LB gets schooled on how to taste beer

My Fellow Inebriates,

Last week’s inconsistent tasting of BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER left me wondering whether beer tasting is an art or a science. The first time I tasted this Okanagan Spring product, I felt shorted on substance; it seemed inadequately hefty for a black lager and sour on the finish. The second time I tried it, I didn’t mind it; it was quenching and good enough to warrant an apology to OK Spring if not a retraction. But get this—the third time I tried it I was disappointed again. Go figure.

The Craft Variety Pack contains three BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER bottles, all of which are now empty. On the third tasting I again noticed the sourness at the end and the lack of weight. It wasn’t a satisfying dark beer. But I wondered…how could my palate ricochet from underwhelmed to pleased to newly disappointed?

Should I really be doing this…tasting?

As I told my dad, the true test would really be a fourth bottle, which he could purchase at our local booze shop if he were kindly inclined. That fourth taste could settle the argument—is BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER a decent beer or not? And what the hell is going on with my furry palate?

Fourth time's the charm, I just know it.

I suspect my problem is common to booze samplers of every ilk. But do they admit it?

Take Robert Parker, for example. The most influential wine critic in the world, Parker is responsible for the inexplicable 51-100 score sheet (awarding all wines an initial 50 points just for existing) and has a profound influence not only on the market prices of high-end wines but on the growing practices of winemakers throughout the world. The guy has mad power, which translates into the scores he issues wines after swishing them around his gob for half a minute or so. He’s damned wines by assigning them 85 points and elevated others to supercommodities by flagging them over 95. And while he claims to remember the character of every wine that’s ever had the brief pleasure of the inside of his mouth, you have to wonder how reasonable it is to bet the farm on those 30-second judgments.

The Robert Parker rating system

Personally, I think you need to drink a full bottle of wine (and in the case of beer, at least a six-pack) to really understand its true character. To really know your booze, you have to take it from sober, reflective first sips through drunken, half-retching compulsivity and possible regifting to the toilet, right through to the hangover, which itself reveals a lot about a wine, beer, or spirit.

Now, you may think this is overly conscientious. You may think it’s too committed to providing an accurate review. But I think it’s essential, my fellow inebriates. Tastings involving one or two glasses of beer or wine aren’t nearly as thorough as tastings that get out of hand.

Anyway, this was my argument to my dad about why he should buy a full case of BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER.

“But you didn’t even really like it,” he said.

“I know, but I want to study why.”

And my mum chimed in unhelpfully, “You may not respect Robert Parker very much but he would probably think you’re a complete retard.”

Leaving wine and my mother’s political incorrectness aside, how do you perform a reliable beer tasting? This checklist is paraphrased from Bryce Eddings with typical disrespectful liberties respect and dignity.

  1. Pour the beer. No chugging from the can or bottle —you need to observe the beer running down the side of the tilted glass as you pour. Pour at a speed that will produce a two-finger (half-paw) head.
  2. Look at the beer. What color is the head? Is it thin or dense? Is it rocky (with dips and peaks as the bubbles dissipate)? When you hold the glass up to the light, is it cloudy or clear?
  3. Sniff the beer. Take three good whiffs before sipping. Which is predominant—malt (dark) or hops (light)? Take notes before you start sipping and get wasted (or allow your palate to influence your nose).
  4. Sip the beer. Note how it feels. Is it sweet? Bitter? Fruity? Beer tastes different in the front of your mouth versus the back. Often the first sip is sweet but the finish is bitter.
  5. Consider the mouthfeel. Is it light or heavy? Fizzy or mildly carbonated?
  6. Experience the finish. What flavors linger after you swallow the beer? Hops produce a lingering bitterness, malt a sweet finish. Write it down. Consume more beer if you need to reconfirm your impressions.

This last point is important, especially if your parents have tightened the purse strings on booze expenditures. Sometimes you need to consume one, two or even eight more beers to truly feel confident of your review. You mustn’t let parents people talk you out of this—your very integrity as a reviewer is at stake.

It won’t be the end of the world if we don’t buy more BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER. The beer had three chances and, taking the average, it was okay—even a little interesting. But there are lots of better dark lagers out there. Those of you who can go and buy them at the liquor store…well, you have it made.

BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER—Part 2! (With an apology)

My friend Scarybear makes a sport of freaking me out. If it weren’t for his science fiction-fueled paranoia I’d never have thought for a moment about gamma rays or asteroids or even hemorrhoids. But when Scary started talking about the collapse of the vacuum (of space!) I couldn’t even work up any concern—especially with some big a.m. DTs going on.

On a planet where Scary could surely find another preoccupation (global warming, say), it seems pretty damn daft to worry that the fabric of the universe will shift its quantum state and initiate a Big Crunch, compressing all matter into superheated pinhead. HOW WOULD YOU EVEN PREPARE FOR THAT?

