominate their ranks, a topic I address in my next BeerAdvocate column, but by what is absent: lager beers. As in none. And no, I’m not counting the Livery’s Bourbon Cask Aged Wheat Trippelbock weighing in at 11-14% abv. And to be fair, the BeerAdvocate top beer list isn’t much better on this point but it does offer a half-dozen or so lagers and isn’t quite as booze/hop/barrel heavy. I know that by now I shouldn’t be surprised or bothered by these lists, but I have to say the beer geek addiction to alcohol, hop, and barrel bombs is not only disturbing but I just can’t bring myself to even feign interest in them at this point. So in an upcoming BA column I discuss why we should shy away from these mind-numbingly boring beers and seek out a new definition of extreme beer.

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32 thoughts on “RateBeer Hates On Lagers…

  1. What’s more extreme than growing your own ingredients and looking for the perfect water for German-style lagers here in the States. It’s coming to NH soon. More to follow.
    Cheers and thanx for the Lager Lovers
    Paul Davis
    Prodigal Brewing Co.

  2. I had a similar experience with Rate Beer last month while doing a bit of research. I suppose it isn’t surprising really as the craft beer movement (especially outside the US) has been falling over itself to distance itself from lagers.
    The good news is that brewers are beginning to return to lager as there are only so many testosterone fuelled brews you can brew.
    I was brought up on lager and still write about it at http://www.lager-frenzy.com so I’m a bit biased, but I still think it is a fantastic beer.

  3. I am glad to learn that I am not the only one who is completely bored by the “extreme” beer thing. And it precisely for this reason that I find myself spending less and less time on sites like BeerAdvocate and RateBeer. I look forward to your take on this issue.

    Good luck, Paul! A nice Bohemian Pils would do nicely ’round here. And by ’round here, I mean my fridge!

    Cheers!

  4. Why should we “seek out a new definition of extreme beer”? Wouldn’t it be better to seek out good beer? Other than little BMX boys, haven’t we all ditched the 2002 attraction of “X-treme” in all other parts of life? No, to be fair there is MMA. They like black t-shirts, too.

  5. Hello everyone,

    @Paul – nothing is more extreme in my mind and keep me in the loop about your progress.

    @Andrew – interesting website with which I was not familiar.

    @Alan – for better or for worse, the public and media are interested in all things extreme, especially when it comes to beer. I’d like to see the geek niche’s focus broaden to realize a huge part they are missing. Also, and while I don’t completely hate on extreme beers, I’d like to see brewers apply their creativity using more than three notes…

    Cheers,

    Andy

  6. It was my greatest hope that the recent hop shortage would put an end (or at least slow) to the craft beer mantra of “just add more hops”. Unfortunately it just made many brewers add even more hops. In advocating balance in beers I have gained a local reputation as a hop-hater.
    There is almost nothing more sublime than the subtle beauty of a well-made Pilsner or Munich dunkel. One trip to the GABF a couple years ago was all it took to send me back to light-colored lagers. After a night of drinking every brewer’s monster beers I found myself wandering the hall looking for a pilsner. They were very hard to find.

  7. Let me add to the pile of “lager love”. There is indeed something “extreme” about crisp, clear, and simple flavors of any good pilsner or lager that show proper respect and touch of the brewer. I’ve also grown a little tired of beer geeks raving about beers that come across as very agressive, unbalanced, where the brewer’s “skill” is simply lack of restraint.

  8. Not a single delightfully crisp, clean pilsner anywhere to be found on the RateBeer lists. That still bothers me. Derrick hits the nail on the head with his lack of restraint comment. While DIPA’s and big boozy beers can show artful balance, it is the rare exception these days. Similarly, the absence of these dominating cover-up elements leaves very little room for error and to hide for lager brewers. Accordingly, it’s a bit tough to judge the actual chops of many brewers who seek refuge in these booze/hop/barrel bombs.

    Cheers,

    Andy

  9. “the beer geek addiction to alcohol, hop, and barrel bomb…”

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I love the idea of BA and RateBeer but they are so dominated by this sort of thing that they are starting to feel like a niche within a niche. …and then there is the nature of the reviews themselves. Maybe I’m not a beer geek at all. Is there a place for people who are just beer lovers?

  10. Hi Cassidy-

    Definitely don’t fool yourself, the beer websites have always been a tiny niche within the small niche of craft beer drinkers. This is just let another subdivision of an already tiny niche. Perhaps we’ll just wall the geeks off by themselves or spend time on craft lager websites (talk about a tiny niche)…

  11. Many BA and RB members seem to have no interest in judging according to style guidelines. If they did, you would see a number of subtle beers on their lists of top beers.

    Last time I looked at the BA list, if you went down far enough you came across Live Oak’s Hefeweizen. This was an exception in a long list of incredibly roasty, hoppy and huge beers.

