View Full Version : What do you say

09-11-2005, 01:53 AM
...when someone proudly hands you a glass of truly awful homebrew, then anxiously awaits your reaction? Recently I was visiting someone whose grape wine was terrible. He says he doesn't rack a lot; well the wine was bitter from sitting on those seeds too long. It took an effort to finish my glass out of politeness. I thought it best to suggest that more frequent racking would improve the wine this year. Then he gave me a bottle to take home...help :-X


09-11-2005, 02:04 AM

As a newbee to Mead brewing, I would much rather have constructive criticism from the more experienced. Yes, feelings can be hurt, but I would feel much better in the long run knowing how to make my product that much better.

09-11-2005, 02:56 AM
I generally ask people what they think the shortcomings of their own meads/wines/beers are. Most of the time they know and will sit there and disembowel themselves telling you what all the faults of their own brew is. There are a select few who really don't have a clue that their stuff is amazingly bad.

I always ask people if they want me to be honest, or if they want me to tell them that it's the best I've ever tasted. When you dice it up like that most folks catch on that honest vs. best in the world means there's room for improvement.



Dan McFeeley
09-11-2005, 07:04 AM
I've had it happen to me - a glass of truly horrible mead, thin, bone dry, more off flavors than honey character. Just about everyone liked it, so I didn't say anything.

Another time was one of my own meads, something I'd given as a gift to relatives, then later found it had been kept on the kitchen floor for two years, tucked away next to the refrigerator. I found this out when they decided to open it up (yes, I had told them how to properly store the bottle when I first gave it to them. :) ) As soon as I took the first sip of my ruined mead and tasted strong sherry notes and bitterness, I let out an involuntary "It's oxidized!" I shut up right away when everyone else was -- sincerely -- saying that they liked the mead.

Sometimes it's best to bite your tongue. ;D

09-11-2005, 08:28 AM
Not having been in this position before, but being a newbie brewer, I would say that yes, being given constructive criticism is the way to go. Just make sure you add some "honey", let them know something they did right, as well as what went wrong. Although since you are asking advice on what to say, because you don't want to seem rude, I don't think that this would bea problem for you, Miriam. :)

Of course, if they don't consider themselves a newbie at this . . . .well, then there may be more ego-stepping involved, and you could just put it down to a matter of personal taste.

09-11-2005, 12:13 PM
Well, there are pleasant social/personal ties to this person and his wife. But more to the point, the husband was also extremely helpful and sweet with a recent co-operative purchase of grapes, helping with the crush and lending me a press. I couldn't refuse to take the bottle home, could I?...

He has been making wine for several years longer than I have, but doesn't concern hinmself withy careful sanitation and regular racking. The bottle itself reflects a careless attitude: it's a recycled bottle with the original label on it and a strip of sticker with a hastily written identification on the shoulder. The sad part is that under the tannic bitterness was the taste of a good wine. Sort of like when I racked an apple/black currant wine with a soapy syphon - first you tasted the soap, then the wine, which should have been delicious, oy vey...

I guess that people will do as they will do. We're going to do a comparison of our wines at this time next year; if his is still awful, I'll just have to overcome my natural reluctance and tell him so.


09-11-2005, 12:27 PM
The one and only time this happened to me, I was drunk already, so YMMV ;)

The mead, whatever it was, was a lovely vinegar, but nothing I'd drink. I told the gentleman as much, and then we started discussing his technique etc. Drunken conversation for about an hour followed, with the verdict being that this mead would do well as a marinade, hehe.

I usually try to be a bit more subtle, however, and will give the good before the bad... if I cant do that tho, there's no sense in pulling punches! :D

09-11-2005, 01:26 PM
Well I don't hink its apropriate to DIS some ones efforts. They are looking for your affirmation. The only APPROPRIATE answer is: "Hmmmm, lovely (or if its awfull -'not bad'), alittle different from what I am used to. I'd love to help you fine tune this, if you like." I've tasted some truly nasty home brew over the years (pilsner,ale) and saying its different than what I go for is a polite way around saying its swill. By the way what is YMMV?

