abominable winter ale

Willamette Week Delves into Beer Reviews, Fails Miserably

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It is disheartening that local print publications such as the Willamette Week and the Portland Mercury devote no space to craft beer columns in their home of Beervana. So when I saw WW actually post a real beer review on their website for Logsdon’s Farmhouse Ale, I was excited. However, after reading said guest writer’s “review” and yesterday’s joke of a post on Hopworks Abominable Winter Ale (the A-Bomb), I was nearly irate.

First off, the proliferation of beer blogs and the success they have enjoyed has proved that the public has an interest in reading about craft beer. In light of this, why do these print publications treat the industry like a joke and spend more words talking about PBR? It is practically spitting in our face to see such a pretentious yet uneducated review of craft beer as the one I read on Logsdon’s Farmhouse Ale, which drops lines like:

“…the anachronistic Walloon style’s survival, but Belgophiles rallied and saisons are now on full swole.”

The writer goes to describe Dave Logsdon’s new brewery as “the eponymous label from Full Sail’s original brewer (who is apparently either ignorant or contemptuous of Le Googlez).”

I could not help but feel the writer was consulting his thesaurus on ways to sound intelligent on beer while dancing around the subject of an actual beer review. When he finally does get to talking about the actual beer itself, he can only muster up one and a half sentences, describing it with full on beer-douche level terms:

the beer pours the muted yellow of a pale daffodil with a big, rocky head. A long farmhand-style swig shows the bright, nipping nose precedes lots of lemon zest and blooming rosiness.”

How many ounces exactly is a “farmhand-style swig”? I wonder if the massive carbonation on this bottle resulted in the writer falling over coughing or at least swallowing a mouthfull of bitter yeast from this heavily bottle-conditioned beer. 

Now fast forward to yesterday’s attempt at a winter/holiday ale beer review of Hopworks Abominable Ale, which in my opinion is one of the finest local “winter” brews. It is here that they really prove they have the knowledge of a novice after contending: 

Though winter ale and Christmas ale are fuzzily defined styles, this hop-heavy West Coast pale ale just doesn’t fit, despite the cute cartoon yeti on the label. Winter ales are spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg or the like—stuff you’d find in cookies. “

While I have heard many repeat this misconception that winter beers are all spiced, most of us know it is not so. While Anchor Brewing‘s Our Special Ale is a well-known example of a spiced winter beer that may have single-handedly started this misconception, the vast majority do not have spices. The style of winter or Christmas ale is a fictional one without guidelines. Many of our local favorites and flagships of the season, like Sierra Nevada Celebration, Deschutes Jubelale, and Full Sail’s Wassail and Wreck the Halls do not use spices at all. At best, you could argue that spiced beers belong in their own category, but how can you judge a NW beer against something like an Anchor OSA based only on the level of spicing? The writer defends himself in the comments section, linking to a 2008 BJCP style guideline for Winter Spiced Ales, a category that no longer exists in 2011. Even accepting the 2008 style guidelines, Abominable Ale is clearly not a spiced ale and would not fall in that category. A whole ‘nother post could be written on seasonal beer “styles”, but suffice it to say, I do not believe that seasons dictate styles. Seasonals are created to market beer and nothing more; they have never been actual styles of beer, nor should they be, lest we find ourselves only drinking fucking Shock Top Orange in the summer and Buffalo Bill’s Pumpkin Spice all fall. God help me if the only kind of beer I can drink during the winter is a fucking spiced ale like Anchor OSA (not that there is anything wrong with that).

The review ends with this line: Pick a season, HUB, and add the appropriate spices.”

Breaking news to the Willamette Week writer: there is no such thing as appropriate beer spices for a season. Pick a beer writer, WW, one who knows a bit about beer and does not spread misconceptions, adds the appropriate knowledge, and subtracts the wordy pretentiousness.

Founder of The New School and most frequent contributor Ezra Johnson-Greenough has worked in the craft beer industry for almost 10 years, doing everything from illustrating beer labels to bartending at renowned beer bars and breweries like Belmont Station, Apex, Laurelwood and Upright Brewing. He has also had a hand in creating events like the Portland Fruit Beer Festival, Portland Beer Week, and the Brewing up Cocktails series. He is available for freelance consultation in marketing, events, graphic design and branding. Contact: [email protected]


  1. Lance

    November 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Seems to me that rather than quality beer reviews, they are taking jabs at the craft beer industry.

    It’s like the review comes from It’s Pub Night’s beer review generator. http://www.its-pub-night.com/2009/03/beer-review-generator.html

  2. Neil

    November 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm

    At least they use correct punctuation, don’t confuse the colon with the semicolon, and know how to work a spell checker. (Mouthfull?)

    Whoops, guess I’m being a dick. Sorry.

  3. Ben

    November 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    I agree with Lance, I read these reviews as underhanded digs at the craft brew industry, and craft beer writers in particular.

  4. ElGordo

    November 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm

    Nah, Neil, you just got to this post before I could edit it. Fixed!

