sam

Which Breweries are Overrated?

I do not usually write op-ed pieces on this blog but today is a bit different. Something got me going. The forums on BeerAdvocate.com are notorious. I stopped paying attention a couple years ago, to be honest. While I subscribe to Beer Advocate the magazine and generally appreciate what it contributes to my psyche, I am sometimes embarrassed by my fellow beer lovers who frequent the online forums.

Over at BeerAdvocate.com someone recently started a thread asking, “Which craft brewery is the most overrated?” BeerAdvocate.com locked the thread after 496 responses. People on the BA forums go nuts when you ask them to talk about what sucks. It’s like a bad karma snowball. Ask the same people to talk about what they like, and you can hear the crickets chirp.

The writer of the initial comment called out Dogfish Head Brewery by name and a lot of people have been talking about Sam Calagione’s response, which I’ve included below.

What makes this a bigger issue for me is that the pompous beer dorks (polite language) on the BA forums reflect the attitude of many people I encounter offline. Apparently Sam Calagione, the founder and President of Dogfish Head Brewery, knows what I mean. Sam’s response addresses a larger issue, not just the fact that someone called his brewery overrated.

To me, this kind of behavior on public forums amounts to a lot more than merely throwing a particlular craft brewery under the bus. Rather, it is like creating a whole new bus route just so you can throw a craft brewery under the bus that is now coming down the street.

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It’s Not About the Beer, It’s About the Beer

Overrated is not a function of the brewery, it is a function of us.

No brewery should be disparaged just because people like it. Russian River Brewing should not be penalized because of Pliny’s cult-like following. Dogfish Head should not be criticized because people recognize Sam from TV. Judge a brewery on what matters: the beer.

I understand that some people define themselves by the breweries they do and do not like. I get it.

Breweries make beer. They are not rock bands or religions. They are not cool or uncool just because of who does and does not like them. Adoring one brewery or hating another does not make you smarter, better, or more sophisticated than anyone. You will not be saved or doomed because of the beers you do and do not like.

Good beer is good beer. Period. I am happy that the craft beer segment of the overall beer market has grown. Are you? Or do you hate the fact that breweries like Redhook, New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and Dogfish Head are succeeding? I hope that there will be more breweries that grow and achieve a level of success that makes dorks on beer forums deem them overrated. I promise, I will not hate Elysian or any other brewery just because it succeeds. I hereby pledge to judge a brewery only by its beer.

If you fail to understand the difference between what breweries like Anheuser Busch and Miller-Coors are doing and what breweries like Sierra Nevada, Redhook, Stone, New Belgium and Dogfish Head are doing, then maybe you need to learn more about beer.

Good beer is good beer. Period.

Here’s a link to the original comment thread on the BA Forum.

Anyway, here’s what Sam Calagione had to say:

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. The below was my favorite post thus far.



31 comments

  1. I agree! I am a dark beer (stout & poter) guy. Just because a brewery (Sam Adam’s) may not make a beer I like deosn’t mean they don’t make a good beer. Just not me preference.
    Said best here: “We all have different palettes which is why it’s a great thing that there are so many different beers.”

  2. I did notice in the many responses that a large percentage of the comments were coming from the other side of the Mississippi. Not to say that we don’t have our share of the beer snobs here but I celebrate craft beers for the diversity in flavors, aromas, and uniqueness you can’t find in other low to moderate alcoholic drinks. I feel for Sam, he has taken some hard knocks in the last few years but he sticks to his mission and defends it. Remember, always drink your beer w/ your pinky firmly against the glass not in the air.

  3. I partially agree that there is no reason to judge a brewery for trying to grow and be successful, that is the ultimate American dream. At the same time, I personally feel there are some overrated breweries. The key word there is personal, as in my own personal opinion, and I am allowed to have that. I am not going to call any specific brewery out, but there are a few I have visited in Washington that many people give a lot of hype to and that get more “air time” then other breweries, that I feel have inferior beer to their smaller less known competitors.
    Now the issue I have with this is, by giving into that hype and giving them more “air time”, then the lesser known breweries may go undiscovered by the masses.
    Now do I voice my opinion about this? Absolutely! Just as I am on a constant pursuit for the best beers, I feel it is only right to introduce anyone willing to try them also. But it goes both ways, If I herald a beer and someone presents me with one they feel is better what is the harm in trying?
    What does worry me is as a few craft breweries begin to grow in size, will they do it at the expensive of other smaller, and maybe better breweries? If this is the case than just like any other industry we will loose innovation and choice.
    I will finish up by making a suggestion to the craft beer drinkers. Don’t turn this into a war like Bud vs Miller. We are more sophisticated then that. Just throw back a pint of what you feel is the best and let other do that same. But stay open minded (and open mouthed), because there is so many other great beers to try. Keep it a conversation and not an argument.

