Why read a review at all? For some, it is like reading a catalog: find the basic attributes of a product. For others, it is an investment in the judgment of others to tell how well the product fits together. Any idiot can cobble together a checklist of trendy things that consumers have indicated they want in user-response surveys. It takes a stronger human being to figure out where they intersect, how to balance them, and from that how to make a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. This applies to music, smokes, literature …and beer.
I write all the beer reviews for Death Metal Underground. These are my opinions and mine alone, but I base them on years of sampling and enjoying different beers. I bring something else to the table, which is practicality. Any idiot hipster can write a review gushing over the radical new ideas — not all that’s new is good, mind you — in some IPA made by two guys in a garage using only wild-grown hops, antique oatmeal and West Alabaman cardamom. A practical writer looks at what the beer has to offer and how that fits into the life of the person who will be drinking it. You know that phenomenon where you or someone near you sees an advertisement and thinks, “You know, that’s what I really need to complete my life — a combination hedge-trimmer and ionizer!” and rushes off to buy it, without having ever recognized the need for something like that before. This is the most common human failure of understanding, what Brett calls “reversed cognition” and William calls “islands,” where instead of thinking of what we need in a logical manner, we stumble along and see what crops up that might fit the bill and then buy it. All advertising works on this principle, and so do all hipster beer reviews. Your life just isn’t complete until you taste this beer… but why did you want it in the first place?
My reviews look into the utility of a beer. That seems like a Walmart-level consumer attitude, but it is a practical one. It involves two questions: Why would you drink this over all the other options available? and Why would you buy this in comparison with the prices of other beers? Beer is, like everything else, a market; demand balanced against supply determines value. Sometimes, demand is irrational, like all the people rushing out to buy bitter but saccharine IPAs so they can tell their hipster friends, “No, man, you haven’t lived until you’ve had Broken Alternator Upside-Down Ale, broslice.” But metalheads are more practical folk. We drink for flavor, true, but also for alcohol (who buys non-alcoholic beer except designated drivers?) and for the situation in which we are going to drink the beer. Drinking with friends in a San Francisco bar, where every beer costs $32 and twenty cents of that goes to starving orphans in Malaysia who are so poor they have never even seen Twitter, is different from everyday life where you’re picking up a half-rack to pound down with friends.
To that end, every review has two ratings: a quality rating, and a purchase rating. They look like this:
Quality rating: 3/5
Purchase rating: 3/5
Note to the curious: on a scale of five, a “three” is the equivalent of “take it or leave it,” dead center in the middle of your options.
The quality rating determines how good the beer is as an everyday drinking or weekend drinking beer. This is not for people with giant beer cellars who prize rarity and oddity over hassle-free enjoyment. It is also not for people who are uncritical and buy whatever the beer giants put out in 18-packs on sale at the local Ralph’s, because that group does not need beer reviews; it needs coupons and (probably) Alcoholics Anonymous. For your practical-minded metalhead, which is the type of person who reads this site, my quality rating provides an assessment of how good a beer is independent of how novel, weird, “interesting” or unique it is. That jive is for giggin’ hipsters (definition: a giggin’ hipster is one working a series of day jobs while “working” some vast artistic project that will never come to fruition, or will be garbage welded together with boar semen entitled One Day in the Multiverse (Republican Cadillac Genocide, part II)) and no metalhead wants that. The purchase rating gives a sense of how worthy it is to seek out this beer given the other options available. If Pig Wrasslin’ Pale Ale is 20% better than Humpty Dumpty’s Riverhead Lager, but also is 40% more expensive, it suffers on this account because the added quality is not worth the leap in price. That may seem shallow to you, but your money matters. The extra bucks you could drop on fancy beers that do not really add that much more to the party, especially after the third glass, could go toward buying rare Demoncy LPs. Mull that over when you have your next beer.
Like most things on this site, my reviews aim to be controversial not for its own sake, but because the truth is usually controversial unless a question is so universal (“who likes to poop? raise your hands”) that it answers itself. I write for this site because they will let me get away with this, where on Beer Advocate or other metal sites I would be drowned out by hep cats listing off their favorite beers which can only be purchased during the full moon for two weeks in December on a ferry between unnamed islands in the Agean Sea. If you like them, great. If not, I extend a hearty classic metalhead-style middle finger to you, a wink, and hope you enjoy whatever overpriced fad swill you’re chucking down on Daddy’s trust fund account.