Your Beermonger: Are Beer Expectations Too High?

by ARLnow.com August 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm 2,345 28 Comments

Editor’s Note: This sponsored column is written by Nick Anderson, beermonger at Arrowine (4508 Lee Highway)

We’re going to delve into the matter of opinion this week. I read a lot of beer reviews — both professional and on the big aggregator websites — and lately something has been jumping out to me in a lot of them. It seems, reading many accounts of people trying one beer or another, that because the beer wasn’t what they were expecting it was bad or somehow deficient. If possible, I’d like to talk a bit not about beers to seek out, but how we approach beer (and in many ways life in general).

To use a specific example of what I mean: A couple years back Sam Adams and Weihenstephaner announced they were collaborating to produce a new beer. This beer, Infinium, was going to be brewed at Weihenstephaner’s brewery in Germany and was said to promise a breakthrough in German brewing technique, which has faced charges of growing stale in the face of the Reinheitsgebot. Infinium was put out in a champagne-like bottle and the talk began about a “champagne-style” beer from these two breweries. Upon release, the 2010 Infinium was champagne-like in carbonation and mouthfeel, but was decidedly malty — imagine a mild sparkling Barleywine and you’re about there. Reaction was swift and oddly vengeful: all over the ‘net there were angry words being thrown around about how bad Infinium was and how they’d gotten it all wrong.

What I didn’t read a lot of was what specifically was wrong with Infinium. It seemed the entirety of what was wrong with the beer had to do with what it wasn’t rather than anything it was. In conversations with other beer geeks, some rethought their position on the beer and found some stuff they liked about it; others refined their opinions and could find true, relevant criticisms as to why it wasn’t to their palate. When I first tried Infinium, I thought it was interesting but could see the controversy coming as it wasn’t anything that anyone seemed to be expecting. The controversy of the first Infinium release lingers on: the 2011 release was much different, seemingly closer to what many were expecting from that first year, but many didn’t want to pick it up because of their memories of that first year’s release.

When I try any beer, I do my best to keep a ‘blank slate’ approach. In my professional life I have to be able to decide whether a beer will be interesting to my customers without any preconceived notions or preferences getting in the way. While I do the beer buying here at Arrowine and much of what we stock is based upon what I find interesting in the business right now, it’s not all about me. Anyone who is a professional in our business should strive to be the kind of person who can tell you that they don’t prefer the style of beer or wine you enjoy, but still be able to recommend a great one that you’ve never tried.

At home, it is all about me, as it is with you in your home, or at the restaurant or bar you may happen to be at. I’m not here to preach: we’re all entitled to our opinions and if you find a beer disappointing or think it doesn’t live up to what you thought it was going to be, you’ve every right in the world to think so and say so. What I’m saying here (and forgive me if I go a bit too Zen here — I do that), is ask yourself: why be disappointed at all? Examine any expectations you may have and ask yourself where they came from. Are they worth having? Is it worth setting up hoops for a beer to jump through just so you can say you enjoyed it? I’m not asking anyone to lower their expectations for beer — I’m asking everyone to get rid of their expectations altogether.

Reading tasting notes and talking to fellow beer geeks can give you an idea of what a beer might be like, but don’t let that influence your thinking as you try it for yourself. Even if a beer throws you for a loop, adjust; save for the beer having a fundamental flaw, realize that the beer simply isn’t what you thought it was going to be and start the process of considering what it is rather than what you thought it would be. At the end of the day, it’s all still beer — it should be fun. Even if something isn’t the greatest thing ever, it’s still a good beer.

Like I said earlier, I don’t want to preach that everyone on the planet should follow the same philosophy I do. I just wanted to put these thoughts out there because it seems like all too often these days so many of us take beer too seriously. Let me leave you with this: I grew up wanting many things for my life, as I think we all do (I had dreams of course — however you’re not reading “Your Formula One Driver-Jet Pilot-Rock Star”-monger, so you can guess how that went). As I grew into adulthood I was often angry that the path I was on wasn’t getting me where I wanted to be soon enough.

I had no delusions about how hard it would be to make my way, but I stubbornly held on to expectations I had of myself and everyone around me. It got to the point that I had to specifically dedicate myself to letting those expectations go. I ceased to expect success, or any particular career, or even to ever be truly happy. These days, I suspect that letting go may be why I’m happy in my life now. I’ve left myself open to possibilities and ended up with a life filled with things I never thought I might have. Let go of expectation, and remain open to the new and different. Or don’t. It’s your call either way. Until next time.


Nick Anderson maintains a blog at www.beermonger.net, and can be found on Twitter at @The_Beermonger. Sign up for Arrowine’s money saving email offers and free wine and beer tastings at www.arrowine.com/mailing-list-signup.aspx. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Community discussion guidelines: Our sponsored columns are written by members of the local business community. While we encourage a robust and open discussion, we ask that all reviews of the businesses — good or bad — be directed to another venue, like Yelp. The comments section is intended for a conversation about the topic of the article.

  • Chris B

    As a European beer lover, I respectfully disagree with your approach. For me, there is a (very small) number of beer recipes that work and innovation is generally not helpful.

    My expectations of beer are: consistency with what I know and love. So for Weihenstephan to brew a “champagne like beer” just doesn’t work.