  4. TJ – That’s always the case at the Beer Advocate forums. They are based out of Northeast and have much less traction (the magazine and the forum) out here in the wild west. I mean nothing bad by that, it’s just the reality of the situation.

  5. Kendall – I prefer to think we are nicer and not as pretentious in the NW at least us beer lovers aren’t (written as I sip a Starbucks hahahaha)

  6. I have read a lot about this particular BA thread and Sam Caligione’s reply. But you, Kendall, nailed it when you wrote, “Overrated is not a function of the brewery, it is a function of us.”

  7. ObSpellingDork: when discussing taste in beer, we do NOT have “palettes.” A palette is a range of colors or the board on which a painter might mix those colors; you also might more broadly talk about a range of different flavors as a “palette of flavors.”

    Most of us do have PALATES, as in “sense of taste.” That’s true even if the estimable Mr. C. chose, however inadvertently, to misspell it in his BA post.

    Otherwise, to paraphrase a rather well-known and oft-quoted tome, “ye have the haters always with you.” Life is short, too short to waste a whole lot of brain-time on being a hater, no?

  8. DonS, I totally agree with you. To some extent I feel like this post was just me hating on the haters. And I don’t want to be that guy. I need to wash away my sins with a delicious craft beer from a yet-to-be-determined unsucky brewery.

  9. I’m regularly on the BA forums and I read, but didn’t comment, on that thread. If we use the definition of “overrated” as “not meeting expectations” then clearly some breweries are overrated. But who sets those expectations? Some times it’s us, the drinker. Sometimes it’s the breweries. Sometimes it’s us, the online forum and blog reader. Sometimes it’s the media, both print and digital. Generally, I think it’s a combination of all of the above.

    A brewery sends out a press release about their new brew. The media prints/airs/posts it. We consumers talk and post on forums about it. Some of us get sick of hearing about the new super beer. When we finally get a chance to try it, it can’t possibly meet the expectations we have for it. We think the brewery isn’t that good.

    How to stop this? By stop being human. Since the odds of that are slim, we all, individually, have to try new things while keeping our expectations to a reasonable level. For example, as much as I’d like to try Pliny the Younger, there’s no way I’m going to all the hassle of finding which bar is going to pour it, when they’re going to pour it and camp out for hours just to get a single glass of a keg that will be empty in a few minutes.

    Different breweries have different definitions of success. The folks at The North Fork have a very happy life brewing 300-400 barrels a year. Stone and Sierra Nevada probably go through that much for employee tastings. As long as the people who run the various breweries are happy with where they’re headed, I try to be as well.

    I try to try as many different beers, from as many different breweries as possible. From here on out, I’ll try to keep my expectations to a point that doesn’t prejudge.

  10. This is kind of off point, but after reading this op-ed piece I’m going to get me out of my ESB rut. My local bar just quit selling ESB on tap and I have been coming up with different ways I can punish them. Instead I’m going to sample different beers that they have chosen to buy instead of ESB. Thanks Kendall.

  11. Kendall thank you for writing this post. This has been coming up more and more in conversations around our brewery. People feel that since they’ve had a couple micros in their day that they automatically feel as if they are beer experts and their opinion matters to anyone and everyone around them. There is a lot of bashing of other local breweries and we usually come to the defense of those breweries as we like to nurture a healthy competitive brotherhood amongst all the brewers in the area. You’ve so eloquently stated, it’s about beer and how it taste, let the beer do the talking and I couldn’t agree any more.

  12. Great post.

    I haven’t read the BA forums, but when I think of “overrated” for anything I tend to think either “over exposed” or “has a cult of personality I don’t fully understand”.

    If you look at the sheer amount of $$ spend on marketing for craft beers vs. Bud, Coors, cars, toothpaste, etc., I think you’d be hard pressed to say any craft brewer is “over exposed” (with the possible exception of Sam Adams). Seriously, when’s the last time you groaned out loud and said “Jesus, not another ad for “?

    As far as the “cult of personality” side of the equation, I’m sure we’ve all seen that in one form or another, but how much of that is the brewery’s doing and how much of that is the immature snobbishness of a certain class of drinkers who can’t stand it if someone doesn’t love exactly what they love and nothing else?

