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And shame

The issue of naming and shaming has been discussed again recently both in the Spanish and English beer blogs. I had spoken about it more than two years ago, and made my opinion very clear. Since that opinion has not changed a single bit, I didn't think it'd be worth it to deal with this topic again, until I came across this this excellent article in The Guardian.

There, Jay Rayner, the paper's restaurant critic, speaks about the fascination people have with bad reviews, the more brutal, the better. Rayner doesn't give only his view, but also interviews a psychologist, other critics and even a person who was the object of one of his most visceral reviews and the person who wrote a very negative review of one of his books.

By the end, the author admits that it's easier for him to write a negative review because bad experiences are funnier and the vocabulary of the awful is wider. And his right to a certain extent. I don't publish many reviews here anymore, but when I did it more often, I had a lot more fun finding new ways to trash a crap beer. There's bit of a feeling of revenge in it, a payback for the time (and money) that the beer made us waste and that we'll never get back (nobody buys a beer o goes to a pub with the hope they will not like it).

But there are people who've chosen to refrain from that pleasure and the more I think about it, the less I understand them. The reasons they give are several, that they don't want to hurt someone who is just beginning, that they'd rather focus on the positive and what have you. Boak & Bailey, for example, quote someone who believes that being ignored is punishment enough. Weak arguments, all of them.

With so many beers out there, how can anyone know if one of them has not been mentioned because it isn't good or because it hasn't been tasted yet? Focusing on the nice and positive, is nice and positive, but I believe that telling people what to stay away from can be every bit as useful as telling them what to look for. If that is something we normally do in our off-line lives, why can't we do it in the blogs? Or you don't tell your friends when you are in a pub or a festival, and you've had a crap beer?

The thing about hurting the business, or the feelings of those who are just beginning (or worse, hurting the "craft beer revolution", what the fuck!) is an even weaker argument. I understand that many times a recipe needs a few adjustments here and there, I've got no problem with that. Sometimes ingredients don't work out as the brewer expected, an example of that is Jubiler Amber IPA, which didn't turn out just like the brewer wanted, but they still put it out and (though it could have been better) it was far from bad. Another thing, though, it's putting out a product that is clearly flawed.

But well, regardless of that, anyone who produces something should come to terms with the fact that once that thing has been bought, they've already lost control over it, that it is at the mercy of the consumers and that among them there will be people who will not like it or who will think the product is shit. It's inevitable. Before publishing my book I was a bit afraid of that. Fortunately, thus far all comments have been positive (after all, the book IS great), but this doesn't mean that half a second after I have clicked "Publish", someone will not write saying that "Prague: A Pissheads Pub Guide" "is so crap that the paper it's printed on should not even be recycled for fear the crappiness will be passed on to something else". It wouldn't make me happy, but I'm convinced the book is good, so I wouldn't let that ruin my day.

One of the restaurant critics interviewed by Rayner says something really valuable when asked about the impact of a negative review "I do not take credit for any extra bookings that follow a good review nor do I take responsibility. I am only writing for the readers." And there is the key. Bloggers shouldn't be anyone's PR, and much less of people with whom we have no personal relationship (or aren't paying us). If a brewer can't be bothered with proper quality control or knowingly sells a flawed beer, why should we have any sort of consideration for them? Or is it that we have to work less to earn the money we spend on certain beers than the money we spend on others?

Needless to say, a bad review must be, before all things, fair and also well argued, so it will be clear that it is an honest and sincere opinion and not because of some personal issues, and I also like to give my readers the credit they deserve, so I believe they are very well able to tell the difference between "I don't like it" and "it's crap". But well, everyone is free to include/leave out anything they want in their blogs, it's not my problem. Just think that when you choose not to mention the bad, the only ones you are doing a favour to are those don't do things well.

Na Zdraví!

Choose your preferred Prague hotels and get free transport.


  1. Hmm. Well, as we've said before, our reluctance to publicly rubbish new, very small brewers isn't because we're worried about their feelings but because we don't want to knock them when they might turn into a good brewery after a year or two, if they can stay in business long enough. (See Brodie's for an example of this.)

    (And, by the way, I hate reading snarky, bitchy restaurant reviews... the arch, acid-tongued sub-Wildean critic is a cliche, a bore at the party bringing everyone down and shouting for attention.)

    1. Perhaps, what we should all do is to stop running after the latest beer/brewery and let it grow for a bit before reviewing it in any way. Just like professional critics often do with restaurants....

      (PS: I love reading snarky, bitchy reviews, of anything :)

  2. In my view, there are a couple of issues at play here, Max. First is, as Bailey notes, breweries just starting out. I've reviewed beers from such breweries and have always tried to do it constructively -- actually, that applies pretty much to any beer I take issue with -- suggesting that it could use more maltiness to carry its considerably bitterness, for example, or that there is not enough weight to support the alcoholic strength. My intent in this sort of review is that the drinker might wish to avoid it for a while and the brewer -- or a potential brewer of a beer of similar style -- might gain insight on how to improve said beer.

    (I'm not suggesting that my palate is the be-all and end-all, but that the experience I've had over the past two decades plus might provide some insight.)

    The second point concerns flavour that I might not enjoy but other could. Intense, in my view unbalanced hoppiness is a good example of this. I'd suggest that a beer with that character is lacking, but someone who likes being slapped in the face with bitterness would disagree, so no point in rubbishing the beer completely without acknowledging that over-the-top hopheads could quite like it.

    1. And that is exactly why, at the end, I say that the review should be fair and well argued. It's no use to anyone to say "this beer is SHIT", without saying why you believe it's shit. Same goes for a beer you don't like. A review must tell the readers why they didn't like a beer/thought a beer was shit in order to provide them with enough information so they can later make their own minds...


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