I’ve been working on a variation of one of our beer recipes, a little experimentation with dry hopping using some of the Cascades that we picked last summer in late haziness of August. We brewed SMaSH with them when fresh and air-dried the rest packing them into zipper bags and tucking them away in the freezer for future use. The future is now. Experiments are fun. Part of the fun is anticipation but the best part is tasting the results! So, with the experiment done, the beer spent two frigid weeks of under 10 psi of CO2 to carbonate. Time to drink deep and evaluate.
When I really want to taste a beer, especially a new beer, I drink it in the morning before coffee (gasp!), before brushing teeth, but after a glass of water. This is when I feel like my palette is the most alive and receptive. I’m not talking about a tiny sample here, I want a full pour, enough to properly evaluate the beer. I want the initial assessment of color, foam, carbonation, then aroma, then the initial taste. Then, I want to experience the evolution of the beer’s taste over the time it takes to drain the glass. As one drinks, there’s desensitization of the palate to the initial flavors and aromas but other elements of the beer come out. I admire the color, the bubbles and the head. This beer has a meringue like head clinging to the sides of the glass, that’s important to note too. I swirl the beer and the carbonation lessens. The beer warms and different aromas are released. All of this experience of the full pour is important as is the question, “Do I want another one?” The answer better be “Yes!”
As I move throughout the day thinking about that morning draught, I reflect on how it sat on my palette, how the bubbles felt in my mouth. Was the malt aroma I like in this beer still there now that it must compete with the aroma form the Cascades that I added. The beer did taste good and I really did want another. Several hours later, a little after lunchtime and I’m at a friend’s brewery sampling beer again and I stop and think to myself, “Damn, I’m Lucky! Only a brewer gets to do this!” It’s a part of the job that we have to taste beer. Anyone else would get fired if they drank in the morning. But for us, its what makes our beer great. We taste. Taste again. Then, taste again.
As an aside, I was helping to keg some beer at a friend’s brewery and I noticed the beer lost per keg. It’s the same amount for a ½ BBL as it is for a sixtel. I grabbed a cup and placed it under the blow-off stream and measured the amount lost. It adds up! As I filled kegs I drank a pint collected and contemplated that collecting all that beer and drinking it off would have me walking out of the brewery a little sideways. For an analogy, we have a friend who makes chocolate. The guy is thin. Every couple of months, he throws a party to give away the ‘waste’ – basically, imperfect chocolates. Can you imagine eating ‘waste’ chocolate and ‘waste’ beer all day? No one would be able to fit through a door, let alone function. Somethings are better left on the floor!
Seriously, I believe there is a different appreciation of beer when you drink it at different times during the day. As a society, we have a tendency to make rules about when we can and cannot drink beer – because of the alcohol, of course. Rules like, “It’s 5 o’clock somewhere” or only weekends or only with friends. Looking past that, you can taste and drink that beer throughout the day and have a different sense of tastes and flavors that don’t reveal themselves at 5pm. The brewer is interested in this because that experience helps inform and guide quality control. We ask ourselves important questions like, does this taste the same to me now as it did this morning? If not then why? Why has my perception changed? Also, the beer in the tank doesn’t give a shit what time it is. Time is not a construct of beer or yeast, it is a construct of people and famously the marketers who gave us “Miller time”.
As brewers, we need to be curious. It’s not about getting drunk, it’s about tasting our creations as if it were any other food or agricultural product. A farmer wouldn’t hesitate to taste her cow’s milk or chicken’s eggs in the morning, nor would a cheesemaker think twice about if the time of day suits sampling the cheese or not. These producers and artisans are only interested in tasting and refining their products to be the best. It’s a completely different mentality about product that we understand. We take our jobs as brewers seriously and know that in working with a living product that changes as it ages, having a thorough understanding of its complexity, How and when and why it changes gives us critical insight into making the best beer we can.