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Entries in beer (8)

Monday
Aug012011

They Beered Me

The Oregon Brewers Festival was just big enough to be huge, not so big as too be overwhelming. They had said they had 85 beers on tap (not including some special, limited-availability beers in the Buzz Tent), and I think I tasted about half of them. I say “I think” because I managed to lose my tasting notes on the way to the airport. Fortunately, I remember my favorites pretty well.

So here’s how it worked: You paid six bucks to get a mug, and then you could buy tokens for a dollar each. One token would get you a taste of beer — about two or three ounces — and four would fill your mug. There was one beer from each of the participating breweries. The festival bought eighteen kegs of each, which they tapped on a schedule. If they killed a keg and it wasn’t yet time to tap the next one, it would be unavailable for a little while. This meant that the most popular beers didn’t run out on Saturday, which was nice for those of us trying to taste beer on Sunday afternoon.

Gwen and I first wandered over to the festival on Thursday evening, to see how it worked. We tasted half a dozen or so beers that night. It was really nice: the pours were big enough that we could both reasonably sample from one, so we’d each get a beer in the same style (like a Scottish Ale or a Raspberry Wheat), taste, trade, and talk about the beers. That last part was my favorite, as talking with someone else about whatever I’m tasting always makes me a better taster. Eventually we got hungry and wandered off in search of dinner.

I went back to the Festival on Friday and Sunday afternoons, using Gwen’s mug as a way to continue to pair beers for tasting. I ended up pouring out a fair of amount of beer for the sake of being able to continue to be able to taste. That — and the huge number of beers vying for my attention — meant that I was pretty ruthless in my evaluations. There were a lot of beers that I would have been perfectly happy to get at a bar that I just said “It’s ok” about and moved on. That means that these six, which were my favorites, must have been pretty special:

The one big gap in my tasting scorecard was IPAs and Pale Ales. I like to pick certain categories and taste every beer in the group, and there were just too many of these. I also realized that after tasting a dozen IPAs, my palate would be so overwhelmed with hops that I wouldn’t able to taste anything else. So, with the exception of the Cascadian Black Ale sub-category, I largely decided to skip these and focus on fully exploring other categories, like porters or wheat beers.

The Festival was incredibly well-run and a great time. I hope to make it back next year. Perhaps with a posse?




Update

Fitness: Rest day
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 123 words, 242 seven-day average, 264 average, 32681 total, 1329 to go for the week; 20-day streak
Wednesday
Jun222011

Becoming Less (or More) Dangerous

I wrote yesterday that I’m in the process of trying to learn more about tasting beer. It is, as they say, a mileage sport. I used to teach a wine-tasting class, and I told my students that the best way to learn about wine was to drink it consciously. It’s that “consciously” part that’s important. When you try a wine and you like it, it’s important to ask, “What do I like about this wine?” Then you figure out what clues you get from the label that tells you those elements are there. So if you find that you like crisp, white wines with bracing acidity, you can start paying attention to what varieties and regions are most likely to give you wines like that.1 The goal is to make it easier to find wines that you like, so that you can spend more time drinking them and not wines you don’t.

I developed my knowledge about wine by doing two things early in my wine-tasting career: reading a lot and tasting a lot. Two books in particular were invaluable to me: Great Wine Made Simple and The Wine Bible. The former broke down the process of evaluating a wine into components I could start to wrap my head around. Until I knew what elements were be present in wine (in the flavor, for example, fruit, tannin, acidity, and alcohol) I not only couldn’t describe wine, I couldn’t actually make sense of what I was tasting. The latter equipped me with knowledge about what grapes are grown where and in what styles so I had a clue of which of those elements were likely to be present. When I combined the tasting techniques and the wine knowledge to all the wine-tasting I was doing, I knew what to taste for and had words to describe it. [2]

This is what’s been missing in my beer tasting. Fortunately, I’ve found something to help me, specifically, the Beer Judging Certification Program style guidelines. These break down different styles and sub-styles of beer and describe what competition judges should be looking for. Even better, they’re available as an iPhone app. And as it turns out, reading these while drinking beer suddenly improved my beer tasting ability.

So the other night when I was drinking a Dunkelweiss, I read over what a beer competition judge would be looking for. When I saw “Low to moderately strong banana and clove flavor” my brain said, “Ah, that’s what that is.” So I looked at the adjacent Weizen/Weissbier category, I realized those aromas and flavors are what this beer and the hefeweizens I’ve been enjoying have in common.

And just like that beer started to be like wine for me.




Update

Fitness: None
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 87 words, 274 seven-day average, 258 average, 21667 total

1 Which means you probably want to be drinking Sauvignon Blancs that are fermented in stainless steel, like those from New Zealand, the Loire Valley in France, and certain California wineries.

2 This is the Kolb Learning Cycle in action.

Tuesday
Jun212011

Mostly a Danger to Myself

If a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, then I’m slightly dangerous when it comes to beer.

A few weeks ago I picked up a bottle each of the Chimay Première (Red) and Grande Réserve (Blue) beers to taste side by side. I’ve become a fan of Belgian abbey-style beers over the last year or two (due in no small part to the influence of the Trappist) but I hadn’t done a lot of head-to-head comparison to refine my preferences. As we were tasting them, Gwen started asking enough questions that eventually made me realize that I don’t know that much about tasting beer. I couldn’t tell you, for example, what a Belgian abbey-style beer is supposed to taste like and why.

When it comes to tasting wine, I’m on pretty solid ground. Gwen has a more sensitive palate than I do, but I have a lot of background knowledge that helps me interpret that sensory data. For example, a few months ago we went to a blind tasting where were given six wines and two lists, one with five grape varieties and one with five wine growing regions. For each wine, we had to figure out what grape it was and what region it was from. The first thing I did was to take the list of twenty-five possible combinations and narrow it down to eight or so real possibilities, based on my knowledge of what grapes are grown where. Then I just had to taste the six wines and figure out what the most likely fits were, based on what I knew those eight or so possibilities should taste like. The result: I got five out of six.

The problem I’ve had with beer is that I don’t have that background knowledge. I don’t know what to taste for, and consequently, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe beer. Tomorrow I’ll talk about how I’ve started to fix that.



Update

Fitness: Ran 5 miles
Sun, Moon, and Stars: 266 words, 313 seven-day average, 260 average, 21580 total
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