Beer Forums… Overrated?

There was quite a brew-ha-ha (pun intended) this week over a discussion thread on the Beer Advocate forums discussing the “Most Overrated” breweries in craft beer.  This sort of subjective debate is not new.  In fact, it is the rule rather than the exception in internet forums.  One of the double-edged swords of the open nature of the internet is that on one hand, everyone has the freedom to say whatever they want, and on the other hand, everyone has the freedom to say whatever they want.  There is no real accountability, no repercussions, and the ability to post in a mostly anonymous fashion allows for a “say anything” environment.  Usually, these so-called debates over which thing is better, which celebrity is hotter, which politician is the bigger liar quickly devolve into name-calling, links to “confirmed sources” to support outrageous statements, flame wars, and outright trolling.

The thread “Most Overrated Brewery?” was no exception.  From the get-go, the mud-slinging began.  It was ugly, and for some reason Dogfish Head Brewing was taking the majority of the blows.  Overrated.  Overpriced.  “Weird” flavors.  But they were not alone.  Names like Three Floyds, Cigar City, Stone… every poster made a point to include a “big name” brewery.  On and on it went, with many piling on Dogfish in a bully-like fashion.  The conversation devolved further when some poster tried to defend their favorite breweries, or suggested that perhaps “overrated” was too subjective a term to use.  They were shouted down by the mob.

Now in most cases, this sort of thing would not garner any attention outside the forums.  It is sadly an all-too-common event on open internet forums, regardless of the topic.  But this time, something new happened.  Someone said something.  Someone who actually had a dog in the fight, so to speak.  Or perhaps I should say… a Dogfish.  Sam Calagione.  Founder and owner of Dogfish Head Brewing, the apparent target of many of the posters ire.  His reply was brilliant, in this beer lover’s opinion.  It was professional, but passionate.  It was clear and to the point, and answered many of the accusations with facts, not hyperbole.

It’s pretty depressing to frequently visit this site and see the most negative threads among the most popular. This didn’t happen much ten years ago when craft beer had something like a 3 percent market share. Flash forward to today, and true indie craft beer now has a still-tiny but growing marketshare of just over 5 percent. Yet so many folks that post here still spend their time knocking down breweries that dare to grow. It’s like that old joke: “Nobody eats at that restaurant anymore, it’s too crowded.” Except the “restaurants” that people shit on here aren’t exactly juggernauts. In fact, aside from Boston Beer, none of them have anything even close to half of one percent marketshare. The more that retailers, distributors, and large industrial brewers consolidate the more fragile the current growth momentum of the craft segment becomes. The more often the Beer Advocate community becomes a soap box for outing breweries for daring to grow beyond its insider ranks the more it will be marginalized in the movement to support, promote, and protect independent ,American, craft breweries. 
It’s interesting how many posts that refer to Dogfish being over-rated include a caveat like “except for Palo…except for Immort…etc.” We all have different palettes which is why it’s a great thing that there are so many different beers. At Dogfish we’ve been focused on making “weird” beers since we opened and have taken our lumps for being stylistically indifferent since day one. I bet a lot of folks agree that beers like Punkin Ale (since 1995) , Immort Ale (wood aged smoked beer) since 1995, Chicory Stout (coffee stout) since 1995 , Raison D’être (Belgian brown) since 1996, , Indian Brown Ale (dark IPA) since 1997, and 90 Minute (DIPA) since 2000 don’t seem very weird anymore. That’s in large part because so many people who have been part of this community over the years championed them and helped us put them on the map.These beers, and all of our more recent releases like Palo Santo, Burton Baton, Bitches Brew continue to grow every year. We could have taken the easy way out and just sold the bejeezus out of 60 Minute to grow but we like to experiment and create and follow our own muse. Obviously there is an audience that appreciates this as we continue to grow. We put no more “hype” or “expert marketing” behind our best selling beers than we do our occasionals. We only advertise in a few beer magazines and my wife Mariah oversees all of our twitter/Facebook/dogfish.com stuff. We have mostly grown by just sharing our beer with people who are into it (at our pub, great beer bars, beer dinners, and fests) and let them decide for themselves if they like it. If they do we hope they tell their friends about. We hope a bunch of you that are going to EBF will stop by our booth and try some of the very unique new beers we are proudly bringing to market like Tweason’ale (a champagne-esque, gluten-free beer fermented with buckwheat honey and strawberries) and Noble Rot (a sort of saison brewed with Botrytis-infected Viognier Grape must). One of these beers is on the sweeter side and one is more sour. Knowing each of your palettes is unique you will probably prefer one over the other. That doesn’t mean the one you didn’t prefer sucked. And the breweries you don’t prefer but are growing don’t suck either. Respect Beer.” – Sam Calagione

