Further Lessons of Blind Tastings

This blog post may have the appearance of navel-gazing, but then again, I'm being redundant.  ("Your blog actually has some merit."  It's the "some" we emphasize around here.)  Although for the most part this little blog lives in a quite corner of the internet, untroubled by waves of attention or traffic, it is actually connected to the world wide web, and from time to time one of the posts go viral.  My Westvleteren versus the world post of Monday was an example.  Traffic rocketed to nearly 400% on Monday and doubled the next three days, buoyed by retweets and links from Reddit and Beerpulse

This was surprising to me, but perhaps it shouldn't have been.  One thing about the beer geek community is that we take ratings very seriously.  This is beautifully American and democratic.  We assign to the commons the task of assessing quality and ratings are prima facie evidence of a beer's merit.  Actually, I think everyone has an uneasy relationship to ratings--we know they have value somewhere in between the 0%-100% range, and fight about where to place the figure.  The debate is between those who highball it and those who lowball it.  So naturally, the comments (here, on Beerpulse and on Reddit) tended to follow that debate.  On the one hand:
You mean people's perceptions of beer often matters more than how much it actually tastes?  Entirely unsurprising. I think the essential thing to take away from that article is that there really isn't that much difference between great beers at a certain level - Westy 12 isn't honestly that much better than something you can get for less than fifteen bucks at any decent liquor store. But obtaining Westvleteren 12 is so much more of an experience for people that it colors their enjoyment.  (via Reddit)

And on the other:
Way too much conjecture in your post. So because you don't like the style and YOU think it's too heavy, etc. (which was stated matter-of-factly, rather than as an opinion) than it's overrated by all those other people? And your explanation is that they like these beers because they are enamored by the association with monks? Weak. Like the guy above says, why should anyone put any stock in the results of your "panel" or treat them as at all representative of other beer drinkers? 
While I obviously align myself with the first (insightful), the second one expresses the view of a majority or large minority of beer geeks.  S/he's arguing, in essence, that taste is objective.  An outlier like me can slag a beer, but who cares what outliers think? We know that the beer is good because thousands of people have agreed it is so.  To suggest the ratings are wrong is to raise the disconcerting specter of a world in which "best" isn't empirical.  Some people really don't want to live in that world.

I don't want to take a side in the debate.  If you take either argument too far, you end up in absurdville.  What I would instead like to say is that the way we think about the question differs profoundly when we're confronted with a half-dozen unmarked glasses of beer.  Every time I do it, I enjoy the destabilizing sensation of not trusting what I think I know, and then learning something different than I thought I knew.  It's a tonic to lassitude and cynicism that comes from being a beer geek, and in an hour's time, a reminder of why I became a beer geek in the first place.  But maybe those lessons aren't transferable.