Apr 22, 2018

Beer Break

Beer Break Vol. 1, No. 1
Tune up your taste buds

Sept 7, 2000

How many times have you heard somebody at a bar declare they could pick out their favorite beer blindfolded? Well, we've seen experts who can differentiate Sierra Nevada Pale Ale -- a pretty distinctive beer -- from most pale ales but stumble when presented with a well done clone.


Before you can decide which brand you prefer when choosing a particular style (a porter, for instance) you better be able to tell the difference between your favorites. This simple little test will help you hone those skills. It's easier with more than one participant (that way you can pour for each other) but can be managed alone.

Take two different beers. This time of year you might choose Oktoberfest-style beers. If you can get fresh samples of Spaten Ur-Marzen and Paulaner Oktoberfest they will work very well. You'll need three small vessels that you can't see through. Fill each glass to the same level, two with one beer and one with the other.

(If you are alone, you may label the glasses 1-2-3 on the bottom, put the same beer into 1 and 2, and shuffle them until you don't have a clue which is which.)

Taste the beers. Try to pick out which one is different. Before you check to see if you are correct, scribble down tasting notes about what sets one beer apart from the other. We're not trying to set you up for any embarrassment -- "I definitely get a nuttiness in those two I don't get in the other" you might tell your friends before you discover you've failed to identify which beers are the same -- but this is how you learn.

If you want to extend the exercise, you can go back and pour two samples of Beer B this time and one of Beer A and do the same thing. Or go ahead and try three beers. Your pairings might look something like this:


You don't have to drink a lot of beer and you certainly shouldn't hurry. This is a fun exercise for a group of friends and with pouring and discussions will surely take well over an hour. You'll probably find it harder to distinguish between beers as you go along. This isn't just the effects of the alcohol, but also palate fatigue. So take your time and have a little water and bread or neutral tasting crackers between rounds.

If you make the tasting sizes two ounces each and don't drink all the beer in each round you can expect to try 4-5 ounces per round. Six tastings would then be equal to drinking less than three bottles of beer.

Our thanks to Ray Daniels, founder and organizer of the Real Ale Festival, author of "Designing Great Beers" and other books on brewing, and Editor-in-Chief of Zymurgy and The New Brewer magazines, for suggesting this little exercise to us.

Tasting notes

brewed in Belgium

From Michael Jackson:

When I first tasted the beer, in Britain earlier this year, in the bottle, I was particularly struck by the Saaz hop accent. I also noticed a spiciness. Perhaps this was due to De Smedt's citric, perfumy, yeast, though the culture has been re-cropped at Malheur, and has gained its own character. At the brewery, I found the bottled product very aromatic, rose-like and slightly oily. The draft had a more obviously orangey flavour and a big, fresh Saaz character.

Food pairings:
As a delicate beer, Malheur performs well with lighter-tasting meats such as chicken, perhaps with a crisp bean salad in a vinaigrette. The grassy, herbal, hop character; yeasty sourness (a hint of yogurt?); orangey notes, and suggestions of nuts and honey, prompt thoughts of Eastern Mediterranean food. Perhaps Lebanese?

brewed in Downingtown, Pa.

From Lew Bryson:

This is Fat Beer. Light beer kind of pre-supposes heavy beer, somewhere out there, and Budweiser sure isn't it. This is. The boys at Victory are the Masters of Malt, who put a big sled of malt under almost all their beers. St. Boisterous is the beer that looked at the malt menu and said "Yeah, I'll take that. All of it." Fat Beer.

It's got a big fat head, creamy white, with good hang time. The color is solid gold washed with a coppery tint, and you can smell the malt from a foot and a half away. It smells fresh, a touch of mild orange candy, like just-torn-open fresh bread, cooled but still moist. The taste is all malt with very little hop at all. Who needs it? The malt is intense, and curling in five different directions. It pulls like taffy with a fullness like that of the heartiest doublebock, yet has an almost citric tang. The ethanol afterburner kicks in on the finish, lightening the beer's sweetness and tapering up to a curiously light invitation to dance some more. Dance, Fat Beer, dance.

Read more from Lew about Pennsylvania beers.

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