Even a raging apocalyptic lunatic like Scary knows scientists favor the neverending expansion scenario. But he likes the Big Crunch idea—it’s more dramatic, plus it sounds like a chocolate bar.

But I wasn’t in the mood to be terrified this morning, my fellow inebriates. I was feeling guilty.

You see, I screwed up on one of my booze reviews. The other day I said Okanagan Spring BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER was “not sufficiently creamy,” was not “as chewy as it could be,” and finished “on an unfortunate sour note.”

All nonsense! It’s amazing how a pissy mood can affect the palate. The day I wrote that, I’d just learned that my little companions were to be home all day unexpectedly, plus I received some (lovable?) beatings throughout the afternoon, so I was just not a happy bear.

So I apologize to Okanagan Spring. BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER is pretty good when you’re in the mood for a nice cola-colored yet crisply carbonated brew. It features some complexity and hits a reasonable crowd-pleasing note. It has nothing on HERMANN’S, but it’s absolutely drinkable and even enjoyable if you haven’t been thrown around like a stuffie by little girls all day. Assuming that doesn’t happen to most of you, I can confidently recommend BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER, unless something else has happened to ruin your day (maybe hemorrhoids or an asteroid dent in your car).

OKANAGAN SPRING BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER—Okay, I admit it. I might be just a little sad.

My Fellow Inebriates,

We had a windy day yesterday, which meant the girls’ grandparents couldn’t come over on the ferry to get them. The plan had been for the monkeys to visit Vancouver Island for a few days (without parents for the very first time), and the mood—before BC Ferries cancelled all sailings—had been ecstatic. Days of fun for the kids! A peaceful house without toys on the floor for my parents! And for me, license to drink openly all day long.

Well, maybe not. My parents are still boring, controlling, (smugly) opposably thumbed and unwilling to invest in bear-oriented bottle-opening technology. But the point became academic when BC Ferries made its decision yesterday not to sail in high wind—probably less because the company fears a sinking than because union disgruntlement will skyrocket if the ferry employees spend a whole afternoon mopping up seasick passengers’ barf.

I’d been all prepared to miss the kids terribly. Somehow they were already seeming cuter and more lovable, the more I pictured them being driven away by Nana and Papa for their big-girl adventure.

The Bear Habitat. Escapees will be beaten.

My mum was relieved; she didn’t like the idea of them getting tossed around on the ferry. I felt like a bad bear for not having considered this. I do love the kids. The other day they made a “bear habitat” consisting of a dislocated couch cushion for all of us bears. Any bears who wished to opt out of the new habitat received beatings on the head. So you can imagine how conflicted I was about the ferry cancellation.

The kids themselves were devastated, which translated into some heavy bear usage. In addition to draping me in several dish-towel frocks, they chucked me down the stairs a few times and forced me to kiss Glen Bear on the mouth (which I didn’t mind). “Baby” by Justin Bieber warbled relentlessly in the background, either from YouTube or the six-year-old’s vocal chords—usually both. Finally Miss V launched into a tantrum, the momentum of which carried everyone into bedtime, and I was left to calm my twitching fur with the Okanagan Spring Craft Variety Pack.

The HOPPED LAGER I tried on Sunday wasn’t poor, but still I hoped for more from the next choice: Okanagan Spring BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER. But—perhaps because of the day’s emotional highs and lows, perhaps because of the package design, and perhaps because Vancouver Island Brewery’s HERMANN’S DARK LAGER had set the bar very high for that particular brew style—I wasn’t optimistic. Just sayin’ it so you know I didn’t go into this unbiased as I usually do. I certainly needed a beer, but I wasn’t expecting great things.

BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER is a deep cola color with tan head (not a good candidate for dyeing green on St. Patrick’s day). It gives off a toasty aroma with mild graininess, cocoa, and espresso. On the palate it’s crisp and unexpectedly fizzy; the coffee flavor moves to the front, jockeying a bit uncomfortably with the mild hops and malt. The mouthfeel isn’t as chewy as it could be, which again makes for some incongruity between expectation and taste. It finishes on an unfortunate sour note, like old espresso in a breakfast cup.

Sadly, BREWMASTER’S BLACK LAGER fails to hit the proper notes. It’s not sufficiently creamy, it’s more noticeably sour than bitter, and it lacks the weight that would make it a nice winter sipper. Instead (last night at least) it served me as a winter pounder—a release for some considerable frustration while I inspected my fur and wondered whether I would need anything sewn up.

Even though the earth didn’t move, I’ll still drink the other two in the variety pack—quickly. And who knows? They may even taste better today. The wind has calmed and the girls’ grandparents are on their way to get them. Soon they’ll be on a ferry headed to Vancouver Island, and it will be very quiet here.