    It reminds me of the beers one might see if Playboy were a beer magazine.

  12. Hey Jim,

    I agree re the style guidelines. That is especially true if you review the top beers in the less popular styles and compare the top scorers against even the top 20-30% of high hop/booze/barrel styles. The world’s greatest dortmunder or helles scores is not rated as highly as the world’s 50th best DIPA. It’s weird and the forums are often filled with folks who whine about styles they don’t like and dock the beers points, rather than judging by style.

  13. I have to say that lager is my favorite style. Paulaner’s Salvator is IMO the best beer ever made. while it is not a thirst quenching session beer, it’s still my favorite. Perhaps Weinstaphener’s Korbinian has a touch more flavor and is the top, but Salvator is always my first beer at the Bauhaus.
    Victory’s prima pils is a frequent guest in my fridge for the “Lawnmower beer” as is Slyfox’s pils in a can for boating /rafting trips.
    I must admit that I am bored to tears with Yeulenling’s corn fed lager (the philly staple) and I just can not find much, if any interest in ricey Budweiser or Stella artrois.
    Rate beer/real beer public polls are driven by the misguided philosophy of “bigger is better”. Brewers will soon realize that much of these brews are a one and done beer and don’t sell as quickly as the good old American amber like Stoudts APA or even Phila Brewing Co’s Kenzinger (Kolsh style).
    Lagers are time consuming and expensive to make due to the long and cold fermentation process. I applaud the brewer who takes the time to make them. It is a tough business decision to brew a well made balanced lager that does not stand out in a crowd, unless you have a massive marketing budget like Sam Adams.

  14. Another related issue is folks who rate a beer without any knowledge of what it is supposed to be. They knock the beer for the very qualities it should display. Look at reviews for Pinkus Munster Alt and you will see what I mean. People are rating it as though it were a Dusseldorf Alt and knocking it because it doesn’t display those characteristics.

  15. The annoying thing about those sites is they now produce shelf-talkers, which I have seen deployed in bottle shops, which is going to totally screw up the craft beer market for years to come. This exact same thing happened in the wine industry, with undue praise heaped upon big, rich, oaky, high-alcohol tannin bombs that needed years of aging before being drinkable – which resulted in many years of people thinking they should only be drinking cabernet sauvignon while ignoring the numerous ready-to-drink, low-alcohol, food-friendly wines that didn’t have the benefit of a “90-whatever” score in Wine Spectator.

    It seems to be the American mindset that more is always better.

  16. I completely agree; it’s a hell of a lot easier to hide imperfections in a 12% ABV barley wine than a 5.0% Helles. I respect breweries that are willing (and able) to craft flawless, low-ABV recipes.

    I’ll use the epitome of tough-guy marketing as an example: attend any Stone Brewing festival and you’ll find no shortage of EXTREME beer enthusiasts who believe the bigger the ABV, the better.

    However, I suspect this is a sign of the industry maturing. As the market gets flooded with nearly indistinguishable barrel-aged or triple-hopped ABV bombs, opportunities will open up for other breweries to focus on the art of subtlety.

    And yes, RateBeer & BeerAdvocate are inherently biased.

  17. That’s a very valid point another Yet another Andy (there’s a lot of us out there)many of the craft beers are full of ‘faults’ – depending how strict you are. Not only that but they are very unharmonious and pull the tastebuds in different directions,alright once in a while, but all the time? No thanks. I’m just off to find a Thy Pilsner…

  18. I would agree that Rate Beer and BA are more or less useless in terms of objective ratings. It’s true that some beers are slammed, as someone pointed out, for qualities which that beer is _supposed_ to have.

    But by the same token, the “style guidelines” that have become the current fad are being taken a bit too seriously in other corners of beer geekdom. The guidelines published by the Beer Judge Certification Program are a good example of that…the older list of guidelines published 20 years ago by the American Homebrewers Association is a much saner and more useful list. The BJCP seems too obsessed with making every variation of a classic style a new style in and of itself. It is really blurring beer dialogue more than it is clarifying it.

  19. I’ve read that criticism before, Professor, but on the other hand I think those guidelines have expanded as brewers have started pushing the bounds of the original definitions. You can’t have everything that doesn’t fit into the original styles simply lumped into “experimental”. Is an 8% IPA really experimental?

  20. >
    No. It’s an IPA.
    And it’s not too far off from the IPA I first bought more than 40 years ago which was a little over 7.5% and just as hoppy (if not moreso) than any I’ve tasted recently.

    I don’t argue that the trend of the new brewers pushing the envelope warrants some thought in terms of “style” (“style” being a relatively modern fetish). But far, far too much emphasis is being placed on the “styles” anymore, and especially the guidelines…the guidelines are perhaps slightly useful in categorizing competition entries, but beyond that, there has _always_ been great variation in traditional styles.

