Aesthetics has been a problematic area of human discourse for as long as man has existed. Can one standard of “beauty” ever be judged against another with any objective outcomes? Does my claim that Ikiru is the greatest film ever created merit more weight than someone who loves The Big Lebowski? Is Kate Upton objectively more attractive than Christina Hendricks or Gwyneth Paltrow or Kat Dennings? I was recently reading George Santayana’s The Sense of Beauty and his ideas about aesthetics were appealing. While aesthetics are an “immediate experience” we are able to analyze those experience afterwards that we might uncover a number of elements of the experience that weren’t consciously enjoyed in the moment. Thus we can build a deeper appreciation for somethings aesthetics over time that eclipse the novice’s immediate appreciation.
What does this have to do with beer? Well, two clever Stanford computer scientists took this idea and applied it to beer. They released a research paper earlier this year illustrating how our tastes changes as we gain more expertise. Their research was an attempt to discover if it is that experience that alters tastes so that experts end up favoring representatives that are generally inaccessible to beginners. That is takes an acquired taste to enjoy the pinnacle of an aesthetic medium. They write:
It would be a mistake to recommend the iconic film “Seven Samurai” simply because a user enjoys other action movies; rather, we might conclude that they will eventually enjoy it — once they are ready. The same is true for beers, wines, gourmet foods — or any products where users have acquired tastes: the ‘best’ products may not be the most ‘accessible.’
What is interesting about their paper is that the duo took ratings from RateBeer, filtered out the novices from the experts and “discovered” the twenty best beers in the world. This is what the greatest number of experienced drinkers have to say are the highest rated beers in the world.
- Westvleteren’s 12
- Three Floyds Brewing’s Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout
- AleSmith’s Speedway Stout
- Bell’s Expedition Stout
- Three Floyds Brewing’s Dreadnaught Imperial IPA
- Founders Brewing Co.’s KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout)
- Russian River’s Pliny the Elder
- Russian River’s Temptation
- Goose Island Bourbon County Stout
- Hair of the Dog’s Adam
- Russian River’s Supplication
- Westvleteren’s Extra 8
- Surly’s Darkness
- Deschutes Brewery’s The Abyss
- Hair of the Dog’s Fred from the Wood
- Hürlimann’s Samichlaus
- Fonteinen’s Schaerbeekse Kriek
- Bell’s HopSlam Ale
- Bell’s Batch 7000 Ale
- Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout
What is immediately obvious from this list is that within the RateBeer experts there is a heavy bias toward high alcohol levels, high taste, and exclusivity. Most of these beers are impossible to find. The Westvleteren beers do not ship (legally) to the United States and many of the other beers are made in small batches and often sold for a single day. Is it that the beers are delicious and thus highly coveted or is it that they are coveted in part because they are so hard to obtain?
Having sampled a fair number of these beers and reading the stats on the rest it is clear that the unifying factor across all the different styles, breweries, and countries is that flavor is what the drinking public seems to want. From brutal double IPAs to sour, cherry Kriek to the plethora of high ABV stouts taste appears to reign supreme.
I find the results of a study like this fascinating. While this of course is a seemingly more democratic method of selecting the world’s best beers than having a small quorum of beer critics, celebrities, and popular brewers select the pinnacle of the malted beverage it doesn’t make this selection process more satisfying.
I would be curious to have this study duplicated in six months time or a year or five. Mike and I have often discussed that the strong flavors and alcohol content in a large portion of the world’s craft beer scene seems to be a direct reaction of the homogenization and “watering down” that was the effect of the consolidation of brewing into the AB InBev and MillerCoors. It seems that tastes currently favor strong, brutal flavors and high ABV as a counter reaction to the popularity of Bud Light or Coors Light. This means that amazing beers like Starr Hill’s Dark Star Stout of Meantime’s English Porter while having the dark, rich, qualities of Dark Lord Russian Imperial Stout or Speedway Stout will be under-appreciated.
I predict that within the next few years this list will be dramatically different as bold flavor will be replaced by a preference for a more subtle and subdued flavor. There will always be a place for the Russian Imperial Stout of the DIPA but it won’t always hold the same requisite position and consumer popularity.
Unless I am totally wrong. What do you think of this list and what it says about craft beer?
Source: Business Insider