A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of attending the Illinois Craft Brewers Guild’s annual Festival of Wood and Barrel Aged Beer (or FoBAB as it’s known for reasons that escape the letter ‘W’). At this event, I was able to sample a number of wonderful beers of varying styles which, as you may have guessed, had been aged in wooden barrels or somehow otherwise aged under the influence of wood. Like any good connoisseur, I took detailed notes on each beer that came into contact with my tongue. Upon reviewing my notes later on, I found some trends that led me to believe that perhaps there’s a better way to rate beers. Behold:
Here we see some classic examples of notes taken while in the throes of beer festival festivities. Some sparse notes (“Just OK too much vanilla” for Avery’s Uncle Jacob’s Stout, “nice - illegible note” for Bear Republic’s Prickly Pear Big Bear) as well as comments which subtly hint at some sort of scale (Super good, real great). Beers with checkmarks were tasted, but no notes were made, perhaps as an indication of the taster being, if not necessarily underwhelmed, then possibly only medium-whelmed given the context of some of the other beers that were tasted. Also, the first note is a written in beer name, All Funked Up Ale, which is a beer that Against the Grain brought that wasn’t listed on this particular page.
Here we see a scale really beginning to take shape. Notes such as “Nice!!!”, “Oh yeah”, and “Holy crap” as well as the exuberant expletive used to describe the Cherry Bourbon County Stout thoroughly inform us of how each beer compares and contrasts with the others.
It would also seem, based on this page of notes, that the point in the evening when the taster made his way to the Destihl brewery’s offerings was the same point in the evening where the taster made the bold decision to abandon the technique of politely making notes in the margins, instead opting to scrawl recklessly over the brewer’s descriptions of the beer. This technique appears to have yielded more detailed notes (“Not that good” for the Reserve Flanders, “Kinda punchy” for the Reserve Belgian Style Lambic, and “Nice. Smarties.” for the Reserve Sour Paw Paw.)
On this page we see that the taster “likes” Flossmoor Station’s Barrel Aged Fireside Chat “a lot.” We also see some additional Goose Island notes, with some applying to beers which are not actually listed. “Templeton - yep” refers to the taster particularly enjoying a version of Bourbon County Stout which had been aged in Templeton Rye Whiskey barrels. We also see that sister Halia is “p. good” and that the Pretty In Pink is “nice, almost Petrusy” which refers to the taster finding the sour character of this beer to be similar to that of the Petrus Oak Aged Pale beer from Brouwerij Bavik, a beer that is one of the taster’s personal favorites.
On the following page, we see the “Oh yeah” rating used once more in reference to the Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Imperial Stout aged in Appleton Estates Rum barrels. We also see another use of “OK” with an addendum of “too sweet” for Pipeworks’ Elijah Craig Barrel Aged Murderous. Following that is a note of “actually dece” pertaining to Rock Bottom’s Blackened rye stout, which seems to suggest that the taster was surprised that he found himself enjoying this beer.
Based on these notes, it would seem that a scale of OK, Pretty Good, Nice, Oh Yeah!, Holy Crap, and Exuberant Expletive can be established as a means of succinct comparison and contrast. In fact, it might even be said that these notes have already established this scale as the best way to do so. Potential variants (Not That Good, Super Good, Real Great) are limitless and enthusiastically encouraged.
To conclude, our heroic note-taking taster finds himself compelled to encourage all beer enjoyers who read this and even most who decline to read this: Go forth, and let this scale replace all feeble numbers in your rating endeavors! For numbers, they do not have feelings! Numbers do not carry the chutzpah of a scale that has an Exuberant Expletive rating! No taster has ever taken a sip of beer and promptly exclaimed, “Five point oh!” but at least one taster has taken a sip of beer and promptly exclaimed “Hot diggity daffodil!” So take this scale to all of your tastings and festivals, and to the bar you visit on the way home from work, and the beer fridge in the garage that you visit on the way to work (having a beer before work gets an “Oh Yeah!” rating in general) and make sure to report back with examples and potential expansions.
Josh Augustine sometimes mentions beer and baseball and other strange things on Twitter, and somewhat reliably informs the world what he's drinking on untappd.