Blind Tasting: Pale Ale

The first Beervana blind tasting happened outdoors under (unseasonably) sunny Oregon skies. Appropriately, we sampled that epitome of summer beers (at least here in Beervana), the pale ale.

I'm toying with the title "Council of Beer Elders" for anyone who becomes a regular in the panel, but I don't want to encourage arrogance. We'll think on that one. In any case, the four tongues that swished ales were Iggi, a native Oregonian who counts Roots among his favorite breweries, Absent Mindful, a ringer and a pro who works for BridgePort (and another native), and Cap'n Cyber, the elder of the beer elders, who has surely drunk more pints than anyone on the panel. Rumors that he enjoys Hamms are slightly exaggerated. I rounded out the panel.

In alphabetical order: Caldera, Deschutes, Fish, Full Sail, Pike, Sierra Nevada, and, to mix it up, London's Whitbread. We happened to be drinking BridgePort Blue Heron, which is not a true pale, but Absent Mindful demanded its inclusion.

Initial Impressions
The major discovery in this tasting was that pales are uniformly good, but, ah, uniform: with small distinctions, five of the eight beers were very similar. Everyone was able to not only distinguish, but also identify the Blue Heron, Pike, and Whitbread. The other five were the toughies. Iggi and I both felt we knew Mirror Pond and FS Pale, but couldn't actually tell which was which (we were right and we both guessed wrong).

Individual tastes seemed to determine which beers got the big thumbs up. There were four tasters, and four different beers were identified as faves: Mirror Pond, Caldera, Sierra Nevada, and Whitbread. I asked which were second faves, and we had votes for Caldera, Mirror Pond, Full Sail, and Pike. And, just to show how close the beers were top to bottom, I asked for least favorites and got a Pike, Whitbread, and Sierra Nevada--all beers that were others' fave or second-fave.

Based on what I've already reported, it won't come as a surprise that tasters did a poor job of identifying the beers. Absent Mindful batted .500--the best in the group. Cap'n Cyber and I got three right, and Iggi--well, Iggi didn't strike out completely, and we'll leave it at that. (If Iggi and I had guessed right on the FS/Mirror Pond pair, we would have stood a little taller.) Bragging rights to both Absent and the beers we tasted--all of which were very nice.

Other Thoughts
It's worth mentioning that Caldera is available only in can. (All beers, incidentally, came from Belmont Station, so I know they were their freshest.) This caused some eyebrow-raising among tasters, but no one could distinguish the slightest tinniness from Caldera (which was my favorite).

Also, Caldera, Deschutes, Fish all employ solely Cascade hops. Full Sail and Sierra Nevada use Cascade, but others, as well. It was interesting to see the differences malt and yeast make in the production of beers--Caldera and Deschutes, for example, were noticeably different, yet made from substantially the same ingredients.

Next time, I may vary the flight somewhat and perhaps through in some beers that we should be able to identify as outliers (a macro, and import, or a beer we profess not to like, say). Just something to keep the Council honest.