Well said, sir.

The bashing of popular things is not a new thing, either.  There is an element of our society who pride themselves in deliberately and intentionally disliking anything that is popular, regardless of its quality or merits.  Whether it is a movie, musician, electronic gadget, and yes… even craft beer.  I have talked about beer snobbery before, and this falls into that same category.  Sam Calagione (and many other brewery owners) worked his ass off and built Dogfish Head from the ground up.  He got laws changed.  He pushed the envelope and challenged what “beer” meant.  And people have the gall to say he “sold out”?!  These are probably the same ones who brag that they only drink nanobrew with Vinnie in his cellar.

Sam is not alone is standing up for craft beer and his business.  Recently Cigar City Brewing owner Joey Redner answered some suggestions that they had intentionally released a beer that was most likely infected.  It is very easy for people who are NOT brewers – or even in the industry – to make wild accusations and conjectures about what brewers are doing.  They forget that at the end of the day, these are businesses.  They love to make beer, but if they don’t also make money, there will be no more making beer.  Deliberately misleading customers or delivering a sub-standard product is something NO business wants to be accused of.

So here’s the deal, folks: respect beer.  Respect the people who make it for you.  If you don’t like it, that’s fine.  Drink something else.  There are probably a lot of people who like the ones that you don’t like, and don’t like the ones you do.  And that’s okay.  There are so many great choices for everyone, it does not have to be an ugly discussion.  It serves no purpose other than to inflate your own ego, and is actually detrimental to the overall industry.

Cheers.

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~ by Sean Nordquist on January 12, 2012.

13 Responses to “Beer Forums… Overrated?”

  1. It cannot be said better. Nice job, Sean!!!

  2. Superb article. Spot on!

  3. I was pretty stoked about Sam’s response myself…but on reflection, I’m a little concerned that maybe Sam wants us to be too easy on craft brewers. “Overrated” is, IMO, a bullshit evaluation; it would be more honest to say something like “great opinions of a brewery I’m most at odds with”. But we absolutely need to say what needs to be said about beers we don’t believe are well-made, or well-conceived. If a brewery has a consistent packaging problem, we should say so. If a beer is a misconceived mess, we should offer our opinion. If we don’t like that type of beer to begin with…we should definitely state that up-front, and then offer our opinions with some due humility! But criticism IS good for the industry. I don’t THINK Sam was saying “if you criticize craft beer, you hurt all craft brewers.” But I do think he might have been a bit clearer about that.

    • Lew I totally get your point. Yes, brewers (like any business owner) do need to be held accountable for the quality of their product and how they conduct business. I wish more companies took pride in their work the way Sam (and most craft brewers) seems to. I agree 100% with articulating opinions about beers that are well made – or not. There will always be differences of opinions, preferences, and so on. Constructive criticism is essential to any business growing and maturing. I don’t think Sam was suggesting otherwise. But to simply call something “overrated” is so subjective and based on personal bias and preference that the term itself is meaningless. Do you think something is overpriced? Fine. Not as good as other beers? That’s a perfectly acceptable opinion. Everyone is entitled to their own.

