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.

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.


OKANAGAN SPRING HOPPED LAGER—Fighting terror with 5.2% alcohol

My Fellow Inebriates,

You’d think I’d be pretty habituated to losing an hour here and an hour there, but daylight savings really throws me off. When I realize (a day late in this case) that we’ve skipped 60 minutes, I feel positively robbed.

But what was I going to do with that hour anyway?

  • Visit the People of Walmart
  • Nap
  • Bother Dolly
  • Hang out near the empties
  • Think paranoid thoughts

So the fact that it’s 9:45 instead of 8:45 isn’t the end of the world, although it does give one a sense of accelerating toward the End of Days. And as my parents pointed out, it means one less hour of “love and attention” from the girls.

It hasn’t reduced the paranoid thoughts, however. Yesterday I watched Glen Bear go through a cold-water cycle and tumble dry, all the while listening to my mother wonder out loud whether I wasn’t too fragile to take the next voyage. Even when Glen emerged unharmed, I couldn’t stop shuddering. Especially when my mother said, “Wouldn’t you like to be nice and clean like Fluffy?”

Arrrrrghhh! OMG!

Fluffy continues switching lights on and off, making pictures fall off the walls (he even made my Dan Lacey print fall down) with his mind (!) and generally exuding an uneasy presence/non-presence that creeps me out, people. With his Irishness, plus the extra kick toward St. Patrick’s day that our lost hour gave us this morning, he actually got me thinking about banshees. If you haven’t encountered one before, a banshee is a Gaelic spirit, female, who appears just before someone kicks the bucket and wails. While there are rare reports of them being beautiful temptresses, it’s much more common for them to look like my mother. There isn’t any liquor-related mythology surrounding banshees to recommend them. For all I know they like to put bears in the washing machine.

Needless to say, there’s an air of paranoia around here among the bears. Not only has Fluffy introduced a supernatural draught to the house; he’s raised the bar for bear cleanliness, threatening our general stability and peace. It doesn’t help that my friend Wetherby Bear published a series of washing-machine photos on his Facebook page, depicting the household bears, obedient and brainwashed, lining up to enter the Magtag hellmouth.

Never mind that I thought I heard a banshee howling this morning. After a moment I realized it was only little Miss V, screaming her lungs out because Miss P had scooped the big green towel after their bath, leaving her only 25 or so alternatives. She’d given my mum holy hell already and escaped in the end without a hair-wash.

Super-fresh smelling? Probably not.

Which to say it’s not just me. Lots of people hate getting washed. My friend Scarybear carries a permanent low-grade funk about him. The People of Walmart seem to avoid washing despite all the sweet deals on soap. Dolly describes my own Kavorka* as a “mixture of rancid Corona and derangement.”

Fleecy freshness vs mangy funk

You can maintain such an aroma only by consuming beer regularly—an argument that didn’t help me out too much with my mum. But luckily my dad is cool; he stopped for beer on the way home.

You might say I had some tremors to address, and the Okanagan Spring Craft Variety Pack offered four alternatives—three beers at 5% and, rising somewhat above them for my immediate purposes, the 5.2% HOPPED LAGER.

Despite crying out for a bottle redesign, the HOPPED LAGER is an appealing product. Pale gold in the glass, it sports lots of carbonation and promises refreshment, especially for hopheads. The aroma is fairly standard: hops and grain with some maltiness. In the mouth it bursts with hoppiness, and although the malt provides a decent counterbalance, the finish is lingeringly bitter—great if you’re partial to hoppy beers, but you might want to leave it on the shelf if sweet, malty beers are more your thing.

HOPPED LAGER is sufficiently middle-of-the-road to attract typical beer fans with its crisp fizz and signature hops. There’s nothing earth-shattering about it, but there’s nothing wrong either. It’s not precious or palate-bothering or even especially interesting—just a solid brew.

Poor Wetherby at the vomit bucket

Sadly the drinking experience was spoiled by my paranoia about spilling beer on myself. You see, the washing-machine discussion has not gone away. In fact, the kids have gotten on board, urging my mum to throw me in just so they can watch me tumble helplessly. Only my dad has my back—because he thinks I wouldn’t survive.

But who knows what my crazy mother will do once Dad’s gone to work?

*”Kavorka” stolen from Beerbecue (highly recommended)