09-11-2005, 01:30 PM
Your Mileage May Vary.

And I thought I was very polite, even in my drunken haze! :D I've been known to be much more scathing...lol

(Now I of course find out this was you Andrew :-[ .. I'm a wee bit embarassed now...)

09-11-2005, 01:43 PM
Andrew, that's a keeper. Thanks... :-*

Mynx, maybe I should have been drunk. I had brought along a bottle of my Pomelo wine with which to thank my friend for his efforts, and we all quaffed merrily along at that, but one bottle among 3 people won't do the trick. ;D

But tell me, why is "quaff" used almost exclusively for ale, beer, and mead? Why not quaff a Coke?

Miriam, pondering and wasting time

09-11-2005, 01:50 PM
I think cause when you quaff a Coke the bubbles go right up your nose.

09-11-2005, 04:06 PM
Personally I would prefer to hear the truth, if someone truly doesn't like my mead then I would prefer that they tell me. So in turn I would try to be honest with someone else that asked my opinion. Besides if you ask for my opinion you should be aware that the outcome may not be favorable. I suppose you could just keep giving it to people who have no idea what mead is or that have never tasted it before in order to get favourable responses, but that is like lying to yourself. I value the opinions of other mazers and people who have had a lot of experince with mead. It keeps my head from getting too big and lets me keep a firm grip on reality. I always think there is room for improvement in everything in life. We learn to do things better the more we try, but if we don't know we are doing something wrong our efforts fall short.


09-12-2005, 12:20 AM
But tell me, why is "quaff" used almost exclusively for ale, beer, and mead? Why not quaff a Coke?

well, according to Terry Pratchett, quaffing is like drinking, but with more spilling involved. I don't know about you, but there is not enough Coke in the world to make me spill some, whereas a good bottle of wine and I'm sloshing all over the place *grins*

09-12-2005, 12:53 AM
First thing first, the bad wine might make an acceptable vinegar ;)
I usually welcome constructive criticism from my betters, but still, feelings and egoes might be slightly bruized. If the comment is followed with a bit of advice on how to improve the quality of the wine/mead/beer, then I bow my head and try to do better next time. In the occasions when the stuff I'm being offered to drink is an insult to the palate, I tend to get out of commenting/insulting by taking Andrew's approach, something like "This is quite different than what I get, how did you do it? Would you like to know how I do it, compare notes...."
This way you can make suggestions, mentioning the sources, and not offend the other person.


09-12-2005, 02:36 AM
well, according to Terry Pratchett, quaffing is like drinking, but with more spilling involved.
One of my favorite authors, love the way he crafts his phrases, here are some of my favorites...

He moved in a way that suggested he was attempting the world speed record for the nonchalant walk.

The only things known to go faster than ordinary light is monarchy, according to the philosopher Ly Tin Weedle. He reasoned like this: you can't have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles -- kingons, or possibly queons -- that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed.

There were a few seconds of total silence as everyone waited to see what would happen next. And then Nijel uttered the battle cry that Rincewind would never quite forget to the end of his life. "Erm," he said, "excuse me..."

The vermine is a small black and white relative of the lemming, found in the cold Hublandish regions. Its skin is rare and highly valued, especially by the vermine itself; the selfish little bastard will do anything rather than let go of it.

In fact, no gods anywhere play chess. They prefer simple, vicious games, where you Do Not Achieve Transcendence but Go Straight to Oblivion; a key to the understanding of all religion is that a god's idea of amusement is Snakes and Ladders with greased rungs.

By and large, the only skill the alchemists of Ankh-Morpork had discovered so far was the ability to turn gold into less gold.

"He's in love," said Gaspode. "It's very tricky." "Yeah, I know how it is," said the cat sympathetically. "People throwing old boots and things at you."

No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.

The trouble with being a god is that you've got no one to pray to.

Sometimes I really think people ought to have to pass a proper exam before they're allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean."


