Blind Beer Tasting: Relying on Our Other Senses

Last Friday, I went to a blind tasting hosted by Heavy Table and the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild – my first ever. And, boy, it was tough. Never in my life had I been so faced with the inability to react to visual cues and branding. I was left to focus on my other beer-drinking senses, rather than my “does this label suck?” sense – which, if you know me, is very hard to turn off. But at the same time it was liberating to not have to worry about the company, style, reputation or branding (I guess, until after, when it was revealed and some of our opinions proved surprising).

What was fun though was experiencing the “back to basics” approach that a blind tasting brings out – it’s not about the fancy label or name (or lackthereof), how the beer fits the style guidelines (although they were in flights kind of organized by style or flavors, Brown bag 40sor recognizing it has a high ABV,  hence the tulip glass. All of the beers we tasted came in tulip glasses or beer festival tasters, adding to the intrigue (and frustration). Much like these 40s (had a few weeks ago at World Street Kitchen), hidden inside brown bags, you don’t know what’s there or how to feel about it before you taste it and truly know how you feel about it. I spent most of my time swirling and smelling – I could not get enough of the scents. Next time you have a beer, although you may look like an idiot, close your eyes and breath it all in. Never have I had so many memories or feelings flooding my brain. BEER FEELINGS!

That all being said, it was cool for me to see which beers I really liked – those that I liked with and without the branding (Indeed Burr Grinder, Summit Frost Line Rye) and those that surprised me, both positively and negatively. Check out the article to read more and see some cool pictures!

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13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 13: Avery’s Rumpkin

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#13 – October 13, 2013: Rumpkin by Avery Brewing Co. (Boulder, CO)

It’s the moment you’ve ALL been waiting for; the 13th beer review in the 13 Days of Pumpkin Beer guest blog!  And what better way to celebrate the 13th spooky-scary day, than after a horror movie at the $3 theater and a beer review at midnight??  PS, “The Conjuring” is terrifying, and most likely not complete BS, according to my resident lawyer.

Color: Amber, gold, and russet

Year of conception: 2010

ABV: 18.53%

Cost: $12.00 + tax for a single 12oz bottle

Availability: Not.  I had heard rumors about this beer, but was unable to track it down until the beginning of October at a small, upscale liquor store next to my gym.  Sales were limited to a SINGLE BOTTLE PER PERSON.  Oh, and did I mention I called every day for a week to see if they had it in yet??!

Description by Avery Brewing Co.: “We wondered what would happen if a monstrous pumpkin ale, plump full of spicy gourdiness, were aged in fine fresh rum barrels to add suggestions of delicate oak and candied molasses. Rumpkin is what happened! This first member of the Annual Barrel-Aged Series was brewed with roasted pumpkins from a local Boulder County farm, and spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger.”

From first sniff, one can tell that this is not your average beer; much like Tracy Jordan’s “Werewolf Barmitzvah” is a spin-off of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” Avery took significant creative liberties when crafting Rumpkin.  Fall spices wrapped in dark rum invade your nostrils and encourage you to test your pumpkin, er, rumpkin ale limits!  The ale itself is a sweet, slippery, syrupy beverage that conveniently slides down your gullet and quickly invades your blood stream.  The unlikely combination of hard alcohol, beer, and pumpkin may create many skeptics, but one sip and skeptics everywhere will wish they were simultaneously carving pumpkins, watching football, and jumping into piles of fallen leaves.  While not your “typical” pumpkin ale and rather pricey, I encourage everyone to raise their gourds and toast this Pumpkin King!

Pie Pieces: 4+ –  Super-duper cool Jack-o-lantern!

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Days 11 & 12: Wynkoop’s Pumpkin Ale & Epic’s Imperial Pumpkin Porter

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#11 – October 11, 2013: Pumpkin Ale by Wynkoop Brewing Co. (Denver, CO)

Note: Wynkoop Brewing Co’s website is very user-unfriendly, and has absolutely NO mention of their pumpkin beer = FAIL. Granted, this beer was created a little over a month ago and is part of their “even smaller batch” series.  But STILL.

Color: Honey blonde

Year of conception: 2013

ABV: 5.5%

Cost: $8.99 + tax for 4-pack of 12oz cans

Availability: Colorado (all people from MN must come to CO in the FALL!)

Description by Wynkoop Brewing Co.: “A gently spiced English-style brown ale enhanced with pumpkin three ways: fresh roasted, pureed and flaked.”

