I hate writing negative beer reviews. I have an idea of how much work it takes to brew bee, and how much time, effort and passion each brewery puts into their brand. I take no joy in ripping on their creations. I’ve been asked why my reviews are generally so positive before, the simple answer is that most of the beers I try fall somewhere between decent and great. I try some things blind, but I also get a lot of recommendations that are taken into account before I make my selections at a brewery or bottle shop. There are exceptions to this, and every so often I try a beer that isn’t good for one reason or another. What I do in these cases depends on what the problem is with the beer. Here are the most common issues I’ve found with commercial beers and what I typically do when I drink a beer with this problem:
Not to my tastes: I do have preferences as far as style and expectations for beers in a particular style. My favorite thing about IPAs is the pungent smell of hops that hits your nose as you take that first sip, so an IPA missing that distinctive aroma is going to take a significant hit in my book. When I taste a beer that has no obvious flaws, but just doesn’t fit what I’m looking for in that style I’ll usually write it up and specify why it wasn’t my favorite take on the style. Everyone has different tastes, so someone else could read the justification for my so-so review and want to try the beer.
Muddled or clashing flavors: Sometimes a beer has a combination of flavors that don’t sit well with my palate. This can be due to crazy adjunct ingredients or just a mismatched recipe. For example, I think black IPAs can be delicious but only if you have hops that properly complement the roasted dark malt flavors. In my opinion earthy/grassy hop flavors work, while fruity/citrusy hops clash, but someone else might have a different opinion. When I try a beer that doesn’t work for me I’ll usually write it up and be very specific about what didn’t work. Maybe the combination of flavors that clashed for me would sound delicious to my readers!
Old Beer: Every beer, especially hop-forward beers, should really have a bottled-on date. Unfortunately many brewers don’t take this step, so you really don’t know if the beer you are buying is a month or a year old. I buy most of my bottles at a shop I trust to make sure things are as fresh as possible, but some stores pay no attention to the age of their beers. If I sample a beer that I am pretty sure is past it’s prime I will usually hold off on a review and try to find a fresh batch. If I know that the bottle is past, either because it’s dated or because I’ve tried the beer before, I’ll let the brewery know that a store has old beer on the shelves.
Oxidized or diacetyl flavors: Occasionally even a good brewer can make a bad batch of beer. I recently had a couple beers that were clearly oxidized, a wet cardboard smell overwhelmed the nose and rendered the beer undrinkable. I told the brewer, it turns out that they had a problem with their bottling line and didn’t realize until the bottles had shipped (oxidation takes time). You can have a similar problem with diacetyl (a fake-butter flavor/aroma), although it is usually evident sooner. If I get a beer that is clearly spoiled I let the brewery know. If it happens again, after giving the brewer a reasonable amount of time to correct the problem, I’m probably done with beers from that brewery.
Contamination (unintentional): There are a number of sour and wild ale styles that intentionally have a tart flavor. If a brewer isn’t careful with sanitation other styles can get “infected” and ruin the beer. I’ve had this happen to homebrew, but never in a commercial beer. If I did I would be done with that brewery, it would show a complete lack of quality control.
What do you do when you taste a bad beer? Agree or disagree with my assessments? Let me know!