Don't Order Tasters: Samples, Pints, and "Drinking 'Til You're Happy"

"Can I have a taste of that beer, please?"

God, I hate that question on so, so many levels...

The First Taste

First, your initial sip of almost any beer is a very, very poor predictor of what you'll ultimately think of that beer.  

If it's your first beer of the night (or day, if you're lucky), then your palate is reacting to the initial hit of alcohol, which (alcohol being what it is) is going to get numbed down pretty quickly.

Even if it isn't, flavor perception is an additive process.  What tastes good might not taste good after more of it.  A fingertip in the sugar bowl tastes good; eating spoonful after spoonful of it is disgusting.  And something that tastes not-great initially might grow on you.  But you won't know that, because you ordered a thimbleful of it and tried to make a prediction.

Palate Deafness

Second, as you drink more of something, the experience of it changes.  Your palate will adapt to what it's tasting, and things that are unpleasant at first can fade away or mutate into something pleasant or even transcendental.

That 120-IBU monster might seem too intense for you if you just drink one ounce.  But eight or 16 ounces later your palate has gone a bit deaf to it the bitterness and instead you may be tasting something very, very different thanks to that high IBU burn-in.  

And we're not only tasting - we're feeling.  That sharp sourness will seem much less so after a few sips, but the puckering tightness will still be there, and that might be something that changes your evaluation.

You'll never experience that, though, because you took one sip and moved on.  

Volatility

Third, beer is volatile.  It changes.  Some flavors will come right out of solution and dissipate in seconds - if you reject the beer because your little taster had that flavor and you didn't like it, you're walking out of a movie five minutes into it.

What if the beer is overcarbonated?  As it sits and approaches the "right" carbonation level, it will change, and its flavor will change.  You'll never know, because you passed after two sips or your sample.

Use the Right Tools

Your taster probably came in a completely different glass than your beer would have.  You probably aren't getting much of a sense of the aroma.  Any fault from a not-beer-clean glass is hugely magnified because of the surface-area-to-beer ratio in that tiny glass.  CO2 is being released differently on that lip.

In other words, you're not even tasting the beer you'd be getting by the pint.

Pouring These Sucks

It sucks for the bartender, but it also sucks for you.  Beer service off of a tap into a 2-ounce glass isn't the same as the same pour into a pint.  The system isn't designed for tiny pours.

And it's a pain in the ass for the bartender - have a heart.

Drink for the experience

I don't order a sample of anything.  What's the worst case scenario?  I drink it fast or give it away?

When I order a beer, I want the full experience.  I want several sips of it.  I want steadily declining carbonation.  I want all of the palate sensations.  I want to work through what I might consider "off-flavors" and maybe come to appreciate or understand or learn to ignore them.  

And I want to be a considerate patron, because a) I used to tend bar, and b) it gets me my next beer faster because they know I'm not going to ask them to pour three or four or seventeen tiny samples, and c) I'm only human and want people to like me.

So please, don't order a taste of anything.  

Keep it simple.

JJW

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Hazy Logic

I couldn't care less if a beer is hazy or not.  If it tastes good, it tastes good.  Hell, some even look good, turning the brilliant jewel tone of a crystal-clear beer into a frosty glow.  What confuses me is the militance with which so many beer folk approach this issue.

You find partisans on both sides spitting and snarling at each other (and, on occasion, discussing politely) the merits and dangers of the other's position.  I find it baffling.  

I can understand a discussion of the flavor impact that the additional matter in the beer can impart.  I can understand those who express a concern that it encourages breweries that aren't named Tree House to push out beers that aren't ready yet.  I can understand the position that young beers that haven't yet cleared might be a phenomenal and unique delivery mechanism for new and different flavors in beer.

What I can't understand is...

"Respect the Haze!"

That's what I read in a beer group on Facebook.  "Respect the haze!" 

What?

A beer being hazy is not, in and of itself, some kind of signal that it's a better beer, or produced a certain way, or will have specific advantages over other beers.  So what's with the glee over seeing a hazy beer?  And why do some people seem to revel in it?  And why do some breweries actually introduce stuff like flour into their beer to make it hazy???

Maybe it's just some kind of beer anti-establishmentarianism.  What could be a bigger slap in the face to the hyper-controlled and over-processed and machine-made beers of the macro breweries than to release a beer that looks like someone just crushed chalk into it?  

Or maybe it's that some people only get exposed to the best versions of these hazy beers, and so they actually do believe that there's some intrinsic advantage to it.  I hope not, because they're in for a bit of a disappointment, eventually.

Or maybe they're just looking for anything "sophisticated" to say about beer, and they fixate on things that aren't debatable - it takes a bit of nerve to declare that you're tasting butter and grape and therefore you believe that there's a pedio infection in a beer.  What if no one else tastes those things???  But everyone can SEE that the beer is hazy, and so it's an evaluation you can react to without fear of being wrong!