Pumpkin aromatics excite the drinker when first sniffing this beer.  But unbridled excitement quickly dissipates into angry disappointment when taking one’s first sip.  While the pumpkin is apparent from the aromatics, upon imbibing the godly-gourd flavor disappears and is replaced by a boring, malty English ale completely void of pumpkin.  However, this beer is still delicious, and the initial fragrances ignite the imagination.  But much like Charlie Brown in the pumpkin path waiting for the great pumpkin, I’m unsure if the pumpkin flavor is real, or just a figment of Linus’ imagination.

Pie Pieces: 2.5 – Still Ripening on the Vine

#12 – October 12, 2013: Imperial Pumpkin Porter by Epic Brewing Co. (Salt Lake City, UT)

What is it with Salt Lake City and brewing pumpkin beer?  How do the Mormons do it, without being able to drink alcohol??!  Seriously, HOW? (Editor’s note: the beer scene in Utah is bumpin’, but is definitely not driven by Mormons. The conservative liquor laws have actually forced craft beer to push the envelope in the state. All bottles and all high gravity. AWESOME.)

Color: Very dark, chocolaty brown

Year of conception: 2011

ABV: 8.0%

Cost: $7.99 + tax for a bomber (22oz.)

Availability: 14 states across the country, including (allegedly) MN!

Description by Epic Brewing Co.: “The essence of the fall!  This beer explodes with aromas of sweet spices giving way to chocolate and roasted malt.  Flavors are reminiscent of fresh-cut pumpkin and chocolate and complimented by hints of clove, fresh Madagascar vanilla beans, nutmeg and allspice.”

This is the twelfth release of Epic’s Imperial Pumpkin, and yet the pumpkin is missing.  The stout as a whole is just that, a stout, but not a bad one per se.  But in terms of it’s pumpkin-y goodness, it’s as if Epic took all the chocolate candy from Halloween, threw in some pumpkin seeds, and dubbed it king of Halloween-town, without any reason except for the high alcohol content putting “imperial” in its name.  Even Jack Skellington had reason to doubt his appointment as pumpkin king, and I feel like this beer may be better off in the hands of Sandy Claws than advertised as an overture to autumn.  Even though it is a tasty stout, I don’t appreciate the price tag or deception, and am royally disappointed with its pumpkin title.

Pie Pieces: 2.5 – Still Ripening on the Vine

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 10: Denver Beer’s Hey! Pumpkin

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#10 – October 10, 2013: Hey! Pumpkin’ by Denver Beer Co. (Denver, CO)

I have a certain bias towards LOVING Denver Beer Co., as I worked with an owner’s wife at Children’s Hospital Colorado.  And yes, I do go to DBC occasionally just to destroy my significant other in Candy Land and/or “accidentally” cheat at battleship.

Color: Honey brown

Year of conception: 2013

ABV: ???

Cost: $14.99 + tax for a growler

Availability: only Denver, CO for now, sorry!

Description by Denver Beer Co: “As the weather turns cool this spiced beer is sure to warm you up.  The pumpkin brew has a gorgeous, unmistakable “pumpkinguts-orange” pour thanks to over 100 pounds of real pumpkin used in the mash.  The nose if full of cinnamon and nutmeg spices with a drink that is a melody of autumn and a lingering finish that will have you reaching for your sweater.”

*Disclaimer: I bought this growler 3-4 weeks ago, so the flavor may no longer be accurate.  The nutmeg and cinnamon are still potent aromatics, but the beer itself isn’t as special as I remember.  It’s more of a “pumpkinguts-orange” flavor than pour, and the spices disappear when imbibing the liquid.  There’s nothing intriguing about this ale except that it is only available at DBC, and that I would have been happier reviewing a glass than a growler (#whitegirlproblems).  Given my track record of only viciously slamming one beer thus far, I think I will take one for the team for not drinking my growler sooner and preserve DBC’s dignity, giving them kudos for their sportsmanship and effort, a la Denver Broncos circa 2012.  Maybe next year guys, maybe next year!

Pie Pieces: 2 – Green

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 9: Dry Dock’s Imperial Pumpkin

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#9 – October 9, 2013: Imperial Pumpkin by Dry Dock Brewing Co. (Aurora, CO)

There’s nothing scarier in Colorado than Aurora.  Seriously. Do you even READ the news?  So I was a bit suspicious when Dry Dock “suddenly” came out with a “pumpkin” beer.

