As the craft beer industry matures, so should the way in which industry professionals and writers evaluate breweries.
I strongly feel that if you are choosing to write a review for a publication or website, you should consider yourself an expert in craft beer. If you don’t (or you aren’t), it means you have nothing more you can add to the consumer’s experience than the average Yelp or BeerAdvocate reviewer.
I have broken the business into core components that you should (or shouldn’t) look into when visiting a brewery or writing a review of one. This template is for writers and discerning consumers who want to better understand judging criteria.
The first aspect you should evaluate when you set foot into a taproom is cleanliness. Brewing and serving beer requires a clean environment and that should be easily apparent. Brewers often refer to themselves as “glorified janitors” so there is no excuse for a dirty atmosphere. Take note of dirty rags on the bar, fruit flies around the taps, trash on the floor, cleanliness of the glasses, etc. and, if you’re lucky enough to see the brewery, use the same criteria.
Service is also something that I can’t stress enough.
For the majority of consumers, the front of house staff is the only face-to-face interaction they will get with the brewery. The staff should be attentive, knowledgeable, approachable and take the time to educate every consumer about the philosophies and brewing practices of the brewery for which they work. If the staff isn’t taking these small steps to ensuring customer satisfaction then it should be noted.
As I’ve said in previous articles, the quality of the beer is the single most important measurement for assessing the quality of a brewery.
Beers will be the freshest at the brewery or satellite taproom so reviews should always take place at those locations. The beers are usually put on draft immediately after kegging and if the beer isn’t any good when it’s fresh, you can be assured it will be even worse on the shelves or in a bar or restaurant.
When reviewing beer, everything about it should be dissected and no pint should be left unturned.
One must consider: color, clarity, aroma, flavor and mouthfeel, as well as styles guidelines if the brewery chooses to classify its beers. If a brewery considers themselves to be “craft” then they need be held to a higher standard and if you find something offensive about a beer, note this, especially if there is a flaw or off-flavor. The Head Brewer may not appreciate your analysis but you write for your readers, not their brewery.
Branding and marketing should also play a role in your review.
The way in which a brewery chooses to portray themselves is important. Keep in mind that many readers won’t have a chance to visit the brewery so by including the brand essence and personality in your article, you are bringing the brewery to them. Writers should also have a strong moral compass and refrain from recommending breweries that have inappropriate, immoral or childish branding.
One area that I believe should not be heavily weighted in a review is brewery food. Most of the time, breweries provide a menu due to demand or to keep customers happy and at the brewery longer. Many breweries outsource their meal service to food trucks and, unless you’re at a brewpub or a dish stands out as particularly exceptional or unpleasant, I suggest refraining from saying anything other than it is simply available.
As a writer, your role in the industry is to educate the reader and to give your followers the most substantial and in depth analysis on whether or not visiting a brewery, or drinking its beer, is worth their time and hard-earned money. Industry cheerleading, handholding, over-glorification and phrases like “but they’re working on it” have no place in a review. Even if they have a different opinion, the reader will respect you if you write in a critical, direct, consistent and honest way.