  5. Doc Wort Fan Club

    November 4, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Dr Wort may have been a picky beer geek, but I bet he’s sure envious when a total moron is getting paid to write a bunch of nonsensical crap about beer. Does this jack ass know anything about beer? Stringing a bunch of flowery words together does NOT make a beer review, but sure makes this guy look like a pure DUMB ASS. Obviously, this moron couldn’t describe blow job to hooker.

  6. madamvonsassypants

    November 6, 2011 at 6:10 am

    Oh SNAP! I agree wholeheartedly.

  7. P. Fruit Trees

    November 7, 2011 at 1:42 am

    This sounds reminiscent of a local (Seattle) writer whom described Redmond (WA) local Black Raven as a “cult brewery”. Last I checked we don’t really have ‘cult breweries’. Sure we have breweries we prefer, but calling it a cult would be like calling calling water a ‘cult beverage’.

    Another example where hiring a beer drinker to write a review would be better than what they probably did.

    Thanks for bringing this to the attention of loyal readers.

  8. Anonymous

    November 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    The Wweek reviews have to be a joke, right? Not a funny joke, just a stupid one.

  9. Leftfielder

    November 9, 2011 at 12:16 am

    Glad I’m not the only one to be upset at the idiocy of the Abominable comments.

  10. Jason

    November 9, 2011 at 5:09 am

    Sure, it may not have been the best review written in a precise “beer connoisseur” fashion–and I doubt it was meant to be, but the reviewer didn’t like it, and god fucking forbid one doesn’t like the almighty Hopworks beers. Matters none, folks will still line up to drink their beers ala Ninkasi and if those guys piss in a keg and sell it plenty of people will think it amazing. Just because one has no “cred” in the beer community, his/her opinion shouldn’t cause bearded beer dorks to get their panties in a bunch.

  11. Delpadre

    November 10, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    You nailed it. It’s articles like this, that keep me coming back for more. I want real, honest perspective.

  12. Samurai Artist

    November 10, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    I think your missing the point. Its not about Hopworks or even weather the reviewer likes the beer or not. Its about lack of understanding about beer to write a competent review and how they are spreading disinformation.

  13. Jason

    November 11, 2011 at 8:57 am

    So, what exactly is the measuring stick for “understanding about beer” that allows one to opine about beer? I know that I’d rather read a critical review, even if I don’t agree, than the provincial praise for all things local written by “professionals” in the local beer scene. Unless, of course, the beer is put out by a brewery not in the inner circle of Portland beer cognoscenti. Then, gloves are off. I understand; it’s a small city and in the beer community everyone knows each other and is loathe to trash or criticize beer made by their friends—do you really think that everything put out by Upright is good? Seriously? They have had as many duds as good beers and I applaud their experimentation, but for those guys and their peers in the “cool” Portland beer circle, they get a pass, and to deny that is just silly.

    Dr Wort was annoying at times, but his cynicism and willingness to criticize was refreshing and sorely needed in the echo chamber of Portland.

  14. Martin

    November 15, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. Martin

    November 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm

    Hey gang,

    Thanks for reading my work. I think it’s worth mentioning that the author of this piece, Ezra, gets paychecks from the company he’s complaining about my review dissing…

    Just do a ‘find’ for Hopworks on this blog post:


    So, yeah, I’ll leave it at that. Continue to read Willy Week for real, independent, criticism of beer written by a journalist with a few clips from serious beer mags in his file. I won’t say I know more than Ezra, but I will promise that I’ll give you an honest opinion not influenced by anything other than what I taste, and certainly not because anyone is paying me to shill for them.

    Ezra, bro, I think you need to add a disclaimer to the top of this article admitting your conflict of interest.


  16. Samurai Artist

    November 15, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    yes I work for lots of breweries. I do not work for Hopworks though I do once a year for Biketobeerfest. It is no secret. I do tons of events that work with lots of breweries which is what gives me the inside perspective. I think most people know this. I also feel comfortable sharing my opinions positive or negative on any subject including this one. If I was really a publicist than I probably wouldnt be pissing off Martin and the WW. However I roll as straight up as possible.

  17. ElGordo

    November 16, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    Martin – While maybe we should be a little more up front about financial interests here, I don’t think it’s relevant in this case. The issue is not that you gave a bad review to a Hopworks beer; this post doesn’t take issue with your conclusion. Instead, Ezra took issue with your writing style and your assertion that a winter ale has to have holiday spices. I think he did a pretty good job laying out where you’re wrong, and you didn’t address that at all.

    I will say, though, that your recent reviews on Pelican and Occidental show that you aren’t completely out of your depth. Keep your future reviews like those, don’t pretend to be an arbiter of style, and you’ll start to earn some respect around these parts.

    Disclaimer: I once had a decent time at a free concert sponsored by WWeek. I also swipe a few coasters from various breweries on occasion. I’ll be sure to mention that in any future postings.

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