Welcome back everyone! I hope you are all having a restful holiday season with lots of great beer! I know I did. This past week I went down to the Lehigh Valley in Eastern Pennsylvania to visit my in-laws for Christmas. For some people, this might mean awkward dinner time conversations about politics and religion, but for me this meant a captive audience to put on a tasting panel (and later play drunk Mario Kart). I was very excited for this panel because there was a lot of variation in my participants in terms of beer knowledge, appreciation, and preferences; and it helped reinforce why I wanted to start this blog in the first place. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did!
Remember, none of the participants know what beer is being given to them (myself excluded)- this is a blind taste test and I only inform them of what style of beer they are drinking. Not every person on every panel is an expert at reviewing beer and nobody’s palate is ever wrong- taste is purely subjective.
|Name: Rae||Name: Ben||Name: Lori|
|Age: 30||Age: 30||Age: 59|
|Occupation: Music Teacher||Occupation: Sales Manager||Occupation: Insurance New Business Coordinator|
|Level of Beer Appreciation (1-5): 5||Level of Beer Appreciation (1-5): 5||Level of Beer Appreciation (1-5): 3 (Wine is better)|
|Favorite Beer/Beer Style:
Wheat Beers, Lagers, Ales
|Favorite Beer/Beer Style: Originally a Budweiser guy, but is now also a fan of IPAs. Still enjoys Bud.||Favorite Beer/Beer Style: Porters and Stouts
Dislikes macro lagers
|Additional Qualifications/Info: Rich’s sister-in-law. Married to Ben.||Additional Qualifications/Info: Rich’s brother-in-law. Married to Rae.
|Additional Qualifications/Info: Rich’s mother-in-law. Rae’s mother.|
Starr Hill: Snow Blind
Beer Name: Snow Blind
Brewery: Starr Hill Brewery
Brewery Location: Crozet, VA
Beer Style: Doppelbock
When I was deciding what beers to pick for this particular panel, I wanted to include a beer that I can’t find or buy in my home state of Rhode Island, a beer that my in-laws couldn’t find or buy in Pennsylvania, and a beer that was right in their own backyard. So I decided to start the tasting off with Snow Blind Doppelbock from Starr Hill Brewery (slightly ironic considering Christmas Day was 45 degrees and sunny). Snow Blind poured a dark red-brown color with a little bit of head that slowly dissipated. The entire group picked up on hints of sweet caramel/toffee in the aroma, while Ben and I also detected some fruity notes (which reminded me of maraschino cherries).
The group was more or less on the same page in terms of the flavors that were being picked up. The beer started off sweet on the palate, but quickly dried out in the finish with a slightly bitter/astringent aftertaste. It’s difficult to assess where this bitterness is coming from considering the IBUs of this beer are pretty low (I don’t think we were tasting hop bitterness). Rae picked up notes of burnt sugar, while Lori detected caramel. Consistent with his observations from the aroma, Ben said he tasted some slight fruitiness in the aftertaste which reminded him of blueberries. I thought I tasted slight notes of cherries, which reminded me of cough syrup; and when I shared this observation to the group, Ben and Lori both took another sip and agreed. I can’t be certain whether this fruity characteristic is a yeast ester or a result of oxidation, but most of the group picked up on this nevertheless. The consensus among the group was that this beer was good enough, but none of us would order a second pint- except for Lori who said she enjoyed the beer, especially as it warmed up.
Trillium: Secret Stairs
Beer Name: Secret Stairs
Brewery: Trillium Brewing Company
Brewery Location: Boston, MA
Beer Style: American Stout
For the next beer in the tasting panel, I wanted to give them something from my neck of the woods. Trillium is notable right now for being among the leading breweries setting the standard for the hazy “New England Style” IPA. Because of that, it seems like many people hold Trillium (and other such breweries) in such high regard that they can do no wrong. So I wanted to sneak one of their beers onto this panel because they have never even heard of Trillium or its hype (they’re not beer geeks like me, so they’re REALLY unbiased). I’ll tell you right now that I didn’t do an IPA from Trillium because two out of my three panelists do not like IPAs.
Secret Stairs pours an opaque black color with an off-white/tan head that sticks around as you drink it. The entire group detected coffee in the aroma. Ben noted that he also tasted notes of sweet milk chocolate in the aroma, and Rae picked up on black licorice. To me, there was a sort of burnt quality in the aroma (though not smoky). The most assertive flavor in this beer was definitely the coffee (that was the first note on everybody’s tasting sheet). Rae and I said that the beer had a thick mouthfeel, but also finished very dry. Rae and Ben also picked up on hints of vanilla, and had a slight bitter aftertaste. Lori said that the coffee notes became more amplified as the beer warmed up over time. Considering my entire panel consisted of big coffee drinkers, everyone loved this beer and said that they would buy another pint. I, on the other hand, drink coffee much less frequently and while I did enjoy the coffee flavor, I could only drink one of these at a time. To me the flavors were a bit too ashy and acrid for me to drink this beer over and over again. However, it’s still a great tasting beer in my opinion.
Beer Name: Quad
Brewery: Weyerbacher Brewing Company
Brewery Location: Easton, PA
Beer Style: Belgian-style Quad
For the last beer in this panel, I decided that I wanted to sneak something from my in-laws’ backyard (almost literally). I absolutely love Belgian-style Quadrupels (Quads)- when done right, they’re a boozy marriage of dark fruit and spice flavors that I absolutely love. That said, I forgot that both Rae and Ben are not fans of high alcohol Belgian-style beers (whoops), so they had some *ahem* colorful observations for this beer. So just a heads up- you’re going to get the good, the bad, and the ugly in terms of tasting notes for this beer.
Weyerbacher Quad pours a hazy amber color with very minimal lacing that disappears almost instantaneously (likely from the high alcohol content). Lori and I both picked up on a fig characteristic that reminded Lori of a Fig Newton. Additionally I detected notes of raisins, plum, black cherry, and a heavy alcohol aroma (reminiscent of paint thinner). Ben said that the beer smelled first like turpentine, then like the glue he uses to make model trains (and he also agreed with my paint thinner analogy). After smelling for several minutes, the glue smell gave way to some fruit and spice aromas for him (though he struggled to identify specific fruits/spices). Rae said that the beer smelled like the inside of a shoe (I told you this would get ugly). I was unsatisfied with such a general answer (was it a running shoe? Work boots? Ballerina slippers?), so Rae said it smelled like the inside of a leather sandal after I pushed her for details. The tasting session paused for several minutes of laughter. Just remember- taste is purely subjective (that was my mantra in that moment).
In terms of flavor, Lori and I both picked up on the dark fruit qualities of the beer (black cherry, dates, and especially fig). Lori picked up on a note that made the beer almost seem lightly sour (tart). Similarly, both Lori and Ben thought the beer had a cidery feel to it (it didn’t taste like cider, but there were qualities to it that reminded them of cider). The entire group agreed that the alcohol did not hide in this beer, which was fine for Lori and myself, but not so much for Rae and Ben (Rae described this beer as borderline liquor). The beer definitely had a burn to it as it went down your throat. When asked if they would buy a second pint of this, there was a resounding no from Rae and Ben, while Lori said she would buy this beer again. I also liked this beer, though if I am going to be nitpicky, I would prefer that this beer be somewhere closer to 9% (the alcohol in this was quite intense at nearly 12%). That said, I found it quite tasty!