Critics are convenient punching bags.
I get the opportunity to talk with plenty of brewers throughout the course of any given year, and ninety-nine out of one hundred of them understand and appreciate the role of independent media and critique in the overall community, but then there’s always that one.
The jabs usually take a predictable arc—“you don’t have skin in the game; all you do is tear down our hard work; who cares what you think; I’ve invested X number of dollars in my business and you have the nerve to say my beer isn’t good?”
Such arguments miss the point of criticism entirely. While our media business is a relatively small selfowned one with personal money on the line (we definitely have “skin in the game”), that’s immaterial to the bigger question of the value of critique. Good criticism is much more than “you should drink this and don’t drink that” or “I pick up trace amounts of diacetyl in this beer.” It’s about creating a framework for understanding the relationships among creative practitioners while celebrating and defining those who propel our community of creative brewing forward. It’s about championing the influencers, shining light on those who make interesting contributions to the world of brewing, and engaging with the question of what is good. The “why” is more important than the “what.”
“Good” is subjective, evolves with time, and is highly influenced by the other things our palates experience in the broader world of eating and drinking. We sometimes fall prey to thinking that, because we have codified guides to beer styles, there is some sort of Platonic ideal for every style and the brewer’s job is to slavishly reproduce them perfectly. But the truth is that beer styles are lagging indicators—descriptive definitions built from clusters of commercial examples—and not prescriptive roadmaps. The creativity of brewers is not constrained by styles—the definitions get changed as brewers make their own compelling (and delicious) arguments for those changes.
The conversations we have about these things aren’t always visible, but they inform the way we write about everything. From heated discussions among our review panelists about how styles are evolving to story discussions with our writers, we consistently challenge our own assumptions about what’s good and remain open to new experiences that might change our minds.
There’s still a place for this kind of critical writing and thinking about beer, even now in an age where Untappd scores and Yelp reviews can tell you what the general population thinks. More than just numerical scores, we strive to provide the context and cultural argument for why things are good, in turn helping you understand why you like and dislike things. But our primary mission is to celebrate the good and shine a bright spotlight on those brewers who are doing creative, exacting, groundbreaking work in the world of brewing.
Whether you embrace the cutting edge of brewing or simply love your old standbys, we hope you enjoy this issue. We made it for you.