THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS “BEST”…
The runaway #1 thing readers of The Pour Fool have commented/griped about for the past twelve years goes like this: “Well, you didn’t even mention __________ Brewing and they win reader’s polls ALL THE TIME!” MOST of the time, this was in response to a list of some sort. Doesn’t just happen to me. EVERY beer/wine/whiskey/movie/car/breakfast cereal critic or reviewer I know gets the same complaints.
Believe it or not, it is IMPORTANT that you get this concept and avoid doing something that is actually, literally BAD for the genre of things being ranked.
“Best” is designed to Push Buttons. Don’t think for a second that when somebody writes a “Best Of” list that they want you to agree with all of it and send glowing compliments on their erudition. Online lists need complaints, annoyed feedback, like your car needs gas. It’s what websites run on: clicks, involvement, and the fact that these comments are negative matters not at all because advertising rates are determined based on traffic, clicks, NO differentiation at all between whether the clicks come from positive or negative responses. People hating websites is, sadly, just as much of a big traffic driver as people liking them.
So, the “Best Of” list you’re looking up on your phone, while standing in Costco or your local Total Wine is a false construct. It is OTHER PEOPLE’S OPINIONS and has as little possibility of the named things being to your tastes as choosing one because you like the label. Sorry to break this to you but you may well have entirely missed the wine/beer/ginger ale/Moon Pie you would like best because you fell for the GroupThink. The beer culture is RIFE with this: people anointing some beer or brewer or brewery because all their friends like ’em and replacing their own tastes with the hive’s. I once rated a Ninkasi dark ale 95 Points in The Pour Fool, and one of the denizens of the RateBeer Borg Collective emailed me and whined, “WHY are you rating that beer so highly? We’ve already said what we think about it here!” The audience for beer runs a bit younger than the core audiences for wine and spirits, so some of that is just the folly of youth but much of it is purely the desire to Belong, to be part of The In Crowd.
I sat, pre-Covid, with a young man in a famous tavern in Tacoma, who ordered a beer that was the moment’s Shiny New Bauble. I asked what he thought of it and he said, “Honestly, I don’t like it all that much but all my friends do, so it’s probably my poor tastes.” They had 26 other beers on their taplist. He was drinking something he already knew he didn’t really like. That desire to fit in…
That’s what “Best Of” lists are all about: the urge to fit in, to sit at The Cool Kids’ Table. Couple that with our relentless, All-American, unevolved mania for turning every human activity, every matter of taste, every set of two or more things, into a Contest, the goddamned tractor pull of compulsive competition, and you spawn Hive after Hive, ad infinitum, perpetuating our societal adolescence.
And – this is the part that involves REAL damage to real people – thousands upon thousands or breweries, wineries, movies, dog breeds, sausages, etc., etc., etc., are overlooked, even swamped by the mad rush to find those things we anoint as “Best Of…” Real businesses lose real money, have to fire actual people, go out of business, all because they haven’t gotten to be The Flavor of The Month. I’ve seen this first hand, hundreds of times. I’ve watched people come into my old wine shop and pass up dozens of bottles of FAR better wines to get to the Hot New Thing, with zero consideration of whether it’s a good use of their money. Wine Spectator gave it a 92, so it must be great, right? RIGHT!?!? And I had many of those same people come back to my shop and say, “God, I tried that 92 point wine I read about from Parker and it was just garbage!“
The one and only legitimate use for a Best Of list is as a suggestion, a list of items that this person or group of people, tasting them on this particular day, liked best out of a limited sample size. Even at big contests like GABF (Great American Beer Festival), they may have 300 IPAs entered in a given year, their largest category by far. But the math is simple and revealing: there are over 8,000 breweries in the US and each one will make, on average, eight to ten IPAs in, say, three years. For purposes of economy, let’s say they make three each in 2020. That works out to 24,000 IPAs…meaning that those uber-astute GABF judges are tasting…1.25% of all American IPAs made in the relevant year. Simple law of averages says that quite a few of those untasted 23,700 beers will be as good or better than the three medalists at GABF. “Best Of”? Hardly conclusive…is it?
The ONLY honest list anyone can publish for public consumption is one entitled “My/Our Favorite Whiskeys/Beers/Wines Tasted On (fill in date), From a Group of (36)(84)(165)”. “Favorite” is unquestionable, unassailable. It doesn’t attempt to speak for a group, usually one that includes you and me and everyone else, without giving us ANY choice. If lists are all about taste, tastes MUST be respected and, in this second decade of the 21st Century, tastes are among the most abused of all human attitudes.
We dump on tastes CONSTANTLY. “America’s Favorite!”, “The Choice of Dog Lovers Everywhere!”, or, my own favorite, “America’s Team!” as applied to, of all things, the obnoxious Dallas Cowboys, which implies the inescapable conclusion that – if they are, in fact, “America’s Team!” – America is a vast bunch of losers, as the Cowboys have been the most widely visible poster boys for Wasted Potential for twenty-five fuggen years. “Best Of”…?
I hate to be the one who lays this Tough Love on you but there is NO shortcut to learning enough about ANY matter of taste. If you want to actually KNOW what style of beer you will like best, you just have to get off your couch and go taste a LOT of beers…or wines or jelly beans or oysters. And even if you find and fall for the new Cold IPA style, (as I have) know that nearly every beer with that on its label will be at least a little different. I tasted my first Cold IPA about a month ago and have since tasted six and didn’t like three of them. The one I liked best I REALLY, flat-damned LOVED. But I had to taste six to realize that it is not my favorite style and you WILL, by all that is holy, have the same approximate experience.
QUIT falling for the communal delusions of “Best”. You have taste buds. USE ‘EM. Listen politely to what your friends say about your beer, your cat, your car, your house, your hair style and then forget it. And, for the love of GOD, PLEASE never, ever even entertain the thought, “Oh, I can skip this brewery because I never see them mentioned on RateBeer or hear my friends raving about them.” It’s a casual Moment of your time in dismissing that brewery…but you MIGHT, very well, LOVE those beers and all those people working there suffer tangibly for your blithe decision, slowly going out of business, while tasting their own beers and saying, “I don’t get it. We make GOOD beer!
“THERE IS **NO SUCH THING* AS “BEST”.
There are only Opinions.