Tasting Beer Part 2: Blind Tasting

| November 12th, 2013 | No comments

I mentioned before in part 1 that statistically when wine is blind tasted, interesting things happen. For a full explanation, read here, but I want to highlight two specific examples:

– The same wine, judged by the same judges, received varied scores when judged blind multiple times
– The same wine was presented to the same set of judges twice, but with two different labels. One label was for a standard table wine, and the other for a pricer grand cru. When judged as a table wine, descriptors were “weak, light and flat” compared to “complex, balanced, long and woody” when judged as a grand cru.

To an extent, I believe that the same can be true of beer as well, but it also depends on the situation. The Westvleteren blind taste test that I mentioned in the last post is a good example of what happens when blind tasting beer. Spoiler alert: Westy XII was not chosen as the best of 8 beers within the same style. When you are knowingly drinking a beer that has a certain expectation of being a highly rated beer, you are more inclined to agree with the consensus. Something that should be considered in this example however, is that all of the beers tasted were still great examples of the style. I personally have a hard time believing that a poor quality beer could be mistaken for a high quality beer.

Let’s break down beer ratings to only three options: poor, good, and great. Now let’s look at the IPA style,  the most popular style of craft beer in America. There’s only so many different ways to make an IPA, and as such, a lot of IPAs in America generally taste pretty much the same, with minor subtleties and differences. I would also say that most fall within the “good” range, with the differing factor between “poor” and “good” being the aroma and the balance of bitterness.

Three IPAs that I would rank as “great” would include:
– The Alchemist Heady Topper
– Russian River Pliny the Elder
– Stone Enjoy By

These three beers all have very unique characteristics that make them exceptional. They all have a giant colorful aroma, and a perfectly balanced bitterness with a very focused flavor profile. You could package any one in a fake Anheuser Busch label, and any honest reviewer would admit that it’s a great beer despite being brewed by the beer equivalent of the Galactic Empire. There is no way that either of these three beers could be mistaken for a poor quality beer. However if they were in a blind taste test, along with several other “great” IPAs, then I think that there will be some deviation from what is typically regarded as the best of the bunch, similar to the results in the Westvleteren experiment.

Our perception of taste and flavor can vary quite a bit, and is easily influenced by varying factors. Temperature and carbonation being two perfect examples. Different temperatures present different aromas and flavors in a beer. If you were to pour a beer carefully to prevent any foam then there will be less aroma compared to when a large bubbly head is present and pushing the aroma out of the glass. Not to mention that in a judging setting, when tasting several beers of the same style, similar attributes between the beers will become slightly muted, and other attributes in a beer will become increasingly more present, than if you were to drink the same beer alone.

If ever given the opportunity, I suggest taking part in a blind tasting of some sort in order to see what you really think of a beer without any external factors influencing your impression. It would be fun to do some sort of tasting with several stouts, IPAs, etc. and see what beers people prefer, regardless of brand.