    In any case, trying to pigeonhole every beer into a “style” category (other than very broadly) is just a wee bit silly, really. When I hear someone in a bar authoritatively stating that the beer he is drinking is not “to style”, all I can do is roll my eyes. Often, such folks are passing judgement on a “style” that they have never tasted a truly authentic example of anyway, but rather are spitting back information they have read in the guidelines list…which, again, was designed mainly to make amateur competition judging more organized. Beyond that purpose, it has little other purpose.
    Bringing the “styles” list into the world of commercial beers only makes for more confused consumers, not better informed ones.

  21. You may have already figured this out, but when I mentioned judging to style, I just meant in a general way. I agree 100% that the style handcuffs can quickly tighten.

    I remember years ago there was a discussion on the DC-BEER list about Dominion’s seasonal witbier. Someone had an issue with its inclusion of ginger. I thought this especially amusing, as if the Belgians are slaves to style.

  22. I find this interesting and somewhat amusing.
    Doesn’t Maureen Ogle in her excellent Book “Ambitious Brew” sort of describe the beginnings of the “BMC” or at least the early days as, maybe not a reaction, but a strong movement away from ales? [I don’t have the book in here with me…]
    And some of this, current activity, is definitely a reaction of the boring similar tasting BMC lagers, [Especially the Beer geeks] Right?
    It’s sort of the cycle of things? The pendulum swings back and forth.. maybe it will settle down?
    Just my 2 cents
    Dave

  23. I would say the advent of craft beer in the US was a direct reaction to the beers made by BMC. (And ales were easier to make on a shoestring budget.) The embracing of huge ales by RB and BA members is the action of a tiny subculture of beer aficionados.

    I have been wondering for a while just when the pendulum will swing for the broader culture of craft-beer drinkers, i.e., when they will start to appreciate subtlety and move away (at least a bit) from huge, hoppy beers.

  24. Many good arguments made here…but one that is not: Money! Brewing these pushing-the-envelope, over-the-top hop and barrel bombs allow the brewer to charge outrageous prices for these borderline drinkable beers. When a brewer can get beer sycophants to pony up $15 a six-pack or $12 for a 22-oz. bottle, why should he bother making a run-of-the-mill lager and only be able to charge $7 or $8 per six-pack…and lose the interest that bigger beers generate, as well? The bigger and badder the beers are, the more money there is to be made and the more “buzz” from the beer press.

  25. Hey Marty-

    My understanding, as many of the extreme brewers like to tell it, is that they actually don’t make much profit on the bigger beers they sell. Now that may be because of tying up tank space, increased ingredient cost, or other such variables, but I think it mainly has to do with the fact that the extreme beer market is a niche of a niche of a…You might be able to sell a batch or two of something extreme but otherwise you’ve pretty much saturated your market straight through and frankly there are only a limited number of folks willing to spend >$10 on a bomber (and I’m not one of them for the record…). Now I personally think there is too much value on the lower end of the price spectrum to justify such prices (not to mention I think the quality of such beers is correspondingly low) but the overwhelming bulk of craft beer consumers aren’t even aware of these limited release beers….Now a Prima Pils knockoff could do some real damage…

    Cheers,

    Andy

  26. Andy,

    I’ll concede that the cost-to-revenue ratio is probably not as high, but I’m thinking that the breweries are making that up in volume. In producing limited edition beers and stoking the hype that accompanies them, they are artificially creating a very strong demand for these high-priced beers.

    I also believe that some breweries purposely inflating their retail prices because they know they have a rabid following; they are testing the limits of supply-and-demand.

    Case-in-point: there is a well-known brewery here in the Chicago area that brews one of my favorite beers. I used to be able to buy this beer for $5.99/6-pk. (a great deal, to be sure). Now I can’t touch this beer for under $10.99/6-pk. The fact that I (and presumably others) refuse to buy that beer anymore has had zero impact on the brewery in question…they can’t brew enough to keep the shelves full.

    Cheers!
    -Marty Nachel

  27. Andy,

    I agree with the latter point in your post, but I take issue with the first part.

    Isn’t this a commentary on the beer drinking community rather than the web sites themselves, given that ratebeer and BeerAdvocate are community-driven sites? Perhaps you’re saying this when you write “the beer geek addiction to alcohol, hop, and barrel bombs is not only disturbing but I just can’t bring myself to even feign interest in them at this point.” My issue is that you’re calling out the site in the heading when your issue really seems to be with the consumers themselves.

