For two people who know absolutely nothing about taste-testing beer, being assigned to cover Arbor Brewing Company”s January Porter Tasting event posed an interesting but not insurmountable challenge.

The skinny on ABC”s monthly beer tastings is this: For $25, they hand a hoard of people what is basically an oversized shot glass and send them into a small room for a two-hour long all-you-can-drink beer free for all.

This scenario would be absurd if patrons were expected to consume degenerate beers in the vein of Bud Light, Millwaukee”s Best, Pabst Blue Ribbon or anything advertised as “cold filtered” or “ice.” But that is not the case at ABC, where beer tastings are the alcoholic analogue of eating a box of quality chocolates the range of tastes is broad enough such that everyone is guaranteed to discover a few favorites and a few duds, along with a range of uninspiring flavors. And since this is a beer tasting everyone is, of course, obliged to share their feelings with one another.

Our intrepid journalistic skills led us to assume that most people are turned off by the hoighty-toity insider lingo that flavors most contemporary beer criticism. We had trouble understanding (much less incorporating into our speech) phrases like “long smooth black licorice finish” or “subtle accent of hardwood and smoked malt” found in the event”s program. So we each had to come up with our own method of articulating beer preference in search of a system that would be more accessible to the lay-person.

John”s system sought simplicity, basing itself on the always-applicable USDA consumption guideline the Four Food Groups. This beer tasting method divides the various components of beer taste into four easy-to-remember categories (grainy, fruity, meaty and milky).

Nick adopted a more “improvisational” approach, seeking inspiration from other Americans who artistically employed our nation”s freedom-embracing ideals. Thinking like Charlie Parker, Jackson Pollack and Jack Kerouac allowed Nick the freedom to say whatever he wanted about the beer.

We discovered that, basically, we were full of it. Ironically, the most intrinsic aspects of both of our methods were their greatest weaknesses.

Nick”s reliance on essentially divine verbal inspiration caused many of his comments to be repetitive and, in fact, fairly indistinguishable:

1) “The Fuller”s is sharp but it also lacks a distinct sweetness. The adjective I”d use for this is “basically sharp.” It”s slight, just a little bit sharp.” 2) “I”m tasting a hint of coffee in the Anchor Steam, it”s kinda sharp but not too sharp.”

Likewise, the inherent simplicity of the Four Food Groups method led John to redundancy:

1) “The Taddy Porter may do it, I think it”s the first beer of the night that”s meaty … “Meaty” yeah, meaty and fruity but it”s mostly meaty.” 2) “The Bell”s is meaty, it might even be the meatiest beer I”ve had tonight.” Moreover, John”s application of the word “meaty” seems to refer to each beer”s texture rather than flavor.

So, we turned to an expert to answer basic questions about beer, like precisely what the difference is between a porter and, say, a stout. “It”s just a style of beer,” explained ABC brewing czar Dug Jakubiak. “Porters tend to be a little higher in alcohol content. Porters are basically just a little more roasty.”

Even though he subjects himself to highly alcoholic beers like Porters on a regular basis, to Jakubiak brewing is a science, not an excuse to get railed.

“I”ll take little samples out of the fermenters and see how they”re doing at various stages and stuff. If you want to call it taste testing … a couple pints a day. You don”t have to chug all the time.”

But brewing beer doesn”t exactly come without prerequisites, “you don”t wanna be skinny. Never trust a skinny brewer, that”s for sure.”

ABC is holding its next beer testing this coming Thursday, Feb. 8. The focus: Strong Ales.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.