How Too Much Hype Can Spoil the Brew

Beyond TODAY is an extension of our weekly column for the TODAY Show food blog. Over there, I talk about my hunt for the much-hyped Pliny the Elder on a recent trip to California. Over here, we’re sharing one from the archives about how hype can effect your perception and enjoyment of a beer.  Click here to check out Today’s Bites food blog.

I recently had the pleasure of sampling a very rare, very highly regarded beer, and it was pretty good, but not as good as I thought it would be.  The problem?  High expectations, or hype. It’s like a nasty ester that spoils the brew, an off flavor that casts a pall on an otherwise good beer.

I won’t name the brew, because this post isn’t about one particular beer living up to its hype, it’s about ANY super-hyped beer living up to its enormous reputation.  There are a few that actually manage to do so, but in my experience, it’s a rare thing.

Speaking of rare things, I remember back to the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting in Denver last year, where the beers I liked best were the ones I hadn’t really heard of before. The ones that disappointed me the most were the super-hyped “ungettables” that didn’t taste as magical when surrounded by an orgy of other awesome beers.  Shoulder to shoulder, many didn’t quite live up to their reputations.

This got me to thinking of some of the best “wow!” flavor moments I’ve ever had with a beer, and most of them involve an element of surprise.  Here are a few off of the top of my head: 

  • The first time I had a Chimay Red, I was blown away that a beer could be so involving. This was my craft beer epiphany when I realized I had been missing out on a whole world of goodness.
  • My visit to Idaho where our buddy Rick at Brewforia gave me a taste of Schlafly’s Reserve Imperial Stout (a 2006 in this case) and my toes were curled with an unexpected sultry pleasure.
  • The hot Friday evening when I had a cold Arrogant Bastard after work and its hoppy goodness perfectly matched the flavors that my brain was craving.
  • The Hitochino Nest White Ale I had in a Japanese restaurant in Hollywood a few weeks ago that charmed me with its subtle banana and citrus flavors that paired so perfectly with the food we were enjoying.  I’ve been craving it ever since.

I could go on, but you get the idea – these are mostly regular craft beers that I had no preconceived notions about, or they were familiar beers that surprised me with how well they matched the moment.  I’ve been fortunate to taste many great beers in many cool circumstances, but for me it’s been the little moments that have left a big impression.

Well, mostly.  I still remember the first time I tasted Sam Adams Utopias (2009 in this case) and my body actually tingled with pleasure.  I knew it was supposed to be special before I had it and it still surpassed my expectations. Of course some folks will say it isn’t really a beer, but you get the idea.  I think this exception proves the point – it’s rare when this happens, a magical moment.

Overall, I contend that the best beers you’ll ever taste are the ones that sneak up on you. The ones where you grab for the bottle and examine the label, searching for an explanation of why the beer is so awesome.  The ones that instantly leap into your top five.  The ones that aren’t filtered by prejudice or hype.  The ones you weren’t expecting.




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Categories: Beer, Lifestyle


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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15 Comments on “How Too Much Hype Can Spoil the Brew”

  1. March 22, 2012 at 12:53 pm #

    Whiskey Advocate named Red Breast cask strength as its Irish of the year, so I bought a bottle after a particularly brutal day last week. I like Red Breast (tempted to put a double entendre here) anyway but the cask strength is even better. I was just amazed by the flavor and the texture.

    That was one that lived up to the hype. The best part was knowing that I could get it.

    I’ve come to stop reading reviews that should be titled, “Here is some great stuff that you will never get – ha ha ha!” The usual culprit is a Buffalo Trace Experimental, which as far as I can tell is available at all fine retailers within 4 inches of the distillery.

    When I buy the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, at least I know that I’d have no chance and that I probably wouldn’t want one anyway.

    I’m not a hop head so when I find an IPA that I really like, or even some PAs, that amazes me and I buy what I can.

    • March 22, 2012 at 1:13 pm #

      It’s awesome when stuff lives up to the hype, that’s for sure.

      I just tried Hoptimus Prime for the first time last night, a beer many people rave about. I saw it at the beer store, and marveled that such a hyped beer was less than $6.00 for a bomber. The low price totally reset my expectations of the beer, which turned out to be pretty nice (especially as it warmed) and a huge value at that price. It’s no Pliny 😉 but it quite the resinous treat for the money.