  13. I like BA and try to peruse it once a day for anything interesting. But I avoid the “pissing contest” threads like the plague. Too many “which is the best/worst better-than-pliny” threads.
    So, in short, you hit the nail on the head. I saw that thread and thought there are too many people with way too much time on their hands.
    Prost! Too many beers, so little time.

  14. Whilst I haven’t been a fan of Dogfish (preferences) I don’t slag on them. And because of his response, I’m going to try as many as possible. Classy, it is.

    I quickly realized that my opinion of beer & breweries, especially as a woman, didn’t match the “haters” at BA. So I found places without all the hate, the ego stroking.

    For once, I’d like to read a beer review that says, “You know what? This fucking kicked my ass it was so good”. All the flowery words people use? Sometimes, I have no idea if they ACTUALLY LIKED IT.

    At any rate, just a little soapboxing of my own. Whilst I do appreciate what BA is doing in some avenues, I find the community horrid for the most part.

    And you know? That’s a damn shame.

  15. It pains me when people come in and want to badmouth other breweries. I don’t love every beer, but I know what goes in to making it, and I know that the person who sat in the chair before you probably had a completely different list of “good” and “bad” beers. Things I love don’t always sell well, and sometimes people go crazy over beer I wouldn’t drink a pint of.

    It’s beer. Beer is fun. Try something new, drink a pint of what you like, and don’t take your own opinions too seriously.

  16. To Danacia:
    Regarding all the words, I review beers on BA in order to be able to tick them off and keep a record of what I’ve tried. They require a 250 word limit which sometimes tries my creativity, hence flowery words that are sometimes less than sincere. I must say I have no idea how some people are able to list off so many flavors and really mean it. They recently added a function that allows you to tick off a beer without reviewing it. An improvement.

  17. Larry:

    Thanks for that; I hadn’t written anything because I didn’t want that whole, ‘you’re not a REAL beer geek” when I just want to say, “Ya know, I liked this. I had it on tap, it was lighter/heavier/whatever than expected. Would order again”.

    Maybe they’re making some changes based on feedback?

  18. I’m glad nobody has accused me of dissin’ on Beer Advocate. I’m a big fan of Jason & Todd and all that they do to promote craft beer. It’s just the way some people use the forums that irks me. Just wanted to make that clear.

    Dionne: Totally agree. Beer is subjective. If I ever tell you that a beer is bad, what I mean is that it’s bad. Like a gone a-foul, funky, around the bend, maybe even digestively distressing to consume. That’s bad beer. Otherwise, there are just beers I don’t like.

  19. I am fairly new to the craft beer scene. I have always loved beer, but had my eyes opened when I made a trip to Germany in 2000 and I tried a weissbier. I was hooked. The past few years I have really gotten into trying new and different beers. After I went to my first beer fest, I wanted to cry I had so many delicious beers on that cloudy afternoon in Fremont. Since that day I have made it a goal to try every beer known to man, what can I say, I like to aim high. Since this is (probably) not possible I will just try anything new I can get my hands on.

    I have learned a lot about beer in the last few years, I have tried many different brands and styles. There are still many, many out there that I want to try. I am willing to give any beer a shot at least once. Dogfish Head will always hold a place in my heart for their 90 minute IPA. So delish.

    What I have issues with is the hipsters and beer snobs that put down breweries like DFH or Boston Beer. I just don’t get it. We are all on the same team; we all love good craft beer. Why can’t we all just get along? I lived in Spain for a few years and really enjoyed the wine there, but I could never get into it like I do beer. I was always treated like an outsider because I didn’t know everything about wine, because I didn’t have a sophisticated palette. It just always seemed so elitist to me. (I still enjoy a good red wine, but I don’t get to it much, I still have way too many beers to get to).

    Beer is where I found my niche. It is not supposed to be elitist, it is for everyone. From the guy drinking the MGD, or to the guy drinking some Pliny the Younger on tap (one day I will get some, one day!!). I happen to love sour beers, but many of my friends won’t touch them, but a few of them love bourbon barrel aged beers, which I am not a huge fan of. That is what I love about beer; there are so many different varieties. Find what you like and drink it, don’t hate on DFH. What they are doing is pretty awesome; they make good beers, but also do some crazy experimenting. They have really opened up a whole new world for a lot of people when it came to beer.

  20. Like many things on the internet, Beer Advocate forums and listings are worth only as much as you paid for them. And the haters are simply more sad proof of the Greater Internet F—wad Theory: http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/3/19/

    I’m sorry Advocates, rarity does not automatically equal good. Just because you went to Belgium and got to try Westy when most people never will and want to brag about its “ethereal sublimity” on the internet doesn’t mean that it is in fact the best beer in the world, if such a thing can even be said to exist. Conversely, you also get a healthy share of sour grapes types too. I find the reviews often say more about the reviewer than the beer.

