There’s a Buddhist quote that can be applied to almost every facet of our busy, modern lives: “Wherever you go, there you are.” While this can be a helpful mantra in navigating our careers and relationships, it also may prove the key to developing (and refining) our beer tasting palates.
A recent Paste magazine article put it nicely.
“Tasting beer is about drinking mindfully, savoring the tastes and aromas, and paying attention to the beer’s individual elements and the complex interplays that make up the tasting experience.”
But really, how many of us can say that we truly take the time to notice these “complex interplays?”
Last weekend, I found myself at a blind beer tasting at Pyramid Brewery in Berkeley (alongside an eager accomplice, of course!) and mindfulness came into play. As part of the SF Beer Week festivities, the brewery challenged us to activate all of our senses, by trying eight “mystery beers,” two in each of the styles of Hefeweizen, Pale Ale, Brown Ale, and Stout. They didn’t let us off the hook too easily—we were challenged to document the appearance, aroma, taste, and palate of each brew, guess the alcohol percentage, and rate it overall.
At first, I was tempted to simply state the obvious: “It smells like beer,” and “I like the taste of this one.” Obviously, these weren’t very detailed descriptions, and I found myself eager to move on to the next station. A quick glance outside the brewery windows told me, however, that it was pouring rain, with no signs of stopping… and I decided to slow my process. Maybe forcing myself to be more mindful would make my experience more robust. So, I held the next beer up to the light and observed that it was somewhere between amber and copper. Was that a hint of lemon rind that I smelled, and perhaps pine? Another sip brought subtle floral notes, with a bitter aftertaste. Another sip…
Truth be told (although he’ll never admit it) my eager accomplice may have gotten a bit impatient towards the end, as I contemplated the earthy-ness, roasty-ness, boozy-ness, effervescence, and the exact hue of those last few tastes. But it was, no doubt, an excellent learning experience for both of us. Yes, I learned some new beer tasting vocabulary. And while I certainly found it informative to blindly determine which beer characteristics are most favorable and compelling to me, it was also a great lesson in the importance of living in the moment. Because wherever you go, there you are… and hopefully you’re drinking beer.
Here is a list of the beers I tried in the blind taste test, with an* next to my favorite in each category:
Hefeweizen – Gordon Beirsch Hefeweizen* vs. Pyramid Hefeweizen
Pale Ale – Pyramid Pale Ale with Nobel Hops* vs. Deschutes Brewery Mirror Pond Pale Ale
Brown Ale – Calicraft Oaktown Brown* vs. Pyramid Best Brown* (rated these equally)
Stout – Pyramid Espresso Stout* vs. Bison Organic Beer Chocolate Stout* (rated these equally too!)