Jeff, at Beervana, has been asking, not one, but twice how to define "good beer", which, together with a more than interesting debate I had under the Spanish version of the other day's post, have made me wonder if all these bollocks around beer have not made us loose touch with what's basic and fundamental.
Regardless of what values people may add to it, regardless of the labels and the chauvinism, regardless of the marketing blabber, the truth is that beer is no more, no less than an alcoholic beverage (or "fun juice", as Alan has genially put it). The only real purpose for which a beer is created1 is to be imbibed. The company that manufactures the beer wants, of course, that we find that imbibing pleasant, but not because they are especially fond of us, but because they understand that pleasure increases the probability of a repeat purchase, which is the basis for the sustainability of any business.
Drinking beer isn't an intellectual exercise, there aren't any symbolisms, or messages that have to be understood, neither are there any codes or backgrounds that the consumer needs to be familiar with in order to enjoy2. Drinking beer is a sensory experience and, as such, is 100% subjective and is evaluated with the same criteria since we are born, based on how much we like it (or dislike it).
We may write books, speak at length, dissecting, intelectualising and analysing that sensory experience, and the beer that generated it, but all that can eventually be reduced (and will be subordinated to) "like". All those elaborate and detailed tasting notes and reviews that many seem to love writing are nothing but explanations and rationalisations of that "like".
Of course, the feeling of pleasure can be affected by a multitude of factors, internal or external to the person: level of physical and mental fatigue, what has been consumed before or during the sensory experience, the company, the weather, the time of day, etc.; but also the marketing and the hype around a given beer. But the opinion about that beer will always be essentially "like".
When we say that we like a beer (for whatever reason), we are expressing that drinking it gives us pleasure. If pleasure is something that, relative to oneself, can be defined as "good", then, if I like a beer, that beer is, as far as I'm concerned, good. Therefore, "like" not only is more than enough to determine how good a beer is, but it could actually be said that, at least from the point of view of the consumer, there is no other way to determine it.
Now, what is it that make some people like some beers and dislike others? That's another question.
PD: I don't deal with the "price/quality" thing because it is actually a commercial issue. I can like a beer, A, more than another beer, B, but since buying B demands a sufficiently lower outlay of time and effort as to increase its value in relation with A, to the extent that, being able to choose between both, it will be B the one that I'm more likely to buy again.
1 There are beers that seem to be brewed mostly for dick swinging purposes or in order to attract an otherwise very expensive media attention, but they are exceptions.
2 I might be contradicting myself here. Many times I've said that you need to "understand" a beer in order to properly enjoy it. That's not true, in order to properly enjoy a beer you have to drink it, if you didn't like a beer, it won't matter how much you will have it explained, you will still not like it, at most, you will be able to understand why other people do, but that's it.