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BEST BEER INFO

Although there seems to be lots of information and sites devoted to food topics such as coffee, wine, and various types of cooking, I haven't found nearly as much information about the art of making and drinking fine microbrewed beer. I've checked out Celebrator, for instance, and it seems ok, but not nearly as detailed or informative about beer as say home barista, coffee geek, or sweet marias is about coffee. Do you have a favorite beer site, local or national or even international? What do you like about it?

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  1. What luck! I just logged in over at BeerAdvocate.com

    I think that's got to be the definitive beer-lovers' and wannabe-beer-lovers' place to hang out, learn, review, chat, trade, you name it. There may be some folks who prefer ratebeer.com or another site, but I think for comprehensive beeritude, BA is the way to go.

    2 Replies
    1. re: LauraGrace

      good one, thanks LauraGrace, any other favs?

      1. re: LauraGrace

        Subscribe to the magazine, buy a t-shirt. BA is to beer, what Chowhound is to food. The Alstrom brothers exude the passion for beer that Jim Leff did for food when he started this site. The amount of time I spend between both is, well, almost embarassing.
        Oh, I'm a hophead. Tough thing to be living in Iowa. Always searching for the best IPA's.

      2. I'd be wary of putting too much trust in Beer Advocate or Rate Beer. On both those sites I've noticed a pronounced fanboy contingent, and a lot of the ratings are about as objective as most people's opinions about their local sports franchises.

        Instead, I'd suggest getting your hands on some books, such as Randy Mosher's "Tasting Beer", which is a good overview of beer styles and flavors, and Garrett Oliver's "Brewmaster's Table", which covers food and beer pairing, and also offers a great overview of some classic styles.

        Both these authors are really huge beer connoisseurs, with broad and experienced palates and a long history in the world of brewing. I think they're going to give you a foundation that will serve you better in the long run than the kind of fickle, flavor-of-the-moment vibe of the big beer websites.

        Just my $0.02.

        9 Replies
        1. re: Josh

          So what you are saying is that the opinions of several thousands of dedicated beer drinkers are less relevant than the opinions of a couple of "experts"?
          I think spending some time reading reviews, finding people with like taste, and being willing to branch out when something catches your interest/imagination, is a good thing.
          I have developed a love for sour beers from reading this site. I don't think it would have happened from a book.
          It might have, but it would need to be available online.

          1. re: Bobfrmia

            I think that Beer Advocate and RateBeer were founded with the best of intentions. However, when you look at the "best" lists that come out of their ratings, it is *obvious* that there is a lot of bias evident among the reviewers. There is a disproportionate amount of love for high alcohol hop bombs and other extreme beers. I'm not the only beer enthusiast to have noticed this phenomenon.

            If you ever do any research into forms of cognitive bias, such as confirmation bias (among others), it's clear that any public forum is going to give you unreliable data.

            There was a study done in England, IIRC, about how hit songs come about. The study used a large sample of students and peer groups, and the end result was that whether or not a song became popular had little to do with it's attributes compared to other songs, but more to do with which peers that were considered alphas liked them.

            I think that when it comes to aesthetic judgments, it's often better to go based on the recommendation of someone who is well-versed in the subject that has demonstrated a broadness of mind and taste than the consensus view of a bunch of random people - especially if one is not well-versed in the subject.

            As a side note, I think it's highly amusing that you'd put scare quotes around the word "experts" when describing Garrett Oliver and Randy Mosher. The former is one of the most highly regarded brewers on the planet, who has demonstrated a mastery of almost any style you can think of, and the latter is a beer instructor at the Siebel Institute. If those guys can't be considered experts on beer then nobody can.

            1. re: Josh

              The sites are hugely biased, as you say. It's clear that the reviews tend to gloss over characteristics of style, since there are very few highly scored beers that display any subtlety.

              The sites are good to keep track of new beers, and, thinking of bobfrmia's comment, one could identify some reviewers on these sites that might have similar tastes/views, and use them for guidance.

              OP didn't specifically ask for information on specific beers. You give some good references for information on different styles, how they go with food, etc. I confess I'm not as well read as I once was. 20-25 years ago I derived much knowledge from Michael Jackson's World Guide to Beer. I'm not sure how much of this material is present in the books you mention from Randy and Garrett. MJ excelled at painting a picture of the way the beers fit into the local cultures, and that sort of thing. I'm a big proponent of placing beer styles in cultural context.

              On Garrett and Randy, I know them both, and as you say, they are the best.

              Randy lives in Chicago, and that town has, for many years, had a superlative bunch of brewing experts, including Ray Daniels, too, and many top-notch homebrewers such as Jeff Sparrow, Steve Hamburg, and of course, Randy and Ray. But as MJ liked to say, I digress ...

              1. re: Josh

                Agreed. The quotes were unwarranted.
                Still, when I read a review from someone that has tried over a thousand different beers, I pay attention to what they say. At least at first.
                I try pretty much anything I come across, although I'm gonna skip Mountain Crest, and I'm nowhere near a thousand different beers. I guess I would consider that kind of experience expertise.

                1. re: Bobfrmia

                  I think the biggest issue for me is that those sites fetishize big beers and hop bombs, and those aren't going to help spread the appreciation of craft beer, not in my opinion anyway. Those are beers that will turn newbies off, rather than make them see what kinds of flavors are possible.

