When you rate a beer (whether ‘officially’ or just as a subconscious process of deciding how much you like what you are drinking), what’s outside the glass is just as important as what’s actually in it.
For example, take a pint of hoppy, session pale ale in the pub. It was a hot day, the beer was cool and refreshing, clean, fruity and it really hit the spot. Overall a great beer (4.0 if you are rating). Then take a bottle of 10% imperial stout. It was a cold day, the beer’s full body, richly roasted flavour and deep aromas were just what you wanted to drink. Another great beer, perfect for the moment (another 4.0). Nothing unusual with these. But imagine you’d just been given a pay rise then either beer will likely have tasted even better and you’d have given a 4.2; if your dog had just died then maybe they’re a 3.6. The moment has changed, your emotional state has changed, and your memory and experience of the beer after the drinking changes.
They are also two wildly different beers rated with the same score (if you aren’t rating then each will have given you the same level of enjoyment). To allow this there must be some kind of high-power cognitive process which can scan back and forth over your drinking past and slide the beer you are currently drinking in with the rest of them. But it’s not simply the taste which affects your scoring: It’s about the kind of day you’ve had, it’s where you are, it’s who you are with, it’s what you feel like drinking right now.
There is no control over what’s outside the glass affecting what’s inside. We are not emotionally-dead, beer-drinking robots (in the main) and life is there too. Open that bottle of famed IPA on your own and it’s a 3.9. Open it with a couple of friends, talk about it, share it, shout out random adjectives and flavours, compare it to others which are similar, say how much you enjoy it, score it 4.2. Sharing beer allows you to attach the moment to the experience of the beer. If you were alone then there’s very little enjoyment to be had in comparison to being in a bar, pouring a few mouthfuls for a group of thirsty beer-lovers. Or maybe you are at a wedding, a birthday party, any kind of special occasion… Add the place and the people you were with to the beer and you get something where you can taste the memory, creating something much more lasting than a few scribbles in a notebook.
This is not a limiting factor of beer rating, this is about the way life folds itself into our beer drinking, and it’s important. In fact, I care as much about where you were drinking it, who you were with and what mood you were in as I care about the sensory experience you had. I’ve had a lot of good beers and the ones I’ve shared, the ones I’ve had in unfamiliar locations or on special occasions – with very few exceptions – are the ones I remember most vividly. The way we feel changes the way we taste, or at least it changes the way we appreciate taste. The fun of rating beer (or writing/talking about beer) is that it means something more than just a liquid in a glass and we are sharing our experiences with others. It’s ultimately the search for the next great beer and it needs the right moment to make it work: beer and life complement each other.
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