Color: Russet

Year of conception: 2013

ABV: 9.0%

Cost: $9.99 + tax for one 22oz bottle

Availability: all liquor stores great and small (probably not outside CO for now)

Description by Dry Dock Brewing Co: “This spiced Imperial Pumpkin Ale is Autumn in a glass. Real pumpkin added into the mash brings a rich, smooth base to this copper colored ale. Saigon and Indonesian cinnamons, nutmeg, ginger, allspice, mace and cloves spark thoughts of all of the gruesome things that make this such a special time of year!”

Holy Headless Horseman.  This beer is AWESOME!  Warm pumpkin pie straight from the oven greets your nostrils as you inhale this fragrant ale.  From first smell to first taste to the bottom of the glass, I can’t get enough of this beer!  The pumpkin added directly to the mash highlights the “classic” pie spices of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, but I think the secret ingredient is cloves.  Every year I make pumpkin pie from scratch, and you have to add CLOVES in order to make PUMPKIN pie.  Luscious, light, and lascivious, this ale will seduce your taste buds and make you cheat on what you thought was your favorite pumpkin beer.

Pie Pieces: 4+ – The Coolest Jack-o-Lantern You’ve Ever Seen

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer – Day 8: Upslope’s Pumpkin Ale

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#8 – October 8, 2013: Pumpkin Ale by Upslope (Boulder, CO)

upslopepumpkin2

Even though Boulder parents don’t vaccinate their children, leading to this past year’s pertussis epidemic, I do appreciate the beers produced by those hippy-dippy Sierra Club yuppies.

Color: bronze-gold, not much head when poured from the can into a glass (as beer should be)

Year of conception: Since 2011 (won a gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival)

ABV: 7.7%

Cost: $15.99 + tax for a 4-pack of 16oz cans

Availability: some liquor stores great and small (probably not outside CO)

Description by Upslope Brewing Co : Adding Baby Bear pumpkins from Boulder-based Munson Farms to malt and hops makes this a truly local farm to brewhouse collaboration. A custom blend of six spices rounds out the flavors in this highly anticipated limited release fall ale.”

Case in point: Upslope’s Pumpkin Ale.  While not the most creative of names, this beer truly has it all.  A mixture of subtle, unnamed spices (cannabis, perhaps) plus organic pumpkins with an adorable name (Baby Bear!) make this beer irresistible.  A rich, malty flavor leaves you satisfied, without feeling like you just ate an entire bag of mini-Butterfingers.  The honeyed aftertaste glosses over the palate and lands delicately in your stomach.  Deliciously rich, this ale makes me want to spread peace, love, and pumpkin beer. 

Pie Pieces: 4 – Jack-o-Lantern

13 Days of Pumpkin Beer: Day 7 – Uinta’s Punk’n

Guest blog post by Alia Broman

#7 – Oct 7, 2013: Punk’n by Uinta Brewing Co. (Salt Lake City, UT)

Uinta’s motto is Earth, Wind, and Beer. And to make it extra special, Punk’n is part of their organic line, which means it contains 3% organic  ingredients!

Uinta-PunknYear of conception: since 2010 (won a silver medal in the World Beer Championships!)

Color: coppery-orange, with a decent amount of head

ABV: 4%

Cost: $9.99 + tax for a mixed 6-pack of 12oz bottles

Availability: all liquor stores great and small

Description by Uinta Brewing Co : Malt and hops accented with roasted pumpkin and spices of the season. A subtle hint of vanilla and honey. Punk’n is a wonderful compliment to foods with nutmeg, cinnamon, and clove flavors. Try it with roasted turkey, squash or pumpkin ravioli, peach cobbler, or pumpkin cheesecake!”

My new motto is: Earth. Wind. Beer. And PUMPKINS (specifically pumpkin ravioli and pumpkin cheesecake)!  Unfortunately, I did not have any of those tasty treats to pair with this ale, but I found that this beer performed flawlessly on its own.  While most pumpkin beers I have tried have seemed bathed in spices, Uinta’s Punk’n is a much subtler, slicker beer.  The vanilla and honey give this ale a tasty, silky finish, without leaving your tongue feeling sticky.  Low on the ABV and light on the spices, Uinta did an amazing job putting the pumpkin first when brewing their homage to the esteemed autumn gourd.

Pie Pieces: 4 – Jack-o-Lantern