That’s a Wrap

… now the hard work can begin. We finished two days of serving beer to people at the Green Dragon, which was a lot of fun work. We got 250-275 samples, which is decent, though I’d wished for more. A cold snap that hit last night and persisted through the day probably depressed the turnout somewhat.

The experiment involved serving a flight of pale Continental lagers (Czechvar, Heineken, Stella Artois) and a flight of American craft ales with significantly different levels of bitterness (Fat Tire, Mirror Pond, Ninkasi Believer) to see if people could identify/spot duplicate samples and test some theories about beer experience and preference for bitterness.

Interestingly, my prediction was (and is) that no group would do much better than chance at identifying duplicates in the lager group. But having returned home, and reflecting on the weekend of serving blind tastes, I decided to do one of my own. We had (and will continue to have for some time, I expect) some extra bottles of Heineken and Stella (we mixed draft and bottled servings for the second day of tastings) and I asked Laurel to open them and pour me two servings of one and one of the other, into the same colored-sticker-labeled plastic cups we used all weekend.

Despite my expectations, I was able to identify the duplicate samples without even tasting the beer, just through the nose. That’s not to say that either beer had a particularly nice or interesting nose. The Heineken just had a forward, sweet-smelling nose that was easy to spot in two samples. It was equally sweet on the palate.

It’s possible to make a pilsener that appeals to the beer geek in me. In the last six weeks I’ve enjoyed Heater Allen Pils, Trumer Pils, and Victory Prima Pils. These beers are testaments to the idea that a fine beer can be subtle and delicate, free of the bombast and thunder of many great beers. But Heineken is an alcoholic soft drink, in my opinion, and while there’s nothing wrong with a soft drink now and then, my personal palate moved on from regular consumption of soft drinks a long time ago.

I guess it’s preferable to my hypothesis that these pale lagers are literally indistinguishable, at least.



3 Responses to “That’s a Wrap”

  1. VincentF Says:

    Wow, I was convinced there were duplicates in both flights. In flight one, I thought the first sample was Pilsner Urqell. I assume that was the Czechvar, which I’ve enjoyed in Czech but never in bottles over here. The second sample I thought was Budweiser (US that is) and then I thought maybe they both were. The third seemed more sweet and sounds like your description of Heineken. Was that the Stella? I wouldn’t buy any of them.

    In the second flight, I though the first and third beers were similar. In my defense, I think I was looking for similarities at that point. The second was obviously darker and different. It reminded me of Bridgeport’s Hop Harvest from this year, with a real wet/fresh hop vegetal element that I didn’t really like. Interesting that it was apparently Mirror Pond. I think I like that beer and that it’s lighter in color and not quite so green. I thought the Fat Tire was something like Sam Adams. Maybe not too far off really. Not sure how I would have found the Ninkasi similar to Fat Tire though. Maybe I should have been spitting.

    Or maybe it was an off night for my palate. I tried a pint of the Drunkel after all this and it seemed really weird and smoky. Is it supposed to be like that? Should have had a taste first, but I didn’t want to be a high maintenance customer. Seemed like Nitro, but wasn’t listed as such. Nice persistent, creamy head. Thanks for the experience.

  2. Hopster Says:

    I omitted some details above that are causing your confusion.

    We did in fact have duplicates (in one fashion or another) in all of the flights. Each flight on Saturday consisted of two samples of one beer and one of another. Over the course of the day we had three different sample sets that we distributed. If you had one darker beer (the Ninkasi; one of the shortcomings of the experiment was the color difference on that one, which was more striking than I expected), you were in the second rotation, which consisted of two Czechvars and a Heineken, and two Fat Tires and a Believer.

    So it sounds like your palate was reasonably well-calibrated.

    It was nice seeing you, however briefly, and I’m sorry I didn’t have more time to chat. You arrived for the busiest part of the whole weekend.

  3. VincentF Says:

    Thanks for clarifying. Yep, that second rotation sounds right. Maybe I did taste better than I thought. No worries on being busy. I know from pouring wines how it is. Nice job though. Let’s connect sometime for a quieter pint or two. I want to hear more about the trials and the book.

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