  2. March 22, 2012 at 1:14 pm #

    There are so many over-hyped beers that either don’t do it for me or are very good, but are comparable to the many beers I’ve had on tap at smaller breweries that were equally good but don’t receive the same press. Stone’s beers fall into both of those categories for me, and while both Plinys are worth the raves, there are quite a few from other breweries that are are on par with them.

    One unexpected pleasure I had, and bear with me if I’ve posted this before, was Andrew’s Pale Ale (fresh hopped) in Maine. I got recommendations before we left for everything from Smuttynose to Gearys to Shipyard, and more. They all pretty much disappointed my particular taste. The only other brew I had there that I truly enjoyed was from Sebago.

    I always take any recommendation with a grain of salt, and since I always like having my beers on tap, what I like usually tastes completely different in bottles or cans.

    • March 23, 2012 at 11:52 am #

      I think you’ve nailed it – there’s usually a beer available that’s similar to the hyped ones, except if you’re talking about Utopias or Firestone Anniversary, etc.

      I also agree that the unexpected pleasures always leave the biggest impressions.

  3. Fred Colby
    March 22, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Jim dont forget that night at the GABF when you were beered out and I gave ya one that brought you guys roaring back


    • March 22, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      How could I forget – that was certainly a highlight of the trip. What ever happened with that stuff?

  4. Fred Colby
    March 22, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    I have a tiny bit left going to make it again later this year

    • March 23, 2012 at 11:50 am #

      I’m gonna start holding my breath right…now!

  5. March 22, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

    The first hyped-up beer that comes to my mind is DFH’s Noble Rot–you loved it, I definitely didn’t!

    On the other hand, Sierra Nevada has gotten less than sterling reviews here on several occasions, so I decided to start trying various of their brews that I’d not had before. So far I’ve had their: generic stout–I’d rate it as good to excellent depending on my beer-mood at the time; Ruthless Rye–I definitely like this one every time I open a bottle; and then there is their Porter–rich, smooth, a hint of chocolate–I like it so much that I have trouble not polishing off the sixer at one sitting! So that’s 3 for 3 on the SN. Again, you panned the Duchesse–3 times–while I really enjoy it as a highly preferable substitute to champagne.

    I don’t know whether its simply that you and I have completely different preferences in beer (tho we both like Dale’s IPA), or whether its just the age difference (ours not the beers.) After all, you young pups still have most of your taste buds remaining.

    • March 23, 2012 at 11:46 am #

      Hold on, sir, I didn’t “love” Noble Rot, but I found it to be very, very interesting and a beer that everyone should experience. I have buddies who would go clean out their local bottle shop of the stuff, but I’d rather get a DFH Red and White or a Fort – daddy loves his sugar!

  6. Rob
    March 22, 2012 at 10:44 pm #

    I love Pliny! I think it’s worth the hype, although there are many more quality DIPA’s available now than when I first tasted it.
    Blind pig used to be slightly oaked, don’t know if that’s still the case. It’s very tasty too.

    • March 23, 2012 at 11:45 am #

      I agree that Pliny is great, but I think the “amazing” part comes if it’s your first DIPA. It wasn’t mine, as Pliny has inspired other brewers to try their hand at the style with some very tasty results. Pliny is still at the top of the pack, but it’s no longer the only dog in the show.

  7. Ben
    March 22, 2012 at 10:53 pm #

    I completely agree with you as well. I’m relatively new to the craft beer scene (only a couple of years now). Even living in beer deprived Alabama, I’ve managed to get my hands on some beers with very high reputations. Only a few ever live up to such hype. I’ve been much more suprised by Good People and Avondale (Birmingham brews with some great lineups) than many of the biggest must try beers. Don’t get me wrong, I love trying new beer, and these beers were great. They just weren’t the beer drinking changing moments I was expecting.
    I think we often we often forget how these beers achieved such status. They were no name, new, small batch brews that became great. I wonder which brewery will launch their next unheard of into ungettable status.

    P.S. On a side note Jim, I have an almost unlimited supply of Hitachino nest if you would life some ;). It pairs so well with some unagi or maguro.

    • March 23, 2012 at 11:44 am #

      Yeah, the best beers I’ve had are always the ones you’re not expecting anything from. In some ways, it was more fun to be a noob in that regard, because when you know nothing, EVERYTHING is a surprise!

  8. Walt
    March 26, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    I am not sure I have had the pleasure (or non-pleasure as the case may be) of tasting an over hyped brew. That being said, I agree that it is the brews that sneak up on you, the unexpected-unknowns that for me have been memory makers. A Katahdin stout back in the 90’s or a Trippel at Red Hook a few years ago stand out in my mind.

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