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Beer ratings sites a double-edged sword for brewers

March 31, 2015
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SXSW Interactive 2015 explores craft beer

Beer ratings websites should allow more of an opportunity for brewers to reach out to amateur critics and deal with beer quality concerns, according to a North American brewer.

Hops & Grain Brewing founder Josh Hare said that logging onto beer review sites – such as ratebeer.com, beeradvocate.com and untappd.com – can make for difficult reading, but it has to be done.

“As much as I would love to say that it doesn’t bother me at all I absolutely once a week check in and read,” he said.

“We’ve had some really ugly, offensive stuff. At first I got really offended by it. What we do is so passion-filled, we care so much about the product and then you see somebody that you can’t reach out to and talk to that’s just blasting something that you’ve done.”

The Austin, Texas-based brewery founder was speaking at the recent South By Southwest Interactive conference, in a session dubbed ‘You Can’t Sit With Us: Craft Beer Subculture’, which was supposed to be devoted to elitism and snobbery in craft beer.

In reality the panel session – held in front of a packed room of engaged delegates – evolved into a discussion of the general challenges facing craft beer in the US, including the veil of internet anonymity protecting amateur beer critics, some of whom can be particularly mean-spirited.

IMG_3810_2“We’ve had people talk about a beer and rate it on the exact same day as somebody else and they said that it tasted like absolute trash and the next person says it’s the best beer they’ve ever had in their life,” said Hare.

“I think after two years of reading those and getting angry and then really excited and then really angry again and then really depressed and then really excited… you start to realise that there is no wrong opinion, but it’s humbling to realise that you can’t reach out to that anonymous community and say ‘where’d you have it?’ and ‘why didn’t you like it?’.”

Some of the more extreme examples of amateur reviews presented by the panel included one beer that was labelled “vomitous, rancid” and another it was declared “tastes like urine”.

US craft beer growth ‘unsustainable’
But in spite of their frustrations, Hare said beer ratings sites are “incredibly important” because quality issues are inevitable as craft beer continues its rampant growth in the US.

“We can’t just exist in this world of ‘everything’s great’… Because there are over 3000 of us and by the end of this year, there will be a new brewery opening every 12 hours. And that is not sustainable, necessarily,” he said.

“Most of us are very proud of what we do… unfortunately even more of us refuse to believe that what we make could potentially not be great,” said Hare.

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The panel L-R: Josh Hare and bloggers Matt McGinnis, Caroline Wallace and Christopher Sheppard.

“Most of the brewing industry just get pissed off when they see somebody say something negative. But it can be the most constructive thing you can do as a business owner and employee – to view that with an open mind and think ‘nobody’s opinion is wrong’.”

Let us contact reviewers
Hare said Hops & Grain takes greater heed of the more constructive reviews, while the most vicious criticisms are taken with a grain of salt.

“We look back at that person and what else they’ve reviewed… whether they have some credibility,” he said.

Hare said online reviewing sites play a valuable role and he hopes they continue to grow.

“But I also hope that with that, the platform is a little more enabling for us to reach out to those people and connect, rather than it being so anonymous that if somebody said ‘your beer tastes like urine’, you couldn’t actually say ‘hey, we want to know where you had it and maybe we can get you a fresh sample’.”

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