What to do with all that beer?
A couple months ago, during an extended weekend with family, we decided to have a spur of the moment do it yourself beer tasting. Relatives from Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin had assembled in Minnesota. Lots of craft beer was brought along to share. We faced the dilemma of having many bottles of beer, but very little time to drink them. What better way to get a sampling of all the choices, than to do a beer tasting. So, since we are a family full of statisticians, scientists and technical experts, we needed to make this into an official experiment.
Setting up your tasting
You too can do this at home!
We grabbed tasting glasses, paper and pencils, and a bottle opener and began. In hindsight, we should have declared a formal guideline for our ratings. We said, “rate them from 1-5, with 5 being the best,” but some people gave + and – ratings, like 4- or 2+ and other people got more precise with scores like 4.25. So the results I’m reporting may have ended up slightly different if we had all used the same scoring system, but close enough? The other rule that we should have declared was that all participants needed to turn in their results at the end. We had nine tasters, but only eight people shared their results.
If you decide to do this at home, here are some additional tips that might make your beer tasting run more smoothly:
- Make sure to have a pitcher of water available so that people can have a drink of water and rinse their glasses between beers.
- Have a place for people dump beer they don’t like. We did this in the kitchen, so the sink was nearby.
- Have some crackers available for palate cleansing.
- Line your beer up from lightest to darkest and taste them in that order.
- If you have more time to prepare, you may wish to print up a list of the beers you are tasting in advance. We didn’t do any advance preparations and it worked fine, but it would make it easier if everyone didn’t have to write down the names of the beer before deciding their rating.
- Slow down. Take time to read the description on the bottle of each beer before people taste it. Enjoy reactions and comments from everyone before rushing on to the next beer.
- Everyone participating must be of legal drinking age. Our participants ranged in age from 29 to 80.
- No one drinking should be driving. Duh!
We sampled twelve craft beers. Well, eleven craft beers and one bottle of non-craft beer that had been taking up refrigerator space for far too long and just had to go.
- Sam Adams – Old Fezziwig Ale. Sam Adams hails from Boston, Massachusetts. The brewer describes it as spicy and bold. With a rich malt character, the spiced brown ale is supposed to have hints of sweet toffee, caramel, chocolate, cinnamon, ginger and orange peel. It is a beer for the holidays. 5.9% ABV.
- Leinenkugel – Bavarian Dunkel. Brewed in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, this is another winter seasonal, its brewer calls it a medium bodied dark lager. It has notes of cocoa, toasted malt, and winter spices. 5.5% ABV. 12 IBU.
- New Glarus – Staghorn Octoberfest. Brewed in New Glarus, Wisconsin, this is a Bavarian Octoberfest styled beer that the brewer says has a smooth amber body with an incredible spice bouquet.
- Big Lake Brewing – Leroy Brown Ale. Brewed in Holland, Michigan. This northern English Brown ale is made with four caramel malts and chocolate. 5.2% ABV. 18 IBU.
- West O – Smoked Red Ale. Brewed in West Okoboji, Iowa. The brewer tells us that it has nutty flavors mixed with dark fruit from dark caramel malts. It is a smoked beer that isn’t that smoky. 6.5% ABV. 20 IBU.
- Big Sky – Moose Drool Brown Ale. Brewed in Missoula, Montana, it is touted as light on the palate with subtle coffee and cocoa notes. 5.1% ABV. 26 IBU.
- St. Pauli Girl Lager. Brewed at the St. Pauli Girl Brewery but controlled by Anheuser Busch, it touts a distinctive full-bodied taste and a hoppy aroma. 4.9% ABV. 18 IBU.
- Left Hand Brewing – Milk Stout Nitro. Brewed in Longmont, Colorado. It is a Sweet Stout style beer that is creamy with flavors of roasted malt and cream. 6% ABV. 25 IBU.
- Stone Brewing – Xocoveza. This brewery is in Escondido, California. This beer is unique. It is called a Winter-Spiced Mocha Stout and it is the spices that make it very different. The brewer tells us it is layered with cocoa, coffee, peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and milk sugar, trying to be reminiscent of Mexican hot chocolate. 8.1% ABV. 50 IBU.
- New Holland – Dragon’s Milk Reserve. Brewed in Holland, Michigan. The Reserved line of their beers take their popular Dragon’s Milk beer and add things. In our case, we were trying their raspberry infused reserve. It is a Stout aged in oak with raspberry and lemon. 11% ABV. 31 IBU.
- Founders – Backwoods Bastard. This beer is brewed in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This is Founder’s Dirty Bastard beer taken through the barrel-aging process. The brewer advises that we can expect warm smells of single malt scotch, oaky bourbon barrels, smoke, sweet caramel and roasted malts. If you read my blog on barrel-aged beer, you can probably guess how I rated this beer, but more on scores later. 11.2% ABV. 50 IBU.
- Saugatuk – Neapolitan Milk Stout. Brewed in Saugatuk, Michigan, this beer is another unique beer. It has flavors of Neapolitan Ice Cream. 6.0% ABV. 37 IBU.
The winners and losers
Highest average score
New Glarus – Staghorn Octoberfest received the highest overall average score. I guess this means that if you are buying beer for a crowd and want to please most, this would be a beer to choose. The lowest scores it received were two 3.5 scores. It got a 5.0 from one person who had been drinking it as a favorite before the tasting, so that may have skewed the results a tiny bit.
Lowest average score
St. Pauli Girl received the lowest average score. It really isn’t fair, because St. Pauli Girl is not a craft beer and didn’t really belong in the competition. But, it only averaged a 1.31 score. A couple people gave it a score of 0. Yes, our range was from 1-5, but again, we should have maybe established firmer scoring rules.
Of the true craft beers that were sampled, Stone Brewing’s Xocoveza got the lowest average score at 2.84. It is an unusual beer that people either really liked or really didn’t like. Three scores of 1.0 brought down the average. Tasting this beer really showed how everybody has different taste buds. It was described as having flavors of cocoa, coffee, peppers, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and milk sugar. There were some in our group who almost cringed and could only taste the peppers and others who tasted only a hint of pepper but more flavors of chocolate and cinnamon. Even though it got a low average score in our exercise, it is something that everyone should give a try. Because, if you like it, you will probably really like it.
Highest maximum scores
Three beers received a perfect score of 5.0 from at least one participant. This means that some people really love these brews.
- New Glarus – Staghorn Octoberfest got one perfect score.
- Left Hand Brewing – Milk Stout Nitro got one perfect score.
- Founders – Backwoods Bastard got perfect 5.0 scores from two participants. Maybe not so coincidentally, these two also signed up to be Maker’s Mark Ambassadors later in the weekend and are now anxiously awaiting seeing their names on a bourbon barrel.
Lowest maximum scores
Other than St. Pauli Girl receiving a couple scores of 0.0, and three people giving the Xocoveza a score of 1.0, the lowest scores were given to New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk – Reserved. One person rated it a .5 and another rated it a 1.0. One of the low scores came from someone who detests raspberries, so the score was understandable, but interestingly, these two low scores came from the two people who gave the lowest ratings over all, only averaging 2.25 and 2.5 for all of the scores they gave. These are probably our too soberest family members.
This was a fun, impromptu, event. We tasted and laughed and argued a little over whether a beer was good or not. Several of us added beers to our lists on Untappd so that we could remember them later. Oh, and if you are ever visiting me, I won’t mind at all if you show up with a few bottles of Backwoods Bastard.