I like to go with "unusual" or "interesting" if they are still dense enough to press on whether I like it I may follow up with sarcasm "This isn't HALF bad." or in extreme cases "You primary's porcelain isn't it?" followed by "No?!? But the taste is unmistakable."

OK... I haven't used the last one yet. Something to look forward to. ;D


09-12-2005, 02:48 AM
Ted, that wine was truly bitter, not sour. I think if he keeps it around for 3 or 4 years, it may mellow out, but I wouldn't ruin my mother of vinegar with it.

I think people love their own drink, even if they recognize defects in it. That's a problem, because people are anxious to be praised, yet the more grownup part of them wants to hear what others really think. Reading over the comments so far, I see that there are those who favor direct criticism for the sake of improving their skills, and there are those who prefer to give and receive more diplomatic reactions. The "Um, this is different to what I do, shall we compare notes?" approach seems to address both.

My first wines and meads had all the usual newbie mistakes: too sweet, fizzy because bottled too soon, oxidation because of clumsy racking. But in recent years my brewing skills have improved and the drink shows it. Still on occasion a batch will turn out "interesting" - like my hawthorn flower wine, which has a taste you have to learn to love. Not bad, just strange. So I philosophically keep it to myself. Maybe another year or two will improve it. If not, I just won't make it again (had to try it though). Those first attempts earned some criticism; hopefully I learned from it. But the criticism I took most to heart came from those who gave it gently.

Thanks to all, this was helpful. :-*


09-12-2005, 08:32 AM
It seems to me that it is wise to say nothing unless asked. And then be general in response stating according to my likes it is a bit to ..........and if they are really interested in constructive criticism, they will probe futher and receive a gentle but more detailed analysis of my opinion.


09-12-2005, 09:16 AM
I have the problem that if they know I run Gotmead, somehow that seems to make me The Expert. It doesn't, but I'm expected to give an honest appraisal of their brew, because they want to improve (everyone does, even if they think the nasty brew is good).

I usually give it my full attention, and tell them that I'm going to be honest, and that not to worry, I've had several meads that turned out to be gack, and everyone has off batches, even the folks that really *are* experts (meaning not me).

I've had several that were *seriously* bad given to me. Generally, I will swirl and smell, then taste and consider. Then, if its really good, I say so, and hand out any ideas I would use myself to improve it next time (and tell them 'if this were my mead, I'd...'). If its bad, I try to explain that 'its a bit thin, you might want to consider giving it a bit more honey next time, mead wants body', or 'take a sip, you feel that burn on the back of your tongue, that's what you get when the mead needs to age a bit'...and so on.

I try to engage them, like Oskaar was saying, in crtitiquing their own mead, so that that they (and sometimes me!) learn what went right or wrong. I guess since having this website seems to infer some level of expertise (I keep *telling* you guys I'm just a chick with a website who loves mead!), so they tend to listen.

For instance:

Pewter, you plied me with that raspberry at Pennsic. I liked it. A lot. As you noted, it could use a bit more age, but all in all, you've a winner there. Stick with the recipe you're using, it seems to be working. Of all the meads I tried at Pennsic (and I tasted over 100), I'd put it in the top 10 or 15 (you have some serious competition). If I were to change *anything*, I'd try for just a hair more body. This has been a problem for me in most of the raspberry meads I make, the acidity of the raspberries tends to make the mead seem a bit thin, or so it seems to me. So, I alway end up backloading honey near the end to push up the body a bit. So far, it seems to be working.

Another one: Joe Mattioli: You gave me the orange and vanilla last year at the MeadFest. I saved it for a special occasion, keeping it in the cellar, until GentlKnight and his Lady came to visit, when we sampled it. We all agreed that:
a) it needs to breathe before drinking or the orange and vanilla don't hang together the way they should (nothing on your technique, just a tasting note for this particular mead)
b)the flavors were a bit strong, but very distinct and recognizable. I especially liked the sharpness of the orange, it was 'edgy', as opposed to the 'softer' tone I get with orange blossom honey. That was a nice surprise.
c)a quick swig just now, at room temp gives me just a *hint* of bitterness, very slight. Did you use the orange rind with or without pith? The honey character is evident, but not overwhelming. I think the balance is nice, and it give a wonderful warming sensation on the way down (not a burn, just a little warm tickle).
d) all in all a well-made mead, with flavors that took a bit of getting used to, but we liked it. I hadn't considered mixing orange and vanilla, but I find I like it. I can see this over ice on a hot summer day, or heated on a cold winter night.

