Just as an Olympian endures hours of punishing training before mastering his or her discipline, so too must the amateur beer drinker test its skills on the road to full-blown beer snobbery. A while ago, Judd and I – under the tutelage of Matt Kirkegaard at the Scratch’s Evolution of Craft Beer Alementary Event – were introduced to what I believe is akin to push-ups for beer drinkers: the blind taste.
Ever since that event, I’ve been obsessing about the notion of peeling back the label, the marketing and my preconceived notions, and experiencing beer tabula rasa. It’s such a perfect concept, the blind taste, forcing you to navigate your way around the beer – guided only by your sensory compass.
But at the same time, the prospect of reading the winds wrong and becoming adrift actually scared the shit out of me a little bit. What if this blind tasting exposes me for the little beer fraud I am? I’ll be toast.
To put our senses to the test, Judd and I embarked on our own blind beer tasting of sorts. To be honest, the blind tasting wasn’t truly blind. We selected three pale ales we had on hand – Little Creatures Pale Ale, 4 Pines Pale Ale and Burleigh 28 Pale Ale – and added an extra dimension to this test: our own homebrewed Jimmy James American Pale Ale. The stakes were high.
Our loving wives cheerfully poured us four glasses in an order unknown to us. Brows were furrowed as we sniffed, swished and slurped with enough gusto to thoroughly disgust our partners.
The big reveal after the tasting proved some very interesting results. Firstly, I guessed the line-up correctly – not that I’ll dwell on it forever or anything. See Winner.
Clearly the 4 Pines and the Burleigh were the better beers, though very, very different. Tasting them side-by-side, without identification of each, allowed us to note the big differences between these beers. The bitterness of the 4 Pines was tempered by a biscuit and caramel maltiness, whereas the 28 Pale Ale had a more prominent upfront bitterness – but its malt was far less apparent. The hop profile of the 4 Pines was both spicy and citrusy whereas in the 28 Pale Ale, citrus, particularly grapefruit, was heavy – which also had a far more impactful aroma.
What we were really surprised and excited to see at the end was how well our homebrew stacked up, particularly against the Little Creatures. Whilst not being as balanced as the Little Creatures, our own beer was free from ‘the homebrew taste’, the bitterness went further and lasted longer and the citrusy notes of the Amarillo and Centennial hops really came out. Ours lacked in aroma but we failed to dry hop it, so yeah.
The experience broke from a normal Saturday night, of loudly sloshing beer around while smashing deep-fried foods in to our gobs – hardly tasting the beer at all. Instead, it was a quiet, thoughtful, highly sensual experience – as close a marriage as meditation and imbibing beer can get. After a few self-con-wank-ulatory pats on the back, we concluded that our sensory skills didn’t leave our precious (precious) egos for dead and the experience left us wanting more challenges.
On a more humorous note – and be sure to send this feedback to the marketing officers at each of these companies – we repeated the exercise for Al, Judd’s wife, and recorded the following notes in her drinkability preference:
1. Jimmy James Pale Ale Homebrew: Fruity but bland (easy to drink).
2. 4 Pines Pale Ale: Strong, dark, thicker, smells viscousy.
3. Burleigh Brewing 28 Pale Ale: Smells gross; tastes awf.
4. Little Creatures Pale Ale: Very bland.