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Organizing a Beer Tasting Session

By Alexis

How many times have I heard people complain that a certain beer seemed weak or disgusting only to find out that they tasted a lager right after a barley wine!!! While this might seem obvious to experienced beer enthusiasts, I always find it useful to remind myself of the following basic rules when organizing a tasting session. This article will describe a few different ways to do fun beer tasting sessions.

Horizontal Tasting
No, this does not mean that you should be lying on the ground while drinking. The horizontal tasting means that you can taste different beers in a same style of a same year to compare the similarities and differences of a style. For example, you could drink a Westmalle Triple, a Dominus Vobiscum triple and an Allagash Triple and compare them. (I wish to make a special warning about a barley wine horizontal session: I guarantee you a headache the next morning!)

Vertical Tasting
In this case, vertical tasting means that you will taste one beer with samples of different years (or months). For example, you could taste a Westmalle dubbel of 1999, then a Westmalle dubbel of 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, etc. The objective here is to find out the evolution of the beer over the years. This can be quite interesting but requires patience, some dedicated space to store your beers or a very good friend who collects beers.

Progressive Tasting
I call progressive tasting: a tasting session comprised of mixed styles where you will start with the lowest in alcohol content and end up with the strongest beer. The objective here is to have the easiest beers first and the strongest at the end of the tasting session, therefore enabling your senses to catch all the subtleties of the weakest samples. While doing this with alcohol content might seem like a good idea, it is not always the case. A feeble stout will still be stronger in character then a stronger white. Which brings us to…

Style Progression
This type of tasting requires a good understanding of the different styles of beers. In this type of tasting, the idea is to start with the weakest beers (in aroma, bitterness and flavor) and to end with the strongest beers. This way, you will be able to catch every aspect of the “easier” beers while still enjoying a graduate mix of flavors. It is also a good idea to try and mix good aromas together: I would never put coriander in my coffee so drinking a stout right after a white is not always a good plan! The beer’s color is not necessarily an indication of character here. Some sweet stouts are softer than strong IPA’s. An example of a style progression could be: lager, bock, duppelbock, Trippel, stout and barley wine.

Alternate Techniques
Doing the opposite of a progressive tasting or style progression session is always interesting. Unique flavors will distinguish themselves whenever taken in a different order.

You can also try to taste beers made with the same or different cereals. Some brewers, like Bieropholie, recently released a six pack of the same IPA but made with different styles of hops. This is often easier to do when you know a brewer… One local brewer in Montreal once organized a contest where amateur brewers where to make a beer with the same ingredients. The results where pretty impressive and it proved to all that talent is what makes a good one!

When in a pub, I find it interesting, whenever possible, to compare a bottled version with one served on tap. Ordering both at the same time might seem strange to some but it is worth the exercise.

Temperature tasting can also be interesting. Trying the same beer at different temperatures and trying to find the one which will bring the most out of it can be a good exercise.

Beer tasting is something that can be thoroughly planned. At the very least, you should make an effort to taste your beers in an order that makes sense. At least, this will prevent you from disliking a beer that doesn’t fit in your set. Experimenting with the many ways you can drink will make you a better beer expert. Enjoy!

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