Likewise, the concord grape mead - we liked it. My only comment would be that the grape seems to have overwhelmed the honey character to some extent, not unexpected with a strongly flavored fruit like concord grape. It was a lovely beverage, but not immediately obvious to be a mead. We all agreed, however, that we would serve it at table with no qualms. Because of what I learned from your efforts, I expect to have to choose my honey carefully when I attempt a mead with scuppernong grapes, which also have a very strong flavor characteristic. Your mead has caused me to step back and re-consider what sort of honey I'd like to use, in order to ensure that it can compete with the grape. And I will finish the bottle in contemplation of that factor, and enjoy finishing your wares! (By the way, I hope to have a lot more of my stuff when I come out, I'm going to see if Julia will let me ship some out ahead so I can bring more with me when I fly, and have more there that way).

I love trading meads with folks and having discussions on how they can be improved, because it seems to me, that every mead I've ever made has room for improvement, and how else to learn than by comparing with others with the same hobby? It's a pleasurable way to get pleasantly squiffed while improving your skills, and helping others improve theirs. Everyone wins, and we all get to drink more mead!



09-12-2005, 10:07 AM

I wish I could claim credit, but the raspberry mead you speak of belonged to Baron Sean DeLondres and was 10 months old. It was good, but wasn't one of his best efforts. Please stop by next War as the Barons will be pulling out all the stops. We may have lots of household members showing up that haven't been there in years as we have as many as 4 hand-fastings happening in our camp.

BTW, you still owe me opinions on my cyser and my metheglin...

I have to admit I never expected you to be critical at all after the way you were at War. It seemed like everything you tasted, you'd look at the glass and say "this is really good". I figured you were being diplomatic. I am glad that you really liked the stuff.

Have a great week!

09-12-2005, 10:16 AM
I love this discussion because exactly what Miriam describes happens at War all the time. Someone shoves a mug or bottle in your face and says "here, try this". If you haven't had too much already, you cautiously smell and take a small sip as they watch. You can tell by the way they look at you that it is their baby and they are analyzing your thoughts via the expression on your face. SO you force a smile and say...

My idea is to give both a positive and a negative. In essence, a pat on the back for something that is well done and a hint at something that might help. It is essentially what Vicki did in her reviews of Baron's raspberry mead. In Miriam's case, I would recommend she comment on those hidden tastes that she could detect. Comments like "I like the rich grape undertones, what did you use to get those?" will allow the brewer a measure of pride. Followed by "It has a bitterness that I get when I leave my batches on the yeast too long. Have you considered racking more often? What sort of criteria do you use to determine when to rack?" Even then, the criticism is blunted by sharing that every brewer (and specifically you) suffers from batches that remain on the lees too long. And the questions allow them to provide answers where you have an opportunity to insert more thoughts and recommendations as the discussion proceeds.

So despite the fact that Oskaar and I go at it like cats and dogs at times, I can be a diplomat... ;D ;D ;D


09-12-2005, 10:25 AM
First thing first, the bad wine might make an acceptable vinegar ;)

Use good wine to make good vinegar. A passable wine can turn into a good vinegar. A bad wine should simply be poured down the drain. :D

Brian K

09-12-2005, 10:33 AM
I have learned to ask people how much detail they want. :)

I try to be as honest and helpful in my suggestions as possible.

Brian K

09-12-2005, 10:36 AM
If you note the motto beneath each message I post, it reflects my approach to meadmaking. And in order to improve each batch, I require criticism, although I (as a human being complete with a full dose of human nature) would like that criticism to be constructive.

