Monday, March 30, 2009

Beer Review Generator

I tend to recite the caption of this James Thurber cartoon whenever someone asks me if the wine is good. It's a stale joke; wine criticism has come a long way in the last 70 years or so. Good beer snobs have now adopted some of the modern wine-snob vocabulary, and have settled into a typical phrasing that lends itself easily to mockery. That's where I come in. Presenting the It's Pub Night Beer Review Generator:

The beer I'm reviewing is:
GoodBadEither
It has a:
Big headSmall head
Its color is:
LightAmberDarkAny
If the button doesn't work, click over to It's Pub Night, it works there!
Please forgive me, Beer Advocates and Ratebeerians. The Beer Review Generator is obviously my way of lampooning your subculture. Don't take it the wrong way -- I'm glad that you're taking beer so seriously. You're inspiring brewers to greater heights, and creating an important part of the beer culture. The Beer Retard may call you "beer douches" -- his Thurber-meets-MS Paint cartoons are pretty funny -- but the truth is I could read beer ratings all day long. In fact, as simplistic as the Generator is, I could keep pushing the button and reading its reviews all day long, and I wrote the stupid thing. The vocabulary and cadence of these stereotypical beer poems has its own brain-candy deliciousness.

Which brings me back to skepticism. How useful are these wine-talk screeds about beer? It's exciting to read about a beer's "Sexy full-bodied palate, with just a hint of plum and orange", but does that really tell me whether I'd like it or not? I doubt it, and that conviction grows stronger as I idly amuse myself by reading one artificially-generated review after another. What I would like to see more of in beer criticism -- including my own -- is analogy. Something like "This beer is like an over-hopped Young's ESB", or "It reminded me of a cross between Sierra Nevada Celebration and Duvel". Describe a new, rare, or regional beer in terms of other beers that aficionados have been exposed to or have ready access to.

Play around some with the generator. I think you'll be amused by its presumption.

27 comments:

  1. Magnificent. You're the John Hodgeman of beer.

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  2. Awesome. That's why reviews tend to be a very small percentage of the overall posts on my blog — I often just don't know what to say other than "this beer is awesome" or "this beer sucks." And I've said for some time: If you ever see me use the the word "lacing" in a review, you have permission to shoot me.

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  3. Thanks, gents! That's the spirt Jeff, use an analogy to describe me, instead of saying I'm a verbose, bespectacled, dumpy guy.

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  4. 100% agree and guilty as charged.

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  5. I had to give up on the Ratebeer thing. I found myself repeating the same jargon over and over. That, and the fact that it kept crashing repeatedly. Nice post, Bill.

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  6. Great tool Bill! So many reviews need a secret-decoder ring to understand. "...flame-touched citrus and sun toasted-straw..." makes me think of orange flavored lighter fluid and the business end of a broom after a heavy spring cleaning. I don't think that would be my favorite beer.

    For me, the only two qualities of a writeup that makes me want to try a beer is 1) you're reasonably knowledgeable about beer, and 2) you recommend trying it. Beer is too subjective an experience for a review to replace the actual drinking process. In the end, I try to sample as much as I can, regardless of the review.

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  7. Well, the bloggers seem to like this thing. Thanks guys. I just hope I haven't completely alienated the beer rating crowd.

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  8. Bill,
    No, as a beer rater I agree with you. I struggle with trying to put anything in a review that feels new, same as what Angelo said. In fact just the other day I decided to stop rating since I was so bored of it... now to just kick the habit.

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  9. Bill: Not to worry, the only people you've alienated to date are your friends and family.

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  10. That's brilliant. I'll never need to write my own reviews again. Thanks for posting this.

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  11. That's a good point. I probably need to be a bit more proactive in my descriptions of beer (along with my like/dislike of it) in order to better serve my readers.

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  12. OMFG! This is funny stuff!

    It's all kind of funny.... Lets dumb it down to like/dislike, color and head! That's great! My 15 year old could do that.....!

    I agree, I'd like to see a reviewer do more comparison reviews and tell the reader whether they like or dislike the beer. That said, how do I know if I like what the reviewer likes? ;-}

    Comparisons? I guess it helps those who can't identify a base Beer Style with their own palate. Not trying to be nasty, here... Not everyone has a palate to evaluate or identify certain flavors and aroma. What one person perceives, another may not. Even when professionally evaluating or judging beer not all evaluators can taste or smell each others beer nuances.

    I think if we are going to call someone a beer aficionado, that person should be able to identify a specific beer to style and describe what they are tasting in a way that other aficionados can relate. Simple sensory "beer related" descriptors. I guess I'm saying, if you can't describe what you taste, you're not an aficionado. ;-} I would say that would work for Beer Geeks on up the ladder.

