I have been writing about beer for a few months. And, in those various tastings, I have found that at times the same beer may not rate the same as a previous tasting. This has been bothering me for some time. As a blogger, I want to provide accurate information from my viewpoint and tastes. But, what happens when a beer tastes different from one tasting to the next. Let’s go into some of my observations about variations.
Well, one could say that it’s a quality issue with the brewer. This is probably unlikely. Having helped brew beer in small batches, recipes are highly reproducible. The one exception may be the case of a highly specialized brew using unique ingredients. Your big batch breweries depend on quality and consistency to sell their beers. If consistency fails, people stop buying the beer. So, let’s rule this out as a reason that beer may not taste the same from one sitting to the next. Keep in mind, there is always a chance that you may get contamination which will change/ruin the experience.
So, we were talking to one of the bartenders at the Taproom about beers like the Oskar Blues Ten Fidy Bourbon Barrel. He recommended trying the Evil Twin Imperial Biscotti Break. I split the beer with one of my buddies, and we both felt it wasn’t that great and was surprised that it was expected to have similar qualities to the Ten Fidy. I was expecting cinnamon, vanilla, and sweetness, when all I was getting was sweet and boozy. The bartender was a little perplexed. It wasn’t until the beer warmed up a bit, that some of the expected flavors started to come through. Likewise, a buddy of mine grew up in Germany and is used to drinking certain beers at room temperature, simply because that gives the best experience. So, the temperature of the beer has a pretty big impact on the experience of the beer.
One of the other things that I have noticed over the last several months was related to food. Most of the time when I am drinking with the crew, we typically get wings. I may drink a couple of beers before eating. I have found that after eating, a beer sometimes takes on a different profile. So, the same beer from the same tap may taste fairly different before eating and after eating. It seems that certain flavors and flavor intensities tax the taste buds and let’s say make them less sensitive. I will need to experiment more with this.
Another thing that I have noticed is the types of beer that you are drinking. Typically, I will drink a wide spectrum of beers to try to optimize my sampling. The thing is that beers like IPAs tend to wreak havoc on your taste buds. On an IPA night, I find that my sense of taste dulls down based on the intensity of the IPA. Over time, the sense of taste may become skewed and may not produce a reliable assessment. It is for this reason that I try to cap my reviews for an evening to 3 – 4 beers, while most of the time I will drink more than that.
The way that you drink has another impact on the experience. I was once watching a show about Eddy’s Ice Cream and a hyper taster, whose job it was to test quality of the line. He described the best way to experience ice cream was to roll a bite around on your tongue and inhale lightly. After trying it, it really does enhance the experience. When drinking beer, I noticed that I have a propensity to take a sip and let the beer linger momentarily in my mouth. When I try the, let’s say, ice cream method of tasting, the flavor can at times be too intense for me. I am still playing around with this aspect of tasting.
One last observation is around draft versus canned/bottled. I have had a couple of opportunities in the last few months to try the same beer on draft and again in canned/bottled form. What was surprising is that I had always thought that draft beer was inherently better than canned or bottled. I found one case where I enjoyed the canned version a bit more than the draft version. In hind sight, this can make a lot of sense. In draft, your experience is impacted by multiple factors like how long the beer has sat in the line, carbonation versus nitrogenation, and the amount of gas infused. I’m sure that there are more factors, but there is a chance that draft could produce some inconsistency.
Well, that’s it for my musings. It’s really a lot to consider when trying to review beers. Like I said, I want to provide a consistent and accurate review of the beers. One thing that I have been thinking about doing is trying to document the temperature of the beer at the time of tasting. Of course, everyone already looks at me funny when I pull out my notebook, much less a thermometer. Safe to say, I will be a little more diligent in considering the above factors when sampling beers.