    Beer has been brewed for hundreds of years, and the Reinheitsgebot doesn’t make beer “stale” — it keeps it honest and consistent.

    • As the son of a Heineken brewer, right on!

      • ale drinker

        heineken is cat pee

        • Jackson

          Respectfully agree. Cat pee in a green bottle.

    • Ben

      Agree. You can’t beat Augustiner or some decent Belgian brews.

      If anything I’ve become stale towards the US microbrew philosophy that more hops = better beer.

      • SHLady

        That’s a broad generalization that just isn’t true. There are many excellent American beers that are not hop bombs.

        • HP2000

          I tend to agree with Ben on this, but I do hope you are right SHL… that the pendulum will swing back the other way a bit. Maybe the success of DFH’s 60/90/120 IPAs was the root of all the hoppy craziness.

          • TheBeermonger

            I think we hit ‘peak hoppy’ a couple years ago. They’ll always be popular, but the proliferation of great Sessions, Lagers making a comeback, Gose, and others is encouraging.

            Like I said, we’re all entitled to our opinions. I LOVE Augustinerbrau, myself. But there’s a whole world of beer out there, and seeing as it’s my job to parse through it I can’t afford to be as myopic as I would were I out of the business.

          • SHLady

            This summer has been IPA mania, but there have always been some smoother offerings out there. There’s a huge selection of wheat beers (especially in the summer), and for the fall, the pumpkin and Oktoberfest offerings are already out, neither of which is overly hoppy.

          • Quoth the Raven

            Don’t forget the pale ales, which are typically pretty smooth and certainly not overly hopped. And, of course, cask ales. The world of ale extends beyond the IPA…

        • Ben

          SHL – of course there are. But they are harder to find then their hop counterparts. Look at any microbrew selection in your supermarket – it’s always IPA, IPA, IPA…..

          New Belgium and some others do a good job at attempting to try other things besides hops, but it’s still not the norm.

    • ale drinker

      dont forget that the Reinheitsgebot’s purpose was not quality and consistency but as a trade protection measure – also Weihenstephan’s main product is a wheat beer that is not Reinheitsgebot compliant. In limiting the ingredients this law also made several traditional styles extinct and lead to the dominance of boring pilsener styles.

    • It’s not even that. It’s people that are so used to drinking an amber or a double IPA that they look down on other styles, like pilsner, blondes and wheats.

  • Not Me

    Expect nothing, accept everything.

    • TheBeermonger

      Yup. People think “accept everything” means not to think anything is bad, but that’s not the case. Just accept that something isn’t for you if you don’t like it. Thanks for condensing my 1,000-word column to four words 🙂

      • Not Me

        After I read your column, that is the first thought that came to mind. I found it works for beer, oh, and life!

        Thanks for the great articles Sir Beermonger.

  • NoVapologist

    I thought Miller was the Champagne of Beers?

    • Al Gore

      Miller High Life

  • SHLady

    Part of the Infinium backlash was due to the price – I believe it was offered at about $20 the first year. For that price, I want it to be as good as a limited run Duvel. I think the price went down the second year, but by then the damage was done.

  • SHLady

    For what it’s worth, I thought Infinium was good, but not complex enough to live up to the hype or the price.

    My pick for a beer that fills the champagne role is Sorachi Ace by Brooklyn Brewery. it’s heavenly, and half the price of Infinium.

  • Aaron

    I think this column complements the stories about rich DC fools chasing after whatever they’ve been told the new must-have rare beer is. People in this town have a more difficult time than those elsewhere when it comes to determining their own taste preferences instead of relying on the opinions of perceived authority figures. See also: DC’s music scene.

    • TheBeermonger

      I don’t disagree, except for the “fools” part. Because of the diverse population and tastes of the area, there have always been a LOT of options out there for beer and wine. With my column (and our email newsletter, my twitter feed, etc.) I’ve been trying to avoid becoming one of those “authorities” who tell people what they should be enjoying. We’ve got enough of those around here. It’s much more difficult to guide someone to new things by listening to what they enjoy now, but in the end it’s the best thing for everyone.

  • Chris

    I like my beer like I like my music. ALL OF IT.

    The only difference is that I like a handful of bands with the word ‘Infected,’ in their names, and it’s sadface time when I open an ‘infected’ bottle.

  • hearns_bush

    Great article Nick and I couldn’t agree with you more – people like to be negative toward beers so they make themselves look like they know more than others. I take the same approach as you toward tasting new beers and unless it truly has gone bad, every beer I have tried has some positive or unique item about it.

    • TheBeermonger

      Thanks for the kind words.

  • HQBC

    Hops arent going anywhere. If you want a real/ the best champagne beer it’s Bosteels DeuS! European imports have become boring, minus soe of the Belgian breweries( Muskateers, Van Steemburge) and Tokyo.

  • jojo

    I encountered this snobbery recently. We each got perhaps nine samples of beer and one person at the table hated pretty much everything. The general attitude was, if it didn’t taste like IPA, it wasn’t “good” beer. No appreciation for different styles of beer.

    • TheBeermonger

      Exactly what I’m talking about. If they said it wasn’t for them, that’s cool–at least they tried. But to say it wasn’t “good” beer because it didn’t taste like IPA is just shortsighted.


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