RateBeer Reviews

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I have a love-hate relationship with RateBeer. Almost everything that can be attributed to how the site is created and run, I love, while I seem to be really, really deeply incompatible with the predominant tastes of its community.

By sheer size, there is no better place on the web to learn about beers and breweries. The amount of information is decent and helps you categorise, know what to expect from a particular beer, or help discover your next favourite. The number of beers (both current and retired) and breweries (both active and defunct) is simply staggering. The searching and browsing features are adequate, if nothing to write home about. A more powerful filtering and drill-down system would make someone like me, both nerdy and into beer, very happy. For example, I don't understand why "breweries" and "places" (such as shops or pubs, including lists of what beers you can get there) are treated so differently, leading to inconsistencies such as being able to filter "places" by town, but not breweries.

The data is community-sourced, so naturally, if stuff is missing it's the community's fault. The site has a clear Northern American focus, but there are pockets of people maintaining the international areas. Going by my own home country, coverage in beers and breweries is very good, while "places" are very spotty.

I don't really know what to say about the user ratings, though. Most people who rate and review beers seem to share a very similar taste. Maybe this is simply a taste that is extremely predominant in the US, given the site's geographical focus? In any case, the two things I keep noticing are that opinions on a specific beer are usually very homogenous (either everybody loves it or everybody hates it), and that it's often quite the opposite of my own impression.

I'm mostly partial to stronger and heavier beers on the malty end of the spectrum (but I've also been known to enjoy a good, flavourful Pilsner, particularly when I'm very thirsty). Most of my go-to favourites, that I find incredibly well-balanced and that I could pretty much enjoy any time, have abysmal ratings on RateBeer. On the other hand, since I regularly try new beers, I occasionally come across something disappointingly watery, or tasting like soap. Looking those up on RateBeer, they very often end up having great ratings in comparison. The supporting reviews sometimes make sense to me, in about a third or a quarter of reviews I get the impression that the author actually tasted the same beer I did. But if a beer I describe as "water" is praised for its intense flavours while, on the other end, a beer that is so rich and strong that I have trouble imagining a situation in which I could handle it, is predominantly described as "bland" and "uninteresting", I have to wonder what the heck these people have been drinking – literally. Or maybe I just really don't understand beer? And even though I rarely think of something as pretentious, being somewhat allergic to that judgement in most circumstances, I quite frequently do on RateBeer. Tastes are different, obviously, but there are ways to express that without the snobbish attitude of pretending like one's preferences are the most highly developed, and everybody else just isn't educated about beer enough to know what they should be liking. (Meanwhile, some of the highest-RateBeer-rated beers I tried have been overloaded with flavours that, in my opinion, don't belong there, the beer equivalent of a Soy Matcha Pumpkin Parsley Latte at Starbucks.)

What has to be noted is that ratings tend to be very low on RateBeer in general. The scale ranges from 1.0 to 5.0, but comparing written reviews with their associated ratings, it seems that everything above 2.5 is considered good, and everything above 3.0 is a clear recommendation. There are very few beers among the site's many thousands that reach into the 4.0+ averages.

There are still many opinions and descriptions that I can follow, as I sip the beer while reading what others thought about it. It helps me get rid of the fear that maybe it's my fault, and I do actually only like objecitvely disgusting beers, or my taste buds are malfunctioning. But it's amazing that it's often half or more of the users that seem to have tasted and felt something completely different. In comparison, I really don't have the slightest clue about wine, but even there, I can usually follow and understand other people's associations and reactions.

For all of these reasons, I still like and value RateBeer very much for beer discovery, browsing and checklisting, but I generally try to ignore the reviews and ratings. Most other beer rating communities I've discovered since are much more compatible with my own tastes, for example a local beer web shop, or the Android app simply called "Beer Tasting" – maybe it has something to do with the fact that these communities have almost exclusively European audiences? I really couldn't say.

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