From high to low brow A $2 tall boy or a $5 microbrew: What’s the difference? | Last week, the Vanguard set out to solve the mystery of beer snobbery by conducting a good old-fashioned taste test.
Last week, the Vanguard set out to solve the mystery of beer snobbery by conducting a good old-fashioned taste test.
Eight participants gathered on the first downpour of the season to make beer-drinking history and solve the ancient question: How cheaply can you buy beer and get away with it?
Specifically, what does it take for your taste buds to protest and your guests to
start looking as bitter as the cheap lager you purchased at Trader Joe’s?
The methodology of this beersearch (beer research) included a five-category ranking system: presentation, taste, body, flavor and palate sensation. Participants evaluated their beer samples in these categories on a scale of 1–10. At the end of each round, participants added up the points for a possible total of 50.
The testing was rigorous.
Participants were not allowed to leave the testing area (the kitchen) except to use the bathroom or to pet the often-yowling cat in the living room. Snacks were provided to keep the tasters’ energy levels up, and only once did the administrator of the project have to admonish three of the participants for huddling in the corner and chitchatting rather than filling out their beer test sheets promptly.
Research followed a progression from light (lager and pilsner) to full-bodied ambers and brown ale to dark beers such as stouts and porters.
For the most part, the beers’ price points escalated as the tasting went on, beginning with the inexpensive Name Tag Lager and Simpler Times Pilsner from Trader Joe’s and ending in a blindfolded test between craft beer darling Deschutes Brewery’s Black Butte Porter and Boatswain Chocolate Stout, a cheap college student’s delight.
A few of the guests responded politely to the lower-income beers they sampled at the start of the taste test, providing delicate observations like: “Thin, light brown/golden apple.
Bubbly,” or “No aftertaste, or hops, but still balanced,” or “I would rather drink this than PBR!” Others, such as fellow Vanguard reporter Andrew Morse, were more likely to respond with a humorously grim purse of the lips.
Onward the participants slogged through the “metallic” and “thin” beers, and were encouraged to stop whining and throw it back so they could move on.
Next was the cornucopia round of ambers in which not one, not two, but three ambers were sampled. (The writer of this article had an overabundance of this particular variety of beer in the refrigerator, given her preference for this smoothest, maltiest of beers.)
MacTarnahan’s Amber Ale—an ale that some beer drinkers enjoy with a slice of lemon—was poured, and a general sigh of relief overcame the testing quarters. Next, Full Sail Amber, which was the most caramel-flavored of the ambers sampled, and the Oakshire Amber Ale, from an up-and-coming brewery in Eugene, were tasted, with average responses. Most testers felt Oakshire’s beer had a bitter aftertaste, while the MacTarnahan’s was the most popular beer of the night. “YUMM!” wrote one tester, while another wrote that the palate sensations “feel good.”
(Notice the lack of IPAs among the tested beers? Could it be that there are different types of beer to be enjoyed besides the hoppy, palate-distorting India Pale Ale?)
By far the most popular tasting round of the evening was the blindfolded round.
First, tasters compared the Lagunitas Pils to Simpler Times Pilsner and (drawing from their recollections of how that pilsner tasted in the second round of the tasting) participants were asked whether they preferred the Lagunitas Pils or the cheaper brand; surprisingly, Simpler Times won.
Perhaps the palates of the tasters were too boozy at this point? Just to be sure about the implications of the first round’s results, a second round of testing was launched. This time, it was Boatswain Chocolate Stout against Deschutes Black Butte Porter. Which one did they prefer? The majority of tasters shocked the researcher by voting in favor of Boatswain.
During both of what became known as the “blackout rounds,” tasters were unanimously able to determine the difference between the cheap Trader Joe’s beer and the craft beer in both categories. Usually tasters preferred the cheaper version.
Morse offered that every palate experiences beer differently, and it’s difficult to predict which beer a taster will prefer.
“Can I get a pint of that with a blindfold, too, please?” one of the more boisterous testers asked.
One taster thought perhaps women participants scored high marks in discerning craft beer from cheap beer because of their gender.
So rest assured, humble beer drinker, you will find a beer for your budget somewhere in between the “no aftertaste” of Name Tag and a yummy craft-brewed amber, with or without the palate revelations sent your way while you’re blindfolded and handed a plastic cup in a student researcher’s garage.
As last week’s study showed Portland State beersearchers, a student beer drinker should evaluate more than price when selecting a six-pack or filling up their growler.
If price is a consideration—and when will is it not?—try to conceive of an interesting progression, a poor woman’s tasting, if you will. Start cheap, spend $10 or $20 treating yourself and your friends to a few different craft beers, and then take a hard right toward your price point. Don’t waste your money on expensive craft-brewed IPAs, which will sterilize your taste buds for the night and prevent you from enjoying a variety of beer.
Follow our modest suggestions and by the end of the night you’ll be well on your way to making your own beer-drinking history!
Black butte porter:
Like velvet on your tongue. Almost black in color, this medium-bodied brew caters to your “darker”side.
Full sail amber:
Caramel delicious! Hoppy but not too hoppy, this ale’s sweet and malty with a nice smooth finish.
Boatswain chocolate stout:
Deep, bold and rich, this chocolate-y beer will satisfy all your heavier beer cravings.
A Czech-style beer, the Pils’ mellow hops, light floral notes and sunshiny-gold hue will leave you wishing for lazy afternoons.
With a bit of a bite and mild hoppiness, this coppery-red ale’s a palette pleaser.
Hilarious! Nice work.