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Beer Quality Versus Perception

Posted by homebrewdad on 9/04/2012 at 03:16:43 PM


Last night, I had the pleasure of trying my very first Chimay Tripel (aka Chimay white).  My favorite beer, all time, happens to be Chimay's Grande Reserve (aka Chimay blue), but I recently had the Premiere (aka Chimay red) and was underwhelmed.

Honestly, I was surprised to not love the red.  After all, it gets an amazing rating at BeerAdvocate (91 by the membership, 95 by the "bros").  Maybe the bottle I got wasn't a great bottle?

Back to the Tripel.

I loved this beer.  Beautiful (albeit sliglty cloudy) golden brew, citrusy/yeasty aroma (my three year old pointed out that it smelled like lemons), fruity/spicy flavor.  Easy to drink, despite the 8% ABV.

Of course, in theory, this SHOULD have been a good beer - it gets identical marks at BeerAdvocate (91 by the membership, 95 by the "bros").  Chimay is widely accepted as true masters of brewing.  Etc, etc.

What really surprised me about this beer, through, was that it reminded me very much of Leffe Blonde - a beer that I liked enough to brew a very faithful clone of (thanks to Revvy's superb recipe). 

Almost idential appearance (Leffe is crystal clear).  Almost idential aroma.  Taste?  Ditto - fruity/spicy notes in both, in a very similar balance.  Similar drinkable mouthfeel... Leffe may finish a tad drier.  The Chimay is a higher ABV (8% vs 6.6% for Leffe Blonde), though my clone of the Leffe is actually 8.4% ABV... and honestly, the alcohol is undetectable in both.  Um... I get better lacing from the Chimay?

Now, it could be that my palate is simply unrefined.  Some of you may be cringing right now in response to my ignorance, and if that's the case, so be it.  Please educate me as to where I am wrong, and I will listen (and use your advice to help guide me in future tastings).

But for my money, you could pour these two beers into glasses and serve them, and most people would be hard pressed to tell you which was which.

Why, then, is Leffe Blonde considered to be a decidedly inferior beer?  The BeerAdvocate ratings are 82 from the public, and a terrible 66 from the "bros".  Supposedly, Chimay is a wonderfully complex craft brew (I don't disagree), while Leffe Blonde is a bland, mass produced entry. 

To me, they were both excellent blond ales with almost identical characteristics.  I just don't see the contrast, here.

I love beer.  I am really working to broaden my horizons and try different styles, an I am really enjoying the journey (if not every beer).  Still, the snob culture around craft beer amuses me.

Take the top beers list at BA.  DIPAs, Imperial stouts, and lambics dominate the rankings. 

If you look at one of my very favorite styles - English brown ale - you'll find that there are apparently no really exceptional examples of the style in existence.  The very best versions rank no higher than a 4.06 on a 5 point scale, meaning that apparently, even mid range IPAs are all better than the best brown ales.


I find the whole Trappist brewing thing to be extremely cool.  Pure ingredients, a traditional brewing method largely untouched by time, actual freaking monks doing the brewing (with a large amound of the proceeds being used for charity)... what's not to like?

But I wonder how much of the Chimay ratings come from hype (see Pliney), and how much come from them being that much superior to other beers?  Why is it that all of the supposedly "best" beers are hard to find, "big" beers, or a combination of the two?

Feel free to tell me how wrong I am, and why.

Tags for this post: chimay, white, tripel, leffe, blonde, beer, ale, ranking, rating, beeradvocate

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I definitely agree with you on how beer perception can be influenced by hype. I recently got to try Duck Duck Gooze by Lost Abbey, which is currently the top beer on Beer Advocate for American Wild Ales. My conclusion - although this was an excellent wild ale, I can get other easier-to-get beers that are just as good and cheaper. Additionally, I can't tell you the number of times that I've looked at a beer on a rating site after trying it, and loving it, only to find that nobody appears to like the beer. I find personal preference fascinating, whether it is truly because one is paying attention to their palate, or the hype machine influencing our perception.

posted by Erik Fisk on 10/23/2013 at 12:03:48 PM