Sunday, 19 February 2012

Subjectivity & Judgement

Had a fun discussion this morning on Twitter revolving around subjectivity. It began because a well-regarded beer was dismissed summarily by someone as 'tasting like stout' which he hated. So what? Well, apparently the guy is a 'beer judge.' OK, so maybe he should be avoiding judging the stout category, and he's obviously well within his rights to say whatever he likes about an individual beer - especially since it was outside of a competition - but it still asks a question about judgement generally. I'll leave that one since I wasn't there and don't know the man involved so I won't comment. (Hat-tip to Phil for the anecdote though - follow to join in!)

My blog is on something of a hiatus at the moment because I am both skint, and I'm supposed to be working towards a spirits exam next month. The exam is part theory, part tasting. To quote Dave Broom in Distilling Knowledge;* 'It is often said that tasting is an entirely subjective matter.' and indeed this same point was made by Paul in the Twitter conversation. However, in the case of exams (or judging for competitions), as he goes on to point out, it can't be. Objectivity has to be strived for. If, in a situation where you are supposed to be judging a drink on its merits, you say 'I don't like this...' you are answering the wrong question. Again, it's fine for the pub conversation, or your blog, or twitter. If I get to assess three whiskies in my exam next month and I just say, 'I don't like whisky, they're therefore all rubbish,' I'll get failed.

This is why there are clearly laid out criteria for the exam, and, as pointed out in the qualification for his statement about subjectivity, Dave Broom says 'The key question is, is it a good example of its type?' Similarly I would like to think that our stout-hating beer judge had his objective criteria set out by any competition organisers, and that he was using the same criteria and tasting approach as his fellow judges. Am I convinced as to the objectivity of all awards and competitions? Well that wouldn't be very objective of me would it?

I'm off back to the book, wish me luck!

*Set text for the exam. (Link is to him on Twitter)

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