Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)
We’re going to delve into the matter of opinion this week. I read a lot of beer reviews — both professional and on the big aggregator websites — and lately something has been jumping out to me in a lot of them. It seems, reading many accounts of people trying one beer or another, that because the beer wasn’t what they were expecting it was bad or somehow deficient. If possible, I’d like to talk a bit not about beers to seek out, but how we approach beer (and in many ways life in general).
To use a specific example of what I mean: A couple years back Sam Adams and Weihenstephaner announced they were collaborating to produce a new beer. This beer, Infinium, was going to be brewed at Weihenstephaner’s brewery in Germany and was said to promise a breakthrough in German brewing technique, which has faced charges of growing stale in the face of the Reinheitsgebot. Infinium was put out in a champagne-like bottle and the talk began about a “champagne-style” beer from these two breweries. Upon release, the 2010 Infinium was champagne-like in carbonation and mouthfeel, but was decidedly malty — imagine a mild sparkling Barleywine and you’re about there. Reaction was swift and oddly vengeful: all over the ‘net there were angry words being thrown around about how bad Infinium was and how they’d gotten it all wrong.
What I didn’t read a lot of was what specifically was wrong with Infinium. It seemed the entirety of what was wrong with the beer had to do with what it wasn’t rather than anything it was. In conversations with other beer geeks, some rethought their position on the beer and found some stuff they liked about it; others refined their opinions and could find true, relevant criticisms as to why it wasn’t to their palate. When I first tried Infinium, I thought it was interesting but could see the controversy coming as it wasn’t anything that anyone seemed to be expecting. The controversy of the first Infinium release lingers on: the 2011 release was much different, seemingly closer to what many were expecting from that first year, but many didn’t want to pick it up because of their memories of that first year’s release.
When I try any beer, I do my best to keep a ‘blank slate’ approach. In my professional life I have to be able to decide whether a beer will be interesting to my customers without any preconceived notions or preferences getting in the way. While I do the beer buying here at Arrowine and much of what we stock is based upon what I find interesting in the business right now, it’s not all about me. Anyone who is a professional in our business should strive to be the kind of person who can tell you that they don’t prefer the style of beer or wine you enjoy, but still be able to recommend a great one that you’ve never tried.
At home, it is all about me, as it is with you in your home, or at the restaurant or bar you may happen to be at. I’m not here to preach: we’re all entitled to our opinions and if you find a beer disappointing or think it doesn’t live up to what you thought it was going to be, you’ve every right in the world to think so and say so. What I’m saying here (and forgive me if I go a bit too Zen here — I do that), is ask yourself: why be disappointed at all? Examine any expectations you may have and ask yourself where they came from. Are they worth having? Is it worth setting up hoops for a beer to jump through just so you can say you enjoyed it? I’m not asking anyone to lower their expectations for beer — I’m asking everyone to get rid of their expectations altogether.
Reading tasting notes and talking to fellow beer geeks can give you an idea of what a beer might be like, but don’t let that influence your thinking as you try it for yourself. Even if a beer throws you for a loop, adjust; save for the beer having a fundamental flaw, realize that the beer simply isn’t what you thought it was going to be and start the process of considering what it is rather than what you thought it would be. At the end of the day, it’s all still beer – it should be fun. Even if something isn’t the greatest thing ever, it’s still a good beer.