“Tasting” Beer

It is almost without fail.  I tell someone I work in the quality lab at a brewery and the response is a chuckle and something along the lines of “So you just sit around and drink beer all day, yeah?” Above and beyond the fact that there is a lot more involved in beer quality, there’s a distinction that I think gets lost on the public.  The difference between drinking beer and tasting beer.

Often, when I taste beer at my job, the purpose is to make sure the beer is holding up well over the course of it’s shelf life.  So, we’re talking about beer that’s been bottled 90 to 120 days.  Not bad, but it’s not fresh.  Some beers hold up better than others and that’s exactly what we’re testing for.  Another common occurrence at work is tasting a beer that’s been intentionally spiked with an off flavor.  Sometimes they tell us, sometimes they don’t.  This accomplishes two goals. If the spike is known, the idea is to give us an idea this is what <insert off flavor> tastes like.  Some, like clove or banana are not that bad.  Some, like papery, solvent or metallic are not at all pleasant.  If this spike is not disclosed than the goal is to see how many people pick it up and at what levels.  This is called threshold testing.  Some people can’t taste certain things like diacetyl and that’s OK, but as someone running a sensory program you want to know those kinds of things.  If 9 out of 10 people ding a beer for diacetyl and the one who doesn’t is known to be diacetyl blind, then that’s pretty much 100%.  That’s not to say test panels can’t be fun, but they are work, and also a very small portion of the overall program.

Judging beer, as a BJCP judge has been a very similar experience.  When I told people I judged beer competitions the same reaction of “Wow, that must be great to just sit around and drink beer all day.”  While I really enjoy judging, a good portion of the beer that crosses your table is not very good. That’s not meant to disparage those who enter the competitions, rather the main point of a competition is to get feedback.  You want to know how true your beer is to the style you were going for, but also if there are any major flaws in it.  Some people will enter a beer that they know has an issue but they can’t put their finger on it.  A more experienced brewer or an experience judge may be able to figure out the problem and offer a possible way to correct it.  As I’ve mentioned in past posts, someone told me that pro beer was the same way, more bad than good.  Two years of judging Best of Craft Beer have pretty much proven that true.

The flip side of this is an “ignorance is bliss” approach.  Some people don’t want to know about flaws and off flavors.  Perhaps they like a certain flavor that a hardcore judge would find offensive.  Maybe they just want to sit back and enjoy a pint.  There’s nothing wrong with that! I’ll admit, judging has messed with me a little when I’m just sitting around drinking a beer.  As long as the flaw is not so horrible to make the beer undrinkable I try to turn that part of my brain off and just enjoy it.  Sometimes that’s easier said than done.

So the reality is “tasting” beer is not nearly as glamorous as it may seem, especially if you’re confusing it with drinking beer. But it’s not without it’s merits.

Whether you drink, or taste, enjoy! Salut!

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Little Beast Portland Pub

On Friday evening, I had a unique opportunity to attend a soft opening for Little Beast Brewing’s new Portland Brewpub/Beer Garden.  Located at 34th and Division in the old Lompoc Hedge House location, the official opening is today.

We were invited by a friend who is friends with Owner/Brewer Charles’ wife and partner Brenda.  Interestingly enough, I judged at Best of Craft Beer with Charles and got a chance to talk to him at the opening.  Seems like things are doing well for them.  Brenda formally worked at Olympic Provisions and lends her expertise to pairing food with the beer. They had 12 or so beers on tap plus a food menu of small plate/charcuterie type things.  Mostly snacks, but some simple sandwiches as well.

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They haven’t changed a lot (the wrought iron Hedge House bike rack is still there) which is a good thing since the location as a lot of charm.  Updated bathrooms and a new back bar area but mostly similar to the way Hedge House used to be.  Very happy to see this location re-utilized and not bulldozed.  So many places are getting replaced with condo towers, especially on Division, which is what prompted Lompoc to leave the location.

If you’re a fan of farmhouse style and wild fermented beers then I would highly recommend stopping by Little Beast.  They specialize in saison-style and Brett fermented beers.  I’m not a huge fan of Brett beers, but I tried their flagship Fera which uses Brett for the whole fermentation and not just secondary aging, and it’s not as funky as most Brett beers tend to be.  It actually had a bright, citrus character and a light tartness which is insanely refreshing, especially as the weather warms up. The oak aged Flanders-style red ale was also quite delicious.

I highly recommend stopping by.

Cheers!

 

2018 Competition Goals

It’s a bit early in the year to be talking about goals, and yet, both of the goals I set for this year have come to pass.  One successful, one not successful. The unsuccessful one was a one-time event, so it can’t happen later in the year.

The first goal was to place a beer into the final round of the National Homebrewers Competition.  This required placing 1st, 2nd or 3rd in a category and scoring over 30 points in one of the regional competitions. Two of my three beers met the score threshold, a 34.5 for my CDA and 32.5 for my Belgian Dark Strong, but alas, no top three finish and no advancing to finals.  My English bitter (a style I had never made before) scored 29 points.  Maybe next year.

The second goal was to get on the scoreboard of the Oregon State Homebrewer of the Year standings.  OSHBOTY (as it’s known) is a statewide competition to crown the best homebrewer in the State.  You earn points by taking first in a medal category, with even more points for finishing 1st/2nd/3rd Best in Show.  So, this goal required me to also win my first gold medal, which I had yet to do.  Ironically, I won my first gold in January at Stout Bout, but since that’s a limited style comp (stouts only) it doesn’t qualify for OSHBOTY points.  The next full style competition after NHC Regionals was the COHO Spring Fling.  Much to my surprise, I snagged first place in the British Bitters category with my Strong Bitter.

2018 COHO Spring Fling

You earn points based on how many beers you “beat” to win the category.  So for a 6 entry category, I earned 5 points.  That puts me way at the bottom of the list (current leader is at 120 points) but I’m on the list! The goal wasn’t to win the thing, simply get on the scoreboard, and so I am!

2018 OSHBOTY1

The brewers at the top with 100+ points have all won a best in show.  That’s where the big points live.  Part of me thinks that’s unfair, but on the other hand, if your looking for the best brewer in the state, winning an entire competition should rate pretty highly.

The competition season isn’t over by a long shot, so still a chance to earn some more points, but for now….

Mission Accomplished!