    So I long ago stopped paying any attention other than an occasional bemusement at “what atrocity the brothers have gotten themselves up to this time.” Did get a kick out of this Trouble Brewing though: http://thefullpint.com/trouble-brewing/trouble-brewing-beeradvocate

    Would be quite interesting to see a “Which beers are underrated?” thread though. I vote for Budweiser. In the tropics. On a hot day. In a swamp. Hanging with some shrimpers in a shanty town made out of driftwood.

  21. I feel ya, Nate! Good beer is good beer, whether you like stouts, IPA’s, monkey-poop beers or whatever. Dissing brews you don’t like only creates negeative energy, and don’t we have enough of that with all the GOP BS going on right now? Cheers, buddy!

  22. Sadly I think that there will always be these parents’ basement dwelling self-ascribed aficionados who derive satisfaction in being a critic. This is my biggest problem with beer rating websites and the threads that accompany them. Opinions are like…you know. What gives anyone the right to publicly grade a product they know little about. Likely the majority of these critics have never even met the humans who pour their heart and soul into their art form. These wingeing “Comic Book Guy” (Simpsons) types of beer world often come off like fools to people who labor in the industry.Why can’t a beautiful session beer that is readily available ever get a 100 rating on these sites? Simple, the judges (and any fool with a computer and Internet can be one) often only attribute value to rarity, ABV, barrel-aged, and exclusivity. This all being said, one of the best sentiments I have heard was in regard to haters. Haters are great because it means they are paying attention to you. Those who have time to hate are not likely doing anything productive in the the realm in which they are hating. As previously mentioned, the ultimate insult is to be ignored. It takes courage to put yourself out there.

  23. Most breweries start as a man in garage brewing up a little five gallon batch of beer with passion. That is how the owner of Sierra Nevada started; that is how most of the NW breweries are started as well. I’m sure Sam’s story is similar.
    Success should have no measure on a brewery, we should praise the breweries whose passion has continued and success has blossomed out of such love for beer!

    Someone once said that ‘if you don’t have haters you are doing something wrong’.
    Go Sam!

    Also since I am a fan of this blog and never post because I do love it. Let this be my shout out to Kim & Kendall, Keep on doing what you are doing!
    Hope to see you at Strange Brew!

  24. Awesome post.

    Negativity in the anonymous world of the BA keyboard crusader is getting old.
    That being said I don’t get worked up about negative BA ratings since BA is the forum for them. I do think it’s sad when I see the same person giving multiple local breweries bad ratings on BA and then trashing them on websites that aren’t for beer rating. That kind of negativity is just bad for the industry as a whole.

  25. I completely agree! I also write a beer blog and one thing I tell people when I talk beer is “I NEVER want to be a beer snob.” If the beer is good…drink it! If a brewer is lucky enough to have a following…awesome. Lighten up people! Beer is fun and yummy.

  26. PNWbeerchick..Anyone who drinks and smiles while drinking PBR is not a beer snob indeed. What I like is the bashing of BA and those who have an opinion. If you don’t like their opinions, great, it’s their opinion..your opinion is that they are negative beer snobs. So your voice is more important? If there were no truth or negativity in the world then we would be a planet of backstabbers and two faced people. So what makes the rest of you experts? Because you have a beerblog, homebrew or have an opinion like everyone else? Stop being hypocritical, take a look in the mirror and recognize that all of you badmouthing BA through a blog or forum is equivalent to BA members expressing their opinions(good or bad) on the BA forums.

  27. Kendall,

    As a local Seattle Brewery and an admirer of yours, I read, with a smile, your article. Nailed It. Let us neither eat our Young nor our (relatively) Old. Sam has been on the forefront of authenticity and creativity for years and has EARNED what Dogfish has achieved, as have many other smaller breweries across this great land. Shall we return to the days of the same 4 beers on tap at the local? No. Rather, we should all embrace the diversity of vision, prosperity born of hard work and risk, and choice of our moment in Beer Heaven. Haters be damned. So, let’s not give more voice to that segment. They will always squawk. Let’s give more time to the lovers of Beer. The Adventurers. The Believers. Why? Because Beer Matters.
    -Matt
    Fremont Brewing Company
    Seattle, EARTH

  28. I for one love to try new and creative new beers that come out of a VERY talented group of brewers in the NW. I always look forward to beer events where the brewers have done a new brew. It is just a hoot to see what they will come up with next. So keep’em coming and thanks for taking risks.

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