                  1. re: Josh

                    I dunno, Josh, I disagree that the sites themselves "fetishize" big beers and hop bombs. I definitely think there are members who obsess over the quadrupels and the 120-minute IPAs but their biased reviews are a) easily spotted and b) quantified, at least on BA, as differing from the average.

                    I guess there is a place for both the beer expert and the big site. The advantage of the book, IMO, would be that it's a bit more like having a friend guide you through the beer learning process. Of course, if the friend has really different taste than you do, then you should take his recommendations with a grain of salt, but process-wise I think a book is a good idea.

                    As far as being introduced to the concept of conscientious beer-drinking and enjoyment, I stand by my recommendation of BeerAdvocate. I think it's a terrific resource! :)

                    To each his own!

                    1. re: LauraGrace

                      Not sure what you mean by "the sites". If, in the case of BA, you mean the Alstrom brothers, then I agree that they themselves, editorially, do not fetishize big beers and hop bombs. A cursory perusal of the top beers though, for both those sites, based on consensus ratings are almost all big beers.

                      Currently on BA, the top 10 beers are no less than 8% ABV, with several at 10% or more. Would you argue that these are not big? Would you agree that these are the 10 best beers around?

                      Positions 11-20 are similarly massive, with one IPA at just shy of 6%, the rest in the same range as the top 10.

                      The top 30 beers are mostly imperial stouts, IPAs, double IPAs, Belgian Quad or Dubbel, with not one lager or hefeweizen.

                      A newbie coming to this site and looking at this list might well conclude that a simple Victory Prima Pils isn't worth their time.

                      This is the same thing that happened with American wineries. Everything massive and oaky with loads of tannin was worshipped, and the simple, lower alcohol food friendly wines are few and far between, and typically come from other countries where they don't have the American mindset of bigger equals better.

                      1. re: Josh

                        I think it evens out over time, Josh, as people discover their palates and the range of flavors available to them. Just as with wine, there's a lot of overhyped over oaky chards out there and a lot of cabs with way too much tannin. But as people learn more and taste more, they discover what they like and understand that what works as a refreshing summer beer like a great pilsner is different from drinking a thick porter. Different tastes for different times. I think it's the responsibility of the sites to show the range, though, and not just the flavor of the time, which at this point seems to be very hoppy and high in alcohol.

                        1. re: Josh

                          I will totally grant you, Josh, that some Americans have a distressing tendency toward the over-the-top, regardless of context. I'm unwilling to dismiss BA as a useful tool for beer lovers, however.

                          I think our enjoyment of "big" beers can be partially attributed to the dominance of the flavorless macro adjunct lagers. So many people are coming off a beer experience that includes... like, Busch Lite and similar dreck, and they encounter these big, flavorful, intense, rich, crazy beers and just go berserk.

                          I don't think we can blame folks who love those big styles, when in the last hundred years we've gone from legal to illegal to legal again, from small hometown breweries to moonshine to macros to micros. We've had a pretty wild hundred years, beer-wise, and I agree with chuckl that we need to give it time to mellow out. The Germans have had close to 500 years of beer purity laws. When we get to 500 years of micro-brewing in this country, maybe our tastes will have mellowed out a little.

                          :)

            2. Very interesting comments, and all valid in their own way. What do you think your "dream" beer blog would look like? I would think there would be a "populist" component, where individuals would have an opportunity to vote in polls, make comments, express opinions and so forth, as well as an "expert" aspect, where people like Oliver and Mosher would make contributions, something like what the late Bill Brand used to do in the Bay Area newspapers. That way you'd have experts who could inform and educate without stifling popular opinions and debate.

              1. Of course Beer Advocate is biased. But thats ok. Just use it as a resource armed with the knowledge that it IS biased and you are fine. I mean it is filled with lots of good information despite the least common denominator syndrome and the extreme beer pack mentality. Yeah I know a lager will never beat a Dark Lord in scoring on that site but its silly to compare across styles anyway and I dont really care what any one given person says about any one given beer. I use the site to find places in different cities or hear breaking news about some new collaberation or whatever. Thats what its good for. Certainly dont use it to determine which beers should be your favorite... Thats up to your pallet.

                For what its worth I also use http://drinkcraftbeer.com/ and http://beernews.org/ for a lot of my information. And http://www.realbeer.com is a font of knowledge as well and has one of the best beer forums around. Then theres probably a dozen or more blogs Ill check over every so often. So theres a lot of resources out there.

                5 Replies
                1. re: Insidious Rex

                  have you come across any useful beer maps, similar to the sorts of winery maps you might get for the napa or sonoma vallies that point to where the microbreweries are and the pubs that serve good beer?

                    1. re: chuckl

                      They have a bunch of beer maps at http://beermapping.com/ (appropriately enough). They are limited to big city and surrounding areas but the list has gotten pretty extensive in the past few years so its a great resource if you are going to Dallas or San Fran or Chicago, etc. but not so much if you want to find cool places in rural PA (of which there are many!) or want to find stuff along 95 that arent limited to large metropolitan areas.

                      And of course youll find a million other resource links in their links area.

                      UPDATE: LStaff you beat me to it :D

                        1. re: LauraGrace

                          now all we need is beer drivers after we find all those great beers

                  1. I find ratebeer to be an extremely useful resource. I don't take the Top 50 list, or the percentile rating of any beer too seriously. Instead, read the comments about the beers, the articles, the forums. Lots of very knowledgeable people post on the forums, they will answer nearly any beer question. It's a great resource for homebrewers, too.