Trust - but Verify

Let me say this: anyone who celebrates or denigrates any beer just because it's hazy is probably approaching this stuff from a way-too-superficial perspective.  

To the purists who say that hazy beer is much more often a sign of improper handling or immaturity and that we shouldn't encourage this in brewers/breweries...well, I agree, but I also think you should make allowance for reasonable experimentation and evolution in beer.  

To the rebels who revel in haze for its own sake and say that some of the best beers in the world right now are hazy...well, I agree, but I also think that you should realize that throwing paint up against a wall doesn't make you Jackson Pollock.  OK, some breweries make incredible beers that also happen to be hazy (like Tired Hands, pictured above).  But a whole hell of a lot more are making beers for which haze, cloudiness, turbidity and the like are a sign of a weak brewery.  And if you still like their beers, then great - drink them.  But don't be surprised or offended when others point out that they don't, and that the haze might be a warning sign.

So, for everyone, maybe the right answer is to be wiling to believe that a hazy beer can be great - or that haze might suggest a problem.  Don't be a hazist.  

Who Cares?

Clarity matters.  Quality matters more.  If it's a great-tasting beer, I'll forgive happily an irregularity in appearance even if it doesn't work as well for me as that brilliantly-clear beer.  Hell, for some beers (basically everything Maine Beer Co. makes) I wouldn't care if it's brown sludge with the yeast lining up to spell out "Die, Josh, Die," I'm still going to drink it. 

So let's not judge a beer by its cover.  Don't assume that a hazy beer means a bad beer.  But this also means that those of you parading around celebrating haze need to rein it in a bit, too.

And let's all, instead, join together in unified opposition to the idea of White Stout.

Keep it simple.

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).

 


10 Beer & Brewing Resolutions for 2017

Happy New Year from Beer Simple, everyone!  Since last year's list was highly constructive (and at least 8/10 items on it were actually completed), I thought I'd start this year by resolving another ten beer-and-brewing-related things to do by the end of 2017.  Join me, if you will - maybe not for all of these, but just a few.  And for anyone who might care, 2016's recapped list and feedback are at the end.

So off we go, into 2017...

1. Drink all unique beers in 2017

This is a big one, and it came to me when I realized that I drink almost exactly 365 pints a year (I was curious, so I kept track of how much overall, and when).  I thought, "what if I didn't repeat any beers at all next year?" and once a thought like that gets into my head it's hard to shake.  The downside is that I get only one can/bottle of a lot of beers that I love, but the upside is that I have a built-in reason to try lots of new things.  With the continued growth in the craft brewing sector (we're over 5,000 breweries now, and at times it feels like 3,000 of them are in the Philadelphia area), the timing couldn't be better.  What's going to be weird is how I deal with my own beer - the current plan is to only brew a) beer for parties that I'll put in kegs, and b) age-able beers.  There's a lot of Old Ale, Barleywine, and Baltic Porter in my future.  Maybe a lot of sours, too!

So - no repeats.  Already off the list following yesterday's New Year's dinner are Lagunitas Stoopid Wit, Sierra Nevada Celebration, Short's Brown, Goose Island Fulton Street Blend, and Heavy Seas Winter Storm.

2. Make a perry

I've never made perry, but I have pear trees, and someday I might even use my own pears for it!  For the first time, though, I'll probably get some reliably good pressings from a local purveyor.  But everyone should brew something new every year, if only to avoid ruts.

3. Revisit my least favorite brewery and drink at least four of their beers

Sometimes we write off a brewery, and it becomes an article of faith that their beers suck.  This year I'm going to revisit my least-favorite brewery - and it's the clear frontrunner - and drink four of their offerings.  If nothing else, it keeps me honest and gives them another shot, and even if they still make beer that should just be called "IPAcac" at least I'll know that I'm correct in continuing to steer people away from them.

4. Replace my Better Bottles - all of them

I'll likely just replace them with new Better Bottles (they've done very well by me), but it's been several years since I've replaced my fermenting vessels, and I get the feeling I'm mostly coasting on luck these days - there might be some bug in there waiting to bite my brewing ass.  I want to get ahead of him.

5. Visit more beer bars, and fewer breweries

For some reason it seems easy to get people pumped to visit a brewery - probably because the presumption is that the beer is better right at the source - but I find it harder to get psyched to visit a new (or new to me) bar, even though they're all over the place.  The power of habit, I guess: you find some comfortable places to drink at, with great beer lists and excellent food, and you start to get lazy.  I want to break that paradigm this year - get out there and try out some new places.

