"Best" is Not an Objective Measurement

This is a little lazy Labor Day meditation for you. Over the weekend I discovered Stan Hieronymus' post wherein he notes that a future question he'll put to brewers is: "Do you brew beers that are as good at or better than the Europeans have for generations?"

This fascinating question led to 30+ comments and counting, but it also led down a bit of a rabbit hole. Let us unpack. The key phrase in Stan's question is "as good." Without even getting into the myriad implications with which such a question is freighted, we can see we're immediately that we've exited the world of fact and entered the realm of opinion. "Good" is, of course, not an intrinsic, measurable quality; it's subjective. According to Webster, it is related to the Sanskrit gadhya (aspirate that d, everyone), which means "to cling to"--most instructive. The thing we describe as good is that which we cling to. Hold this in your mind for a moment.

In all products, commercial and artistic, there is a very broad range of what we (might wisely hesitate to) call "quality." Velveeta to Oregonzola, paint-by-numbers to Picasso, Busch Light to Orval. But even this is far from objective. Velveeta and Busch Light FAR outsell Oregonzola (an award-winning cheese, by the way) and Orval. The paint-by-numbers people have placed art on more walls than Pablo. For every person you could find who would support a contention that product X is better than Y, you have others who disagree.

The only way to begin to win an argument about quality is to start eliminating judges for the team who disagree with you: only rednecks would choose a lunch of Velveeta, Wonder bread, and Bush Light to Oregonzola, Grand Central olive loaf, and Orval. And of course, those who prefer the former meal would scoff at those who prefer the latter as rubes who'd buy a bottle of dishwater if it was priced high enough.

Now, I know the answer to Stan's question. Many Oregon brewers could easily answer in the affirmative, while brewers in Colorado and Asheville could not. Our brewers easily match those Flemish-tounged devils, and all you have to do is try our beer to see. Only a fool--or a Coloradan--could disagree.

But you might be wiser than I and see that such games are great to play while you're sitting around a table with friends--so long as you don't actually believe you've gotten to some objective truth. The rest of us will cling to our small hopes that we know best.