    From what I read, it sounds like you’re basically saying that consumers’ palates have been deceived and they don’t really like what they’re drinking, they’re just supposed to think they do, and that what they should really be reaching for is a more tempered, traditional style beer with a broader base. In summary, I’m picking up that you’re not happy that people are enjoying drinking what they’re drinking and, unless you have a vested interest in consumers branching out from these styles, I don’t understand the argument.

  28. Hey Ian and welcome.

    I think it’s impossible to divorce the community members from the websites in this particular instance. So when I criticize RB, I’m not slamming Joe Tucker or anyone, but indeed critiquing the community of raters who led to the results of the list. With RB in particular, the ratings are nearly the sole purpose of the site, as compared with BeerAdvocate and its festivals and publication (for which I write as you likely know, for disclosure purposes). And I don’t believe my point was that consumers or their palates are being deceived, just that they have a disproportionately positive opinion of higher alcohol/hop/barrel beers as compared to those of other styles. As I’ve said in my book and in dozens of columns, people should drink what they like. The point of this brief aside was to note the oddity that is the total absence of lager beers on that particular list and how that is wildly unbalanced in the beer world. This isn’t an argument it’s just an observation. That these beers personally bore me was a transition to the next column idea where I discuss a need to redefine extreme beer away from the unholy (and yawn-inducing) trinity…

    Cheers,

    Andy

  29. My position on this is that this the list is not intended to be reflective of beers based on their rankings when compared to the BJCP guidelines for the styles. Unless you’re tasting and reviewing a beer objectively on its adherence to those guidelines, a beer that is bold, assertive, flavorful and, yes, palate-wrecking is more likely to end up at the top of a list like this than a well-crafted and refreshing yet subtle and distinguished lager. I suppose that is the nature of crowds. I’m not taking issue with your position, in fact I agree with it. At 2beerguys, we are just as prone to giving higher scores to styles that we enjoy, because we’re not ranking beers on a purely objective basis. How we review beers at home is very different from how we review beers when we’re judging at a BJCP-sanctioned event. Both review methods have their place, as hopefully the objective and subjective provide a complete picture of the quality of the beer. What good is a perfectly crafted beer if you don’t enjoy drinking it?

  30. Hey Ian-

    I agree that judging beers, even with the assistance of style guidelines, remains an unavoidably subjective experience. Without the guidelines, it is nothing but subjective. The issue I took with the list, especially as it was created by people who profess a deep interest in beer (or at least one strong enough to nerd out and review on a website), is that it didn’t contain a single lager beer. And while I understand that people new to beer can more easily access the blunt flavors found in many booze/hop/barrel bombs, it disturbs me that these same beer lovers can’t find their way round to rating certain lager beers the tops in their respective categories (with scores on par with at least the bottom 10-percent of that list). You sort of make my point for me by saying that you give higher scores to styles you enjoy. If the lists are wholly subjective, they’re of next to no use besides an alcohol popularity contest (which in truth is probably what they are). As I’ve said before, I don’t particularly care for roasted flavors (not a coffee drinker either) and porter is one of my least favorite styles. With that said, as a beer lover I can recognize the best examples of the style and wouldn’t hesitate, if I rated beers, to give them a score on par with the best IPA’s or imperial stouts. To do otherwise is to render the whole process nothing more than a personal parlor game. Fine for a person’s own website but not particularly enlightening when used in promotional materials or as part of a self-professed list of the world’s best beers…

    Cheers,

    Andy

  31. I feel the need to chime in on this subject. For one, I can see where the majority of you are coming from. I must point out that RB does have a top BY STYLE list as well, and this is more indicative of the best pils, or weizen or whatever, than a combined list of all the beers on the site. BA also stresses to rate by style, however thats not exactly true when you look. Also, what kind of lagers are we talking about here? You can look for yourself and see the praise given to numerous styles of German lagers on RB, as well as BA. (such as bocks, doppelbocks, rauchbier, marzen, dunkels) I’m sorry to say, but to look at the “World’s best beer list” and then say that RB doesn’t include “blahblah pilsner” without actually looking for the beer by style, or looking at its rating in that style, is ignorant. Big and complex beers make the top of the lists because they are more complex, to say that a Belgian strong ale doesn’t require as much skill as a “subtle” pilsner is ignorant.

  32. Joe, point taken about the By Style list.

    On the other hand 😉 I don’t think it is ignorant to talk about the skill levels to produce a really good Pilsner. Ales are more complex because of the yeast they use, which allows the various ingredients to shine through in different ways.

    Lager brewing is a different exercise. Brewing lager is an underrated skill – one of the reasons it is brewed mainly by the multinationals is because they are, all prejudices of the style aside, supremely skilled in brewing. (Why they use their skills as they do is another argument).

    And complex beer isn’t necessarily better. Complexity often is the curse of good ales – my personal preference is for ales that are just complex enough without ruining the overall palate. That’s just me.

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