      I didn’t get the sense that Sam wanted us to be “easy” on craft breweries. I think he was simply suggesting that people think about what it is they are saying, and to consider the real factors involved in craft beer, not some invented “rating” system based on popularity.

      Cheers!

  4. Didn’t know Three Floyds was a “BIG” name..

  5. I’ll be honest. I marked out on the ‘most overrated’ thread & simply said “DFH – All Day.” I didn’t explain why or felt necessary to do so. I didn’t mean for it to be at all negative either. Not only is there DFH brews available, there are also a plethora of others, & don’t always base your choices on what is most popular at the moment, is what was meant by that statement.
    I have a friend who goes out to a brew pub or tap house, knowing how much I love craft beer, feels inclined to text me about what he is drinking at that very moment & it is almost always a DFH craft brew. I asked him to venture out & try something else sometimes. He said DFH is really all he knows what he likes.
    I think DFH creates some outstanding brews. I respect Sam Calagione & all he has done for the craft beer industry. I’ve read his book, I enjoy their beers. I too, highly respect beer. But I think there is a positive along with all of the bashing. Even negative attention is still attention. There’s a simple phrase, ” More money, more problems”, that suits this best. With more people that love you, will come an increase in the amount that hate you. It happens in everything. Music, Movies, Food, Sports; now Beer.
    I’m not offering a solution here, I’m just making a point that it is unavoidable to broadcast anything without a few lashings of the narrow-minded, so you just have to deal with it.

    • Travis,
      I absolutely think people should branch out and try new beers every chance they get. But we all have our “favorites” and our “go to” beers. But just because something is popular does not make it “overrated”. Yes, when something becomes popular or has more media exposure and attention shined on it, there will be an immediate backlash by some for no other reason than they want to be contrarian. I would disagree that “no such thing as bad publicity” applies in the world of craft beer. And supposed “insiders” arguing and bickering about which beer is “overrated”. I think it is bad for the image of the industry, and not constructive.

  6. I love Sam’s response. Drink what you like and respect beer.

    Cheers!

  7. This sort of stuff will go on until the end of time. It happens in almost every industry. Look at music. Some underground band makes it big and they sold out or are overrated. They obviously aren’t over rated if that many people are listening to them or buying their albums.

    Same with beer. Look at all the highly rated beers DFH have. Over rated? I think not. But do I have to like them or their beers? No (I do but just making a point). Taste is subjective and not everyone is going to like everything you do. There are some from DFH that I really can’t stand that doesn’t make them over rated just because they put out a beer with ingredients that I can’t pronounce or stomach. It just means I didn’t like it. Same with music. I don’t like said band’s stuff doesn’t mean others don’t.

    I hate the term over rated. It just seems demeaning to the business you are talking about. People should just say they don’t like it and move on. Let others make their choice.

    Oh good write up by the way Sean. 🙂

  8. I’d love to see Sam Calagione go to the Boston Markets or Quiznos, or the types of firms that do types of jobs that nobody truly understands what function they serve, and heckle the way they assemble a sandwich or do market consultation. IMHO, there are plenty of DFH beers I do not care for and plenty that I do (Indian Brown, Chicory Stout and Festina Peche among them). See what I did there? It’s okay to play up the beers you like and to quickly brush over the fact that there are some you don’t. I don’t need to run my mouth/typing fingers off about the ones I personally don’t care for b/c only one would I say it was poorly executed (OK, I’ll cave, it’s Fort, the raspberry one, which tastes like jet fuel with some berries on top). To Lew’s point, yes, critiquing a badlly made or served beer is vital, but that’s a lot different that random, semi-anonymous criticizing of the entire company that the poster merely dismisses as being a big (dog)fish in a small (mirror) pond.

    The fact is, Sam–both in terms of the beers he sells and his personal charisma–have been a huge boon to this niche market of beers those guys falsely claim to advocate.

  9. Well written and well said, by both Sam and the article author (BA?) Respect Beer and the people who make it!!! amen!

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