I’ve just had an epiphany. Well, maybe calling it an epiphany is a slight exaggeration, but I’ve definitely realised something about the subjective nature of taste.

HopHog ValeVale IPA has long been one of my go to IPAs. I’m aware that some regard Vale IPA as slightly substandard, and that “you can taste the contract” (Sh!t Beer Geeks Say 2013), but I think that’s a bit harsh. It is an easy-drinking IPA, rather than a “special occasion” beer, but that doesn’t make it substandard in my book. I often take it with me when I’m on missionary work converting the unenlightened (craftbeer unbelievers). (Dan’s $3.99/bottle)

Feral HopHog IPA was recently voted Australia’s #1 beer. Again. I know that I risk being run out of town, but I never quite got the hype. People really rave about this beer. It even gets mentioned twice in the aforementioned “Sh!t Beer Geeks Say”. I’ve always enjoyed HopHog, but to call it Australia’s best beer felt a bit much. Even calling it Australia’s best IPA seemed a bit of a stretch; Mornington Peninsula Brewery’s Imperial IPA, or the late lamented Temple Brewing’s Midnight IPA, anyone? (Dan’s $4.99/bottle)

Anyway, the other night I opened the two back–to-back, and I finally get it.
We started with the HopHog. It is a well-hopped beer, with real citrus punch and a piney resinous backbone – there’s plenty of hop-flavour and real bitterness there too, but it’s controlled. The beer sits nicely in your mouth, and doesn’t demand your undivided attention. Drinking HopHog is a very pleasant experience – no one component is overpowering.

Moving on to the Vale IPA, I noticed a distracting base flavour that I hadn’t appreciated before. The aromatic hop flavours were there, the alpha-acid bitterness too, and a hunk of malt. But they didn’t seem to fit together. I’d never noticed it before, but it just seemed a bit two-dimensional, jarring even. Not bad, mind; just unbalanced.

So, I’ve had my mind expanded. Just a little bit. I’ve seen that my opinion of one beer can be affected by the previous or next one. And that as my palate matures, and my knowledge grows, I am starting to recognise more complex (and amorphous) qualities like balance. I’ve also learnt that when I’m underwhelmed by a beer that everyone else raves about (or at least, all those beergeeks who I respect), I should probably try it again.


The Elevator Pitch (The Session #78)

The Session (also known as Beer Blogging Friday) is a opportunity, once per month, for beer bloggers around the world to pen their different thoughts on a specific topic set by that month’s host.


Today marks the 78th “The Session” and the topic is a good’un. Hosted by James Davidson of BeerBarBand (another beerfriend of mine), the task is to come up with an “elevator pitch” for beer, in 250 words or less. Convert a wine-snob to switch to beer, turn someone from macro to craft, convince yourself that your own beer-addiction is ok… just argue the case for beer before the lift stops, the doors open and your target steps out.
Me? I had to write about wine – my dad used to own a vineyard in Cahors in southwest France, my sister-in-law is a well-respected Australian winemaker, and father-in-law is an unpublished wine-critic with astounding knowledge. Of course I had to fight beer’s corner…

By the way, I’m not counting any words above here. I don’t know if that’s in the rules of the game, but its in the spirit…

I love wine. I love that you can taste sunshine and earth in the grapes. But, although wine can display a spectrum of experience (sweet to dry, delicate to brash), the breadth of that experience is limited because wine is always grape-driven. A pinot noir isn’t that different from a shiraz. It is just fermented grape juice after all.

Beer, however, contains four ingredients (malt, hops, yeast, water) which can either be balanced, or one can dominate, resulting in hugely different styles. For example; IPAs are driven by hops, Porters by malt, and Saisons by yeast. And no one is going to confuse a Saison with a Porter, not even a chardonnay drinker.
In a specific style, tweaking just one ingredient alters the end result. See Mikkeller’s series of 20 single-hop IPAs (link), or compare two spontaneously–inoculated lambics.
Even water exerts a profound effect on flavour, as demonstrated by the public preference for beers from hard-watered Burton-Upon-Trent way back in the 1300s.

All wines taste related, but not beers; a yeasty saison bears almost no resemblance to a malty Russian Imperial Stout, yet they can both be amazing. With a limitless palate available, I can’t comprehend always drinking a version of the same thing. It would feel like drinker’s Groundhog Day (link).
That’s why I’m going to tip your glass of merlot down the drain, and pour you a glass of Holgate’s Half A World Away instead. It’ll blow your mind! (link)
[245 words]