What’s the point in asking?

One brewer, living pretty close to me, often pays me a little visit, armed with a couple of bottles he would like me to test for him. These might be newexperiments, a returned brew, or something he’s unsure about himself. Once, after submitting a beer to a live test, I took up the phone, enquiring if Ihad displeased him, and whether he wanted to poison me? OK, that’s pretty rude, and I just use this kind of sarcasm with him, as we are good friends. Carlos Brito would get the same kind of sarcasm with me, but I still have to be offered the first beer by this esteemed Brazilian gentleman. If another brewer would have addressed me for such a venture, and the beer would not be quite to my expectations, I would try to search for discreet and polite wordings, to convey this message. And, not unimportant, I would try to search for reasons to explain to him WHY I didn’t like his beer as much as he himself might have wished. However, if the beer would fall short of expectation, I would think it is my duty to say so. I would have thought that, just as my friend from above, the person enlisting my help has a genuine interest in what I think. But this seems not always to be the case. Sometimes, I see a brewers’ face fall, and then switch to stormy, if I utter words that are not totally in awe of the offered brew. I get grumpy reactions, and I detect obvious regret for having been the target of – what, in fact – generosity?

What is wrong with these people? I think criticism, certainly when substantiated with some explanations as to why, ought to be of interest, be valuable information to the brewer/firm/supplier asking. But I seem to be wrong in thinking such. Often, this kind of question proves to be an outright demand for abject praise, in which own views are pretty much unwanted.

I’m not the first to complain about this – other beer-writers have worded the same kind of observation. However, to give this a more personal, and maybe more Belgian touch, let me relate in short what happened recently, after such demand. To understand the case better: the person asking my opinion, is what you call a “brewery hirer” – in essence somebody who is supposed to be able to brew, but short of having his own installation (yet), he hires brewing space/time at an established brewery.

So, this individual handed me over two beers. After the first, my impression was mixed: being very young, the beer was as one would expect for such thing, but still, some telltale signs were pointing at possible later damage. The second bottle was simple: it reeked, tasted and spoke of infection. So that was what I wrote. On top of that, I tried to hint at some reasons for the origin of this misfortune, by which, I must confess, I didn’t spare the place of brewing at all. Maybe I might have been a tad too severe, as the original brewery in question had produced some pretty decent brews by then already.

Now, do you think this guy tried to munch on what I wrote, tried to marry my criticism with his own knowledge? ¡Que nada! Instead, he sent my whole mail, completely and unabridged to the owner of the brewery. Who, understandably, wasn’t really feeling very amicably to my person, and made such known – I couldn’t fault him on THAT. Apart from the little fact that, in essence, an e-mail is an electronic form of letter, and, as such, subject to confidentiality, this hasn’t helped anybody. Not him, not me, not the owner of the brewery. And, one supposes, probably not the beer. So, what was the point?

di Joris Pattyn

leggi in italiano