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How I Evaluate San Diego Craft Brews

Photo of taster glass of Czech Pilsner at Gordon Biersch Brewery San Diego

Tasting Not By Numbers

When I started out on my quest to visit every craft brewery and brew pub in San Diego County I was excited. I was in a hurry to travel into the county far and wide to taste the myriad of craft beers available here. In my haste I rated the brews using a number scale, like some other reviewers, thinking that was the best way.

After enjoying several brews at some great breweries and brew pubs, however, I quickly came to the conclusion that craft beer cannot be described by reducing it to a number. Each craft beer is unique and a work of art. As such, it deserves to be thoughtfully evaluated.

Tasting Craft Brewing Creations

Craft brewing is about the creative subtleties involved in the brewing process. Tasting craft beers and evaluating them should be aligned with that creative process. Like building a house, I believe beer is constructed and shaped into its style by how ingredients are layered and manipulated through the brewing process. When I taste craft brews, I am evaluating them based on elements making up those layers, e.g., water profile, temperatures, malt and hop characteristics, and yeast influence.

Instead of reducing a beer to a number, like I used to, I’m now taking time to experience the beer. Now when I taste beer, I’m stopping myself to be in the moment. This method of tasting beer allows me to see, smell, breathe, taste, and feel those unique colors, aromas, textures, and flavors that beautify craft beer creations.

There are numerous ways to rate and taste beer: from quick and easy ways such as Jeff Alworth’s “See, Smell, Sip, Swallow” method, to very serious and comprehensive methods used by certified beer judges. I sometimes use the RateBeer Beer Tasting & Rating Sheet or Beer Judge Certification Program’s Beer Scoresheet as a guide because it gets at the attributes of beer that I personally appreciate as a home brewer. But I also like the hedonic approach to tasting, i.e., letting my senses be my guide to discovering the complexities of craft brews, and going with the flow. This natural method of tasting gives me the best impressions.

Appreciating Craft Beer

Lately, I’ve been reading what Jeff Alworth has to say about tasting craft beer. He says, “The true apex of appreciation is the ability to locate the sublime in any style.” Alworth says this means “being able to pick up a glass of any craft beer and find aromas and flavors as pleasant and satisfying as when you taste a barrel-aged Russian Imperial Stout.”  Recently, Alworth wrote the following which resonates with me as a craft beer consumer:

“Beer appreciation is not linear, it’s circular. First you love beer naively, out of simple joy. Then your head gets filled up with a bunch of crap about “what’s good” and begin to dislike certain beers out of prejudice.  Finally, you come back to appreciate beer for its own nature.”

Right now I am coming back full circle in my appreciation for craft beer, enjoying it “for its own nature.” This is my goal as a craft beer enthusiast:

Until you can appreciate all beer styles, your journey of appreciation is not yet complete.- Jeff Alworth


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