There are probably as many ways to rank beers as there are beer drinkers, though most stick to similar criteria. Beer Advocate users frequently grade by appearance, smell, taste, mouth feel and drinkability, while RateBeer users grade by aroma, appearance, flavor, palate and overall.
Of course, standardizing how beers are evaluated would take some of the fun out of the discussion of beers and would fail to account for how different factors are more or less important for different drinkers. Nonetheless, I've decided to create my own scoring system using the seven factors I take into consideration when deciding whether a beer gets a thumbs up: appearance, nose, taste, body, finish, style/originality and party factor.
After the jump, a bit of explanation about each factor. Then, the system gets a trial run with two very different lagers: Mama's Little Yella Pils and Baltika Grade 9 Extra Lager.
Appearance: This mainly refers to the overall impression the brew makes in the glass, including color of the body, head color and fluffiness. For me, a really cool label or bottle design doesn't hurt, either. Possible 10 points.
Nose: Also sometimes referred to as the "smell," "aroma" or even "bouquet." Possible 10 points.
Taste: This takes into account how pleasing the flavor is, and there will probably be some overlap with other criteria as the general impression of a beer's taste is swayed by the impression made by the nose and body. Naturally, this is the most important criterion, and is weighted accordingly with a possible 40 points.
Body: This refers to the beer's texture, often called "mouthfeel." Some beers should be heavy and thick, others light, so this score indicates how well the body complements the beer's overall impression. Possible 10 points.
Finish: This term is pretty much interchangeable with "aftertaste." What impression does the beer leave behind, and how quickly do I want another sip? Possible 10 points.
Style/originality: This can refer to how well a beer represents a given style and/or how distinct it is. A really well-done example of a traditional style can score highly here, as can a completely unique brew. Possible 10 points.
Party factor: This is simply the the alcohol by volume (ABV) percentage divided by the price per 12 oz. Here, a lousy beer (or malt liquor, for that matter) can redeem itself to an extent simply by being cheap and highly alcoholic. For example, a 24 oz. can of 8.1 ABV Steel Reserve purchased for $1.19 scores an impressive 13.61, which will round up to 14. The ABV of 8.1 is divided by .595, which is the $1.19 price divided by two. On the other hand, a 750-ml (or 25.36 oz.) bottle of the 4.8 ABV Estrella Damm Inedit purchased for $9.99 scores a pitiful 1.02 (after some algebra that I won't bore you with) and rounds down to 1. Only a ridiculously expensive or non-alcoholic beer can score a 0.
The highest possible score on the beer's merits unrelated to price and alcohol content is a 90. I suspect the average party factor score will be around 5.
Let's try it out, shall we?
Mama's Little Yella Pils
Appearance: Slightly cloudy, golden yellow with a thin head. Bonus point for the can and cute name. 8/10
Nose: Earthy, grassy, some bread notes. Appropriate for style. 7/10
Taste: Very crisp with a slight sweetness and malts dominating the slight hop presence, as the nose suggested. 25/40
Body: Light, as appropriate for a pilsner. 8/10
Finish: Crisp and refreshing with a bit of a bite. 9/10
Style/originality: This is a very well-done version of a style that is hard to get terribly excited about. If you're going to drink a crisp lager out of a can, you could do a lot worse. 8/10
Party factor: I paid $8.99 for a six-pack of this 5.3-percent ABV beer. That breaks down to a party factor of 3.54, which we'll call a 4.
Baltika Grade 9 Extra
Appearance: Clear, pale, Budweiser-yellow with a creamy, foamy head. But it's got a cool simple, industrial design on the label. 5/10
Nose: Not much here. Kinda funky and sweet. 3/10
Taste: Some bread and grass notes, pretty clean, but overwhelmed by sweetness and alcohol warmth. 15/40
Body: Light, with a long-lasting head. 8/10
Finish: Clean, but not as crisp as I'd like. 6/10
Style/originality: As a strong lager, this isn't much to get worked up about. Russians making an alcoholic beverage that isn't vodka makes this an oddity, though. 5/10
Party factor: I paid $2.99 for a 500-ml bottle of this 8-percent ABV beer. That breaks down to a Party Factor of 2.12, which we'll call a 2.
I'd say the point difference pretty well sums up my feelings for these two beers. This scoring system may need some tweaks in the future, but for now I'm happy with it.