At War I got heavy doses of criticism when I sat down with the Barons. I had brought 375 mL bottles of 5 different batches (blueberry wine, blackberry wine, red raspberry wine, red raspberry mead, and blackberry mead) I had in process for their review and comments. Quite bluntly, the red raspberry wine and mead were swill and I was told so. And I agree. My only question was whether there was something I could do to recover the batch. There wasn't. A more careful analysis of the recipe pointed to the problem being with the Oregon Fruits puree I used which will result in changes to my next attempt of the same recipe. But as we carefully went through all five bottles, other members of the household gathered around and also commented while I hastily scribbled notes in my brewing log. I got a mixture of positives and recommendations as well as some blunt negatives. But I feel good about the experience because I learned something about every batch. Next time I will hopefully improve each recipe...

The best compliment I got was from a wife in our camp who said that she "wouldn't be ashamed to serve this to dinner guests" when referring to my cyser. Although that may sound a little less than complimentary, it is coming from a lady that serves things like 10 year old Marlows (sp?) with dinner. And then she asked for seconds...

So I was proud and pleased and yet learned a lot...


09-12-2005, 10:58 AM
For the folks that are in need of honesty I generally march them through a series of questions like:

What kind of yeast did you use? Is it what you expected? Would you use it again? How would you describe how it influenced the flavor? Are you satisfied with how it tastes, or do you think there's room for improvement? What would you do differently next time? etc.

I just play "Help me I'm dumb and need to be educated" so I can ask people politely to help me understand how they made the mead, what they used, why they did certain things, when did they rack, and if they are happy with what they made. That way they can "educate" me about their mead/wine/beer/whatever and get a little constructive feedback in the process. I just kind of guide people with the questions most of the time because it's a simple and easy way to point out where they can make some improvements, and it makes them feel like they came up with the improvement ideas themselves.



09-12-2005, 11:41 AM
Jeepers, Oskaar, wheredja get so smart? :D An intelligent and kindly approach for any occasion (not just related to homebrew) and I'm sure helpful to the person who brewed the Nasty.

Sure you don't want to come to Israel and compete with the new Dale Carnegie course they just set up here?

Your anonymous fan,


09-13-2005, 12:03 AM
I just play "Help me I'm dumb and need to be educated"

Alright Socrates... just don't go tasting their Killer Hemlock Mead.


09-13-2005, 12:12 AM
Xenophon and Plato would be proud of you for watching my back! ;)



09-16-2005, 02:58 PM
Well, I happen to love constructive criticism.

How else to we learn? And I certianly don't love all of my wines/meads (others tend to like them more then me!).

One trick to see if people liked your wine/mead is if they ask for a second glass :).

I give constructive crit. in the nicest way possible. I ask questions and give hints about correction of problems.

Some of the best times are when a couple of brewers get togethor and taste/evaluate their homebrews! I love it!


09-16-2005, 06:31 PM
Excellent comment Oskaar. Very classy. Truth be told though its got to be pretty bad before I'd turn down a second glass (might not ask for one though). "Hello I am Andrew......"

David Baldwin
09-24-2005, 02:55 PM
I have to say that Vicky was very kind in her evaluation of my first batch of rhodomel.

She gave me some great pointers - I bought some rose syrup to add but the rose syrup was nasty and disappointing so I haven't added it to the mead.

I am still very new in really developing and educating my palate, so I still struggle to pinpoint specific deficiencies. However, I find that it helps to compare it to batches of my own with simmilar flaws. One bottle I got was just simply too green to be palatable. When asked what I thought of it, I suggested that it was way too young to give it a fair evaluation and that at this stage there were issues that might well age out. We were able to discuss the benefits of age on integrating the flavors from the sweetness to the acids to the hint of sulphites that I could detect.

I've only ever had one wine that I just could not be diplomatic over. I was given a taste of a dandilion wine that tasted like it was brewed from the roots and leaves in an old gasoline can. I sipped, choked and nearly sprayed the table with it. The joke was on me. He knew full well that it was a "disappointing" batch and was dying to see how I would give it a polite opinion.