    If a "Douche" is someone that is highly proficient at evaluating beer to the smallest detail... then we can include Beer Douches too... I'm sure it's a term other wish they could acquire... People mock at what they can't acquire or are unwilling to strive for... ;-}

    If you are coming up the ladder as a beer novice, you should be trying to find the reviewers perceived aroma and favor descriptors. You don't have to agree with the reviewer...but see if you can find the descriptors... ;-}

    It's more than quantity and even quality of beer that you drink... It's about understanding the beer style and even the twist or change in style. It's about being able to identify those sensory beer profiles of all beers and intelligently communicate those flavors to others.

    Any moron can say (In a Special Ed's Voice) "I like it! It's Red and has lots of bubbles! Yay!!" That's the humor in find in your "beer reviewer."

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  13. Doc, if beer reviews are a good way for true cognoscenti like yourself to communicate with one another, I have no objection, though the rest of us can still make fun of the more florid touches.

    However, I doubt that the reviews are even a reliable way to pass information between experts.

    Let's do an experiment. Tell me which well-known beers are described by these two positive reviews:

    1. Cloudy reddish-brown with an orange cast. The light tan head eventually subsides to a very creamy 1/8" head that leaves some nice lace. The aroma is lightly fruity (dark fruits - raisin, plum, fig... and maybe some lighter fruits as well), lightly phenolic (even some minor bubblegum), gently citrusy, somewhat woody, somewhat sweet, softly spicy (clove) and subtly leathery. The body is light/medium. The flavor is somewhat rich with a fruity, bready malt flavor, some yeastiness, and some light grassy hops that round and balance.

    2. Caramel copper in colour with a thin but fluffy bubbly lace that leaves several rings on the glass. Nose is of caramelized sugars with a hint of toasted nearly metallic malt. Some fruity esters give of a whiff of alcohol. Rich and sweet caramel maltiness with a big flavourful malty palate, finishing off with a steely crystal malt flavour (vague hint of carob) and a semi sharp hop bitterness.

    Actually, anyone should feel free to join in this game. Please, no Googling. What styles are described? And if you're really good, which beers?

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  14. OK, you've earned a link from my non-beer blog.

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  15. The first one's Fred (from the Wood?), the second one's Doggie Claws… am I close? Or do I just have Hair of the Dog on the brain?

    -anónimo

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  16. anónimo: You're a brave man. Before revealing the answer, I'll give a few more days to see if I get any more contestants. But I have to tell you that neither of the reviewed beers is from Portland.

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  17. Not really "brave…" just unconcerned with knowing everything. Quite the opposite actually, I always want to try something new… which would be rather difficult if I already knew them all.

    I already cheated and know how far off I am… but to be fair, I've never had the second one, and I wouldn't describe the first one as "fruity" or "citrusy…" at all…

    -anónimo

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  18. Paul: Thanks for the shout-out, the new frame looks cute. Let me know if it needs a walk sometime.

    anónimo: It's interesting that you say you're unconcerned with knowing everything. I must have Thurber on the mind, what with the cartoon at the top of the post, but all this review talk has me thinking of another Thurber quote. In Fables for Our Time, the moral of The Scotty Who Knew Too Much is: It is better to ask some of the questions than to know all the answers..

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  19. The first one has to be a Belgian Trappiste ale, and the second one sounds almost like fat tire. Not sure on the second one but they both have to be ales, dont sound like lagers at all.

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  20. My first thought for the #1 entry was a barleywine, I think SN Bigfoot. I struggle with the "orange cast" but I'll stick with that vote.

    The #2 entry, color descriptors make me think porter, the taste profile makes me think stout. I believe this to be a RIS, maybe Stone's altho, I thought O/A Yeti from Great Divide.

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  21. Patrick: thanks for playing the game. I suspect you've seen the answers by now; I like your responses because they bolster my argument. I mean that as a compliment to you -- as a regular commenter, I think of you as a thoughtful aficionado. And yet the reviews led you far from the mark.

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  22. I guess it's late to guess, but I tried not to peek at anything. #1 sounds like Blue Moon, and #2 sounds like something English.

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  23. I don't understand. Why is there no response from Dr. Wort to the "ID the review" challenge?

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  24. Lew: Doc Wort commented ad nauseum on the sequel. But he didn't publish a guess before peeking.

    Trevor: Blue Moon? You're pulling my leg, right? The first words of the review are "Cloudy reddish-brown".

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  25. I'm not sure beer reviews are all that valuable really. Aggregate ratings are interesting and help draw attention to great brewers around the world. But as a long time user of ratebeer, I very very rarely read any of the ratings there. Rather, I started doing it as an exercise in understanding the beer, and kept on doing it because it became a hobby.

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  26. pretty much no one on ratebeer writes reviews of beers for anyone else but themselves, which is fine by me

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