So you think you know your Craft Beers?

The Beer Tasting Line-up

I’ve been thinking a lot about the development and evolution of my palate lately. The types of beers I enjoy, the flavours I can discern and my ability to articulate differences between beers has changed a great deal since I began exploring the world of craft beer a couple of years ago but how far have my skills come? When push comes to shove can I tell my Budweisers from my Brooklyn Lagers? How well do any of us self-proclaimed beer enthusiasts really know our ales? In order to put my skills to the test I recruited five willing (does bribing with cupcakes count as willing?) guinea pigs to try a blind taste test. I chose nine beers all with an ABV of around 4%-8% and all fairly middle of the range style-wise i.e. no heavy stouts, double IPA’s, cask conditioning or anything else that might give away the craft element. I created a rating chart so people could comment on appearance, aroma, flavour and then provide their best guess as to whether the sample was a craft or commercial beer, the brand, the style or anything else they wanted to mention. I put myself in the role of omnipresent beer god so I knew which beers were being served but I still partook of the sampling purely in the name of science. Other variables to note; I served everything quite cold and in glass, I rinsed between samples and water with lemon was available to cleanse the palate. To amalgamate the results I decided to highlight a few of the reviewer’s comments on each aspect of the beer in the table that follows:

BEER STATS APPEARANCE AROMA FLAVOUR BEST GUESS
Mendocino Brewing Company Red Tail Ale American Style Amber Ale

Handcrafted American

ABV 6.1%

“Just by looking at it I thought it was craft”

“dark amber”

“subtle”

“standard”

 

“mild hop”

“woodsy”

“bitter, hoppy, caramel”

“Craft”

“Not Kokanee”

“Pale Ale”

Driftwood Ale Northwest-style Pale Ale

Craft Canadian

ABV 5%

“Golden cloudy”

“honey”

“light colour”

“sour tinge”

“mild at best”

“simple”

“harsh metallic finish”

“reminiscent of soap”

“fruity, citrus, light hops”

“Not Craft?”

“could be a craft because of the cloudiness”

“mass produced light ale”

Stella Artois Belgian Premium Lager

Commercial Import

ABV 5%

“very light”

“Domestic, industrial”

“very filtered

“familiar but not distinctive”

“little aroma”

“Doesn’t leave much behind”

“metallic finish”

“green apple sour/sweet mix”

“Mass lager”

“Industrial”

“Canadian?”

Tree Brewing Co. Cutthroat Pale Ale A Classic Pale Ale

Craft Canadian

ABV 5%

“Fall colours”

“Light Amber”

“a little cloudy”

 “warm, earthy, sweet” “smooth and citrus”

“hint of hop”

“airy after taste”

“Six pack standard craft”

“Pale Ale”

“Craft”

Molson M Microcarbonated Lager

Commercial Canadian

ABV 4.9%

“super filtered”

“super light”

“Beer hall”

“White grapes, sweet”

“Nothing here, flat line”

“Apple, sweet, but very tepid”

“Smooth and dry”

“Summer Beer”

“Industrial Lager”

“Craft?”

Colt 45 Strong Beer

Commercial American

ABV 8%

“Makes me worry”

“light golden, foamy”

“honey”

“Sweet, flowery”

“Standard beer”

“Not much”

“Lingering aftertaste makes me suspect mass market”

“Fruity – but what kind?”

“Stronger finish”

“Maybe a strong beer”

“Belgian?”

“Mass produced pilsner”

Brooklyn Brewery Lager American Amber Lager

Craft American

ABV 5.2%

“Amber”

“Golden Amber”

“sweet, hoppy”

“complex and sweet”

“enjoyable”

“Excellent, well balanced”

“sweet grapefruit”

“Hop aftertaste”

“Perhaps Brooklyn”

“Craft”

“IPA?”

Budweiser Lager (?)

Commercial Canadian

ABV 5%

“Apple juice”

“very light yellow”

“unappealing”

“no aroma”

“not much”

 

“Meh…”

“No flavour”

“Not offensive”

“Molson?”

“Industrial lager”

“Possible craft”

Moon Under Water Lunar Pale Ale Pale Ale

Craft Canadian

ABV 4.2%

“Deep amber”

“Clear”

“Little head”

“Hoppy, floral”

“Flowery, grapefruit”

“stronger than most”

“Clean taste, a little sweet, some hops”

“Smooth with robust pop”

“Lingering finish”, excellent”

“Higher production craft”

“Craft IPA”

Pale Ale Red Ale”

So what did I learn from this experiment? Well after several hours of gruelling conditioning I could make my guests salivate when I rang a bell …oh no wait wrong experiment. Seriously now, I was impressed with everyone’s ability to pinpoint the majority of the craft beers while at the same time I was impressed with some of the complexity people were getting from those mass marketed beers we tend to pass over in our trips to the beer store. The Colt 45 was a particularity interesting case since the higher ABV seemed to confuse our palates by bringing out contesting elements that made one lean towards craft then lean back towards commercial. At the same time the less-than-stellar reaction to Driftwood was a bit of a surprise. To be fair to all the beers nine is a large sample to keep things distinct and if I had more glass ware I should have probably served everyone all nine in one sitting so they could compare and contrast. For those who rated their samples using various systems Brooklyn Lager was the clear winner followed closely by the other craft selections. The best of the rest was probably the Colt 45 and Molson M. Overall an amazingly fun and informative evening and I would like to give a quick acknowledgement to all of my most excellent human subjects – ‘The participant with fancy shoes’ ‘The participant who likes sex often’ ‘The participant who likes light coloured beer’ ‘The participant who wears a size 12’ and ‘The participant who likes the way Guinness changes colour’. Cheers guys!

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