Beer Tasting

Study hard, learn about beer…
Photo by sincretic of Flickr.com

Teach them well…

I really enjoy working for my company. Not only is the work environment itself a good one, but it offers its employees numerous extracurricular activities to partake in when they are not on the clock handling the business of the day. Several great ways to de-stress. Not long ago, one such event was a wine tasting. They had sommeliers pour various wine styles for attendees and gave a sort of formal education on wine in a seminar-style atmosphere in the after-hours. The event proved to be a success. Not long ago, I had been recognized as a beer guy in my office. There was an exposé written about me entitled “Brewmaster” in one of our company newsletters and it detailed my love for beer, my home brewing history and my involvement with this website. I got plenty of positive attention from this particular piece and because of it, our event coordinator had a great idea for this time of year: an Oktoberfest-themed beer tasting. They already did a wine tasting succesfully, so why not try beer too? And just who do you think they asked to host it?

I sat down and worked out a budget, planning which beers to select and how to line them up for optimal contrast. I want these people to taste the difference in each beer. Below is the list of what I came up with. I grabbed a four or six pack or a bomber of each variety you see below. I also brought a case of bottled water. Why? Alcohol, in amounts large or small, dehydrates you. This is what leads to hangovers. I also wanted to make sure no one was too drunk to drive home after the event. I don’t want that hanging over my head. So I made sure we had plenty of liquid there. Plenty of food was purchased as well – a six foot sub and a snack platter tray with various meats and cheeses and other assorted garnishes. I want everyone to have a good time, but in a responsible fashion. Besides, these are my coworkers we’re talking about, not my drinking buddies in the local watering hole.

First I must admit that I was shocked at the turnout – the women outnumbered the men by an average of 6-1. Now I have been to beer festivals and have seen a large contingent of female attendees, often to the tune of 35-40% of the crowd, but nothing this lopsided. This was going to be interesting. The first poured beer was the Oktoberfest from Paulaner, fitting, because it is Oktoberfest after all. The Paulaner is arguably the finest variety of this style in all the land, so I made sure to select it. It was also a popular one, as some of the ladies asked for more of it throughout the event. The Old Rasputin was next, and I should not have been surprised that most of the women didn’t care for it. I was happy to notice though that these neophyte beer critics were beginning to understand the difference. I heard “wow this tastes like burnt coffee or espresso.” DING DING DING! Give that woman a cigar.  Another recognized the lemony/citrus notes in the Blanche Du Bruxelles. I was surprised when more of them did not cringe at the taste of the Centennial IPA. To be honest, most beer drinkers who live on light beer (flavored water) gasp in horror when they first taste this hoppy stuff. On that note, I had to explain what hoppy meant. They thought it was a cute term, and by this time the mood was definitely relaxed. Maybe they had images of fluffy bunny rabbits in their heads, who knows? I offered up definitions and meanings behind everything I was saying, because I was talking like a beer nerd, not a layperson or casual drinker. I also made sure to go over the proper pouring technique, swirling the beer to increase the head a bit and get a fuller bouquet, the smell and finally the taste. Most people just dive right in. I want these folks to learn it the right way. I’m gonna turn them into beer nerds yet, just you wait.

Getting to the Banana Bread Beer from Wells & Young’s Ltd was an interesting shift.  It smelled like banana Laffee Taffee. Everyone agreed as they buried their noses into their glasses. A few people liked it, a few didn’t care for it. They tasted the beer and while most concurred on the flavor, a few offered a different take. This brought forth discussion on the beer and more learning was achieved. “This is going beautifully” I thought to myself. Moving onto the Ommegang, I was suprised that many people didn’t like it. Maybe they were still savoring the banana flavor and weren’t ready for the Belgian kick yet. I told them I thought it was a solid take on an abbey ale and it was a highly rated brew. After a little discussion, I popped open the Schlafly and introduced them to Barleywine. I also went into a diatribe about the barrel aging process and its popularity these days, since this one is oak-aged, giving it a distinct taste. Many were blown away by this flavor and could understand why it’s one of my favorite beers as of late. The hit of the night though had to be my home brewed vanilla cream ale. Everyone loved it (much to my surprise) and kept asking for more. I’m happy about that. It made me feel proud of myself. The brew had been sitting out warming for a short time, so it wasn’t refrigerator cold. The warmer temperature really brought out the flavor in the beer. This is where I segwayed into another lesson for my young pupils – not all beer should be enjoyed right out of the fridge.

While I had anticipated that my home brew would be the grand finale, one of the ladies noticed that I had stashed a few other beers aside and was holding out. These were the Sierra Nevada Kellerweiss and the Ithaca Apricot Wheat. So I figured “why not, let’s give it to them.” The gang loved the Kellerweiss as I explained to them the spiced hefeweizen they were drinking, and explained to them how to pronounce it properly. Like in spanish the letter W is pronounced as (phonetically) “doblay-vay” or double V, rather than double U. Accordingly, Hefeweizen is pronounced hefe-veizen. Anyway, I got them all entertained and better informed, as well as better suited to drinking good craft beer. Maybe I won over a few new craft beer fans. Only time will tell. Everyone was happy with the turnout (attendance) as well as the way the event turned out. They all wanted me to plan for a Novemberfest and Decemberfest, etc. I guess I won some hearts and minds. In looking back, I thoroughly enjoyed doing this. I liked teaching people that there is more to life than mass market piss water that tries to pass itself off as beer. Most of all, I liked the fact that they all placed their trust in me to guide them and we all made it out ok. And who knows, maybe a few of them found a few new flavors they love. And much to my surprise, one of them told me she was really enjoying the Old Rasputin…   Mission Accomplished.

Beers on Hand for Tasting:

Paulaner Oktoberfest– Oktoberfest beer
North Coast Old Rasputin – Russian Imperial Stout
Blanche Du Bruxelles – Witbier
Founders Centennial IPA – India Pale Ale
Wells Banana Bread Beer – Fruity Beer
Ommegang Abbey Ale – Belgian Dubbel
Schlafly Reserve – Oak-aged Barleywine
Rip Van Winkle’s Vanilla Dream – Vanilla Cream Ale (my home brew)
Sierra Nevada Kellerweiss – Hefeweizen
Ithaca Apricot Wheat – Fruity Beer

Beer Tasting Flight photo by LA & OC Foodventures of flickr.com

Beer Tasting Flight photo by LA & OC Foodventures of flickr.com