6. Convince a friend to give their child a beer-related name

Preferably without them knowing it.  "Porter" is too easy, but I'll take it.  I'd much rather talk them into Vorlauf or Citra, though.  "Citra's a nice name - she's the Greek goddess of the orange harvest!"  I can sell that. 

7. Use honey as a flavorful adjunct

I'm not talking about making more Braggot or Mead - I just mean using a pound of buckwheat honey in an ESB, or a pound of Raspberry honey to add some light honey sweetness to a wheat beer.  I feel like it's being overlooked as a secondary or tertiary ingredient.

8. Find a pair of brewery-branded pants

I already own lots of brewery t-shirts and sweatshirts.  I've seen and can get brewery underwear and socks.  If I find a pair of brewery pants, I can actually dress head-to-toe in brewing merchandise.  Not sweatpants, either - some kind of jean or trouser.  It seems like an odd ambition, but I've always wanted to, just for a day.

9. Read at least three new beer and brewing books

It's an odd side-effect of doing a lot of beer writing: I don't spend nearly as much time reading other people's writing.  I'll hit articles that touch on old topics in new ways or seem to introduce genuinely novel ideas (I like to keep current), but whereas I used to read new brewing books as much for pleasure as for education, I find I just don't do it much anymore.  I'd like to correct that this year.

10. Support pro-beer legislation at the local, state, and federal levels of government

There are still laws in place that breweries and beer drinkers have to contend with that are either illogical, ineffective, or create inefficiencies.  I've been content to let the AHA lobby on this stuff, but I'd like to set aside time this year to more personally get involved in it.  I'm a political scientist, after all...

And, of course, I'd like to keep writing Beer Simple.  Thank you to everyone for reading this year, whether you just stop in occasionally or read every week.  It means a lot to me that you spend your time here, and every week I try to put something up for you that is worth that sacrifice.  Best wishes in 2017, keep brewing and drinking good beer, and as always...

Keep it simple.

JJW

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

RECAP OF THE 2016 RESOLUTIONS!

10. BUY A HIGH-QUALITY THERMOMETER – OR AT LEAST CALIBRATE THE ONE YOU ALREADY HAVE - Done and done.  My new Thermapen has been incredible. FAST and accurate.

9. MAKE A POINT OF ATTENDING EITHER THE GREAT AMERICAN BEER FESTIVAL OR NATIONAL HOMEBREWERS CONFERENCE - NHC 2016 ("Homebrewcon" - but I still have trouble with that) in Baltimore was a blast, and the dozen or so members of our club that went all had a remarkable time.  

8. FIND A NEW APPRECIATION FOR A PASSÉ OR OVERLOOKED BEER STYLE – I’M THINKING WITBIER - Oddly enough, it ended up being American Pale Ale.  They're everywhere, but it's amazing how often people (me included) gloss over them en route to looking for something more interesting, using the logic of "I can always go back to it..."  This time I started with them.  Really fun.

7. GIVE UP BEER FOR LENT, EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT CATHOLIC - It was no alcohol for 40 days, and it yielded some interesting conclusions.  I may do something similar this year, but I haven't really thought about it yet.  

6. WRITE A LETTER TO A BREWERY THAT IS MAKING YOUR FAVORITE BEER AND THANK THEM - Burial Brewing in NC got an e-mail, and they were super grateful for it.  Keep up the great work, guys!  And if you readers are in a position to try their Shadowclock Pilsner, it's incredible - but it for the artwork, drink it for the flavor.

5. LEARN ONE SCIENTIFIC LESSON THAT WILL IMPROVE YOUR BREWING - I spent some time on presentation of essential oils in hops, reading through the academic literature.  I can't pretend to have understood it all, but one thing was abundantly clear: we need to know more about this.  They're quite the black box.

4. ATTEND A HOMEBREW CLUB MEETING – OTHER THAN YOUR OWN - Done.  Actually, I attended three!  Always neat to see what everyone else is up to.

3. TEACH A WILLING PERSON TO HOMEBREW, AND BREW WITH THEM AT LEAST THREE TIMES - this is one I didn't get to follow through on.  I'll try better next year.

2. STAND UP FOR ONE NEWBIE THAT IS BEING RAZZED BY AN ALEHOLE - got to do this at NHC actually.  Sad that it was necessary, but glad to have been there to do it.  And the alehole in question had some bizarre beliefs about what an IBU was.

1. CONTRIBUTE IN A MEANINGFUL WAY TO THE BREWING WORLD – HOWEVER YOU CAN - I hope I did this, but if not I'll do better next year.  

Happy New Year, all!

JJW

Please help support BEER SIMPLE by visiting the Support page and saving the links there as your bookmarks, especially this Amazon link!  Every dollar you spend will help keep BS coming your way, and more often (which is at least as much a threat as a promise).