"The only important thing is what's in the glass"This is something that I've been saying, and believing, for quite some time. The opinion about a beer should be based solely on that beverage we are drinking at that moment and should not be affected by external factors, previous information or references, etc.
But I've been having some doubts about it and not only because this concept is almost impossible to put in practice to begin with. After having read a recent and excellent post by Velký Al on the hermeneutics of beer I actually realised that I was wrong. Not only there are factors that will affect our opinion, but I know believe that some of them actually should.
I still think that that the expectations built on reviews, rankings, awards, comments, ratings, etc should be ignored. Regardless of how much credit you may give them, they aren't but the manifestations of someone else's taste and experience. Someone used to drinking IPA's or "extreme" beers will probably find a Kölsch or a desítka boring, while someone who only drinks Pale Lagers will think that Guinness Draught is an explosion of flavour. But there are some other things that should be considered.
Marketing hype. Well, I don't know of any brewer who will admit his or her beers are regular, that they didn't come out as good as expected, and things like that, which shouldn't surprise anyone. Another thing is when they tell us that this or that beer is unique, ground breaking, earth shattering, revolutionary, etc. To give an example, what would we think today about Inèdit if instead of hiring a celebrity chef to spread bollocks to the four winds, they sold the beer for what it is?
The brewer's reputation. How does the beer we are drinking compare with others we've had from the same brewer? Is it up to the standards set by them? Is it better, perhaps? There are many examples of macros putting out on the market stuff that breaks with their conventions and in some cases, they are actually pretty good. But what should we think if those same beers were brewed by a much smaller company?
Price. A beer that costs you 0.5EU can't be measured with the same bar as a similar beer that costs 2EU. If I've bought a half litre can of Polish brewed "Lidlbräu Premium Pils" and it turns out to be at least drinkable (it isn't), then the beer should be considered a success, which brings me to another thing, value.
Before carrying on, I want to make something very clear. I am a rabid supporter of the inalienable right of every brewer to charge however much they see fit for the product of their labour. Really, I think it is unfair and absurd when someone complains about a beer they haven't drunk.
On the other hand, and like I believe all of you out there, I have to pay for most of the beers I drink, and I have to work for my money and quite hard at that, so in exchange for my Koruny, I expect and demand value.
Las year I presented an hypothetical situation in which, after a blind tasting, Beer A scored better than Beer B, but at the same time, B was not only easier to get, but also considerably cheaper. At the time, I proposed it like a paradox, now I'm convinced that B is the better beer since it's the one that gives me more for my money.
The best example is Westvleteren 12. The Beer Nut and Mark Dredge each did a blind tasting where the "best beer in the world" competed with other similar brews. In both cases, the one from St. Sixtus finished on top. I haven't had the chance to do something like that myself, but I wouldn't be surprised if I had the same results, and yet, I would still keep on thinking that Rochefort 10 or St. Bernardus Abt. 12 are better, if only because I can buy them with a lot less hassle and for a lot less money that Westvleteren. Something similar could be said about some "limited edition" beers that may be really good, but not much so than similar ones that are available all year round.
Te moment. It will affect your experience and it's something that should be weighed. Back to Westvleteren, it's a great beer, no doubt, but I swear to you that after a 10Km wal in a sunny day, or after mowing my lawn or during a BBQ, I'd much rather drink some Gambáč, in other other words, at that moment, this infamous desítka is the better beer.
Anyway, at the end of the day, it all comes down to taste and each opinion is as valid as the next. However, it's always recommendable to find to try to correctly interpret what we are drinking before evaluating it.