(Welcome back to Thebeerchaser. Since this is a long post, if you are seeing it through an e-mail, please visit the blog by clicking on the title above to see all of the photos and the narrative is not clipped or shortened.)
The Taste of Beer – Follow-up
In my last post, I did a rant, of sorts, about beer reviews – where some of the descriptions of my favorite beverage, in the reviewers’ attempt to be creative, are ridiculous. I had saved examples clear back to 2014 to illustrate my point. https://thebeerchaser.com/2020/12/23/holiday-cheer-and-the-taste-of-beer/
The reaction was positive and I wanted to follow with one more current example – from Willamette Week’s 2019 Beer Guide.
I’ll follow with what I regard as some common sense advice on tasting beer from two experts. I might add, that of all of them, this description was one of the most ludicrous although the brewery’s Pils is a great beer:
“When the first sip of Von Ebert’s Pilsner crosses your lips, it tastes as if you were reading a 19th-century love letter painstakingly translated from German.
Three different Pilsner malts, each with its own crackery nuance, join like the tiny gears inside an imported continental timepiece, ticking beneath a flowery blend of Perle, Saphir and Tettnanger hops lifted into your nose by spritzy natural carbonation. And after weeks of cold-temp lagering, you can actually read a letter through it.”
Wie hat Ihnen diese Beschreibung gefallen?
Oh sorry, I meant “How did you like that description?” I got so carried away with German that I forgot some of you may not be enlightened enough to know the nuances of German to English translation (much less the “crackery nuance” he mentions). The reviewer’s tirade of wacky similes made me laugh.
For some more practical advice, and because he is a smart and gifted entrepreneur with common sense and a great knowledge of beer, I asked Adam Milne, the owner of Old Town Brewing for his take. (His brewery also produces one of my five favorite beers – Shanghai’d English Style IPA – a 2018 Gold Medalist at the World Beer Cup.) His e-mail stated:
“I always like one of two approaches. One is to use common terms that are known to beer drinkers, so the readers have a universal understanding. This can be words like bitter, hoppy, fruity, malty, IBU’s and many others.
The second approach is to go outside the beer world for terms that apply to food and drinks that everyone is familiar with. This can be describing sodas, cakes, fruits or vegetables. Basically compare to any ingredient in a grocery store or made in a restaurant. This allows for people who are not as familiar with beer to easily relate.”
Notice Adam did not use Shakespearean metaphors or an example from Wolfgang Von Goethe although the WW reviewer might have taken the advice from this 18th century German poet, playwright, novelist and scientist who opined: “A person ‘hears’ only what they understand.”
I thought another good source might be an article in Draft Magazine entitled “What a psycholinguist can tell us about how we describe beer flavors,” but unfortunately, Draft Magazine was discontinued in 2017 and the pieces is no longer available.
There was, however, a practical article entitled “How to Describe Beer Like a Pro,” that seems reasonable. https://www.finedininglovers.com/article/how-describe-beer-pro
Finally, before I leave the subject, I have to give Parker Hall, the reviewer from Willamette Week at least some credit. Although I think his beer reviews are pretentious, I respect his education and background. He is a graduate of the Oberlin Conservatory of Music – a very respected institution, where he studied jazz percussion on a scholarship.
“He remains a professional musician in his hometown of Portland, Oregon, and is an award-winning homebrewer besides being a contributor to Portland’s alt-weekly Willamette Week.”
And While I’m Ranting About Reviews…
I guess before I depart from the subject of reviews, I’ll also talk a bit about book reviews. Obviously, my exploits to new bars was stymied this year by the virus, so I read a lot more – mainly fiction, but also some good non-fiction works as well.
2020 warranted escapism so a much of my literary menu was thrillers by popular authors such as Lee Child, David Baldacci, Harlen Coban, etc. But I found that relying on well known authors to rate their contemporaries is not very helpful in selecting a good read. Usually, they are one or two sentence comments on the front or back covers and thrillers typically have phrases such as “fast-paced, a real page turner, superb plotting, absorbing nail-biter, an all-night read, etc.”
James Patterson writes of Lee Child, “I’m a fan.” Best selling author, Lisa Gardiner writes of David Baldacci, “…one of the all-time best thriller authors,” and New York Times best-selling author Lisa Scottoline states, “Baldacci delivers, every time!” One has to ask, with their writing demands and appearances, how thoroughly are these best-selling authors going to read and digest another writer’s book?
Perhaps others have arrived at the same conclusion as stated in a 2012 Los Angeles Times article, “Why is Amazon deleting writers’ reviews of other authors’ books?” The author quotes Amazon in a response to a reviewer inquiry:
“We do not allow reviews on behalf of a person or company with a financial interest in the product or a directly competing product. This includes authors, artists, publishers, manufacturers, or third-party merchants selling the product. As a result, we’ve removed your reviews for this title.” (emphasis supplied)
And, of course, this raises all kinds of questions such as, “How does one define ‘directly competing?'” The article quoted one writer opining “….author-on-author reviews comprise so little of Amazon’s overall site content as to be nothing more than a “sparrow’s fart.” Evidently, Amazon amended its position because the policy now allows authors to submit reviews of others’ books:
“….unless the author has a personal relationship with the author of the book being reviewed, or was involved in the book’s creation process.”
Now since in the last blog post and this one, I railed against the over-the-top creative license by beer reviewers and now I’m slamming book reviews for being boring gibberish, one might ask, “Okay Don, what’s your solution?”
My answer – after giving it about the same amount of contemplation that Lisa Gardiner demonstrated in her review of David Baldacci’s book above – is in two parts:
First, since one of the purposes of book reviews and comments is to help readers avoid wasting their time on bad books and other literary works, reviews should be limited to those of lousy writers, poets and other artists. To illustrate, I will use the example of English poet William Topaz McGonagal (1825-1902).
I became aware of him from a calendar of events in the Oregonian which noted the date of the death of the man “who is affectionately considered Britain’s worst ever poet.” Upon researching, I learned that others “celebrate” him in more exalted terms – “The world’s worst poet.”
An excellent 2011 article in the British newspaper The Independent entitled, “The Story of William McGonagal” stated:
“In his lifetime, he was a music hall joke….He was paid five shillings for a public recital so that his mostly working-class audiences could jeer at his bad poetry or pelt him with rotten vegetables…..
….Yesterday, the writer and comedian Barry Cryer went on the Today programme to pay tribute to the Dundee bard, and recite the only poem McGonagall was ever paid to write, which was an advertisement for Sunlight soap:
‘You can use it with great pleasure and ease — without wasting any elbow grease.'”
In concluding this section and without trying to overdo the topic – albeit extremely fascinating – I leave you with a poem he wrote after visiting New York City. It gives credence to the Wikipedia summary:
“He won notoriety as an extremely bad poet who exhibited no recognition of, or concern for, his peers’ opinions of his work….. His only apparent understanding of poetry was his belief that it needed to rhyme.
McGonagall’s fame stems from the humorous effects these shortcomings are considered to generate in his work. Scholars argue that his inappropriate rhythms, weak vocabulary, and ill-advised imagery combine to make his work amongst the most unintentionally amusing dramatic poetry in the English language.”
“Jottings of New York” by William Topaz McGonagal
Oh mighty City of New York! you are wonderful to behold,
Your buildings are magnificent, the truth be it told,
They were the only things that seemed to arrest my eye,
Because many of them are thirteen storeys high.
McCongagal died in Edinburgh in 1902 in poverty and was buried in a pauper’s grave leaving behind a vast quantity of work and a reputation that endures more than a century after his death.
To reinforce my point – reviews of bad literary work are much easier to write, there is more consensus on the degree of unworthiness, it helps readers avoid wasting their time and it may actually help the author’s awareness. (I just need to be hopeful that reviews of this blog and the manner in which I play the oboe since retirement will be only mildly disparaging when included under this standard.)
Furthering my argument to essentially limit critiques to lousy literature or maybe even substandard beer, I would submit that the model in the following article could be used to promote creativity and more inventive descriptions. Book Bub published a captivating piece, “Twelve of the Funniest Shakespearean Insults” – replete with affronts which would be fit for describing either a shoddy literary work or hideous malted beverage.
For example, let’s assume you’re about 120 pages into a novel that is boring, puts you to sleep and has no redeeming literary value. You could aptly describe it as, “A fusty nut with no kernel,” (from Troilus and Cressida Act 2, Scene 1).
Now since my nickname is “Dirt” as you will see from the blog header above, I might take issue with the following. It could describe an author who should be pursuing a career using his or her hands to produce a product other than the written word – “O Gull! O Dolt! As ignorant as dirt!” (Othello Act 5, Scene 2)
Or let’s suppose you hit a new brewery and after sampling their flagship beer, you have to force yourself to swallow the loathsome malted concoction. It would lead you to describe the brewer as, “Thou cream-faced loon,” (Macbeth Act 5, Scene 3) while describing his brew as “(A) mouthful of foul deformity.” (Richard III, Act 1, Scene 2).
This scheme could be expanded to other classical philosophers such as Machiavelli who might have been describing a writer when he wrote – “……fickle, hypocritical, and greedy of gain.”
Or perhaps, Aristotle, advising a scribe to pursue another occupation – “To avoid criticism – say nothing, do nothing, be nothing!”
Upon reflection, it’s unfortunate that some of these utterances were not employed during the election cycle this last year. So ends my rant and I guess, if reading annoying and trite reviews is my biggest annoyance, I’m pretty fortunate.
So Happy New Year from Thebeerchaser. We are thrilled and encouraged that our two nurse daughters both recently received their COVID vaccinations and let us hope that the vaccines end up in arms around the world in a rapid, safe and responsible manner.
So, until then, I will be a faithful mask wearer as I hope you will be.