Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Great Gluten-Free Blind Beer Tasting

This past weekend, we hosted the Great Gluten-Free Blind Beer Tasting.  As planned, I administered the tasting, and we had four beer drinkers to participate, including Gluten-Free Steve.  (Unfortunately, we had one last-minute cancellation from a taster who got glutened the night before at a restaurant, as well as one no-show.  On the bright side, that left more beer for the rest of us...)

As with the previous beer tasting, there were some basic rules: 1) As a blind tasting, the tasters knew only that they would be drinking gluten-free beer.  They had no prior knowledge of which beers would be part of the tasting.  2) They may taste the beers in any order they choose.  3) They may return to a beer and re-taste it at any time.

In total, we tasted 8 beers.  One was my Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit home brew.  The remainder were all beers that I considered widely available in Colorado (RedBridge is currently not for sale in the state and wasn't included in this tasting).  With so many beers to taste, and such a variety among them, I divided the tasting into two flights of beer.  I wanted the tasters to be comparing apples with apples.  The first flight included "clear" beer, otherwise known as lagers and light ales.  The second flight included "opaque" beer, which included cloudy, yeasty, Belgian-style ales.  We tasted the first flight of four beers, and tasters were asked to rank them.  We then tasted the second flight, and tasters were asked to rank them as well.  Finally, I asked the tasters to choose a "best in show" beer from across both flights.  (This inevitably introduced room for discussion, since different people have different preferences for different beer styles...)

The eight beers we sampled were:

Flight 1
Lakefront Brewery's New Grist
New Planet's Tread Lightly Ale
Bard's Beer
New Planet's 3R Raspberry Ale (a newly-released summer seasonal just out)

Flight 2
Green's Tripel Blonde
Green's Amber Ale
Zonder Gluten Belgian Wit
Green's Dubbel Dark

As for the results, let me say straight out that we sadly discovered that my home brew had spoiled.  The beer skunked.  It was a rookie mistake on my part.  The beer's relatively low alcohol content, the high levels of oils from the chestnuts, and most importantly, the too-warm temperature at which I stored the beer killed its shelf life.  It smelled and tasted bad.  Not quite terrible, but certainly not as good as it had a month or two ago.  Kelli confirmed as much.  She noted that while my beer once smelled like Blue Moon, and tasted good, it now resembled nothing of the sort.  Sigh.  At least I only have six bottles left, so the loss isn't too great.

Fortunately, that's where the bad news ended.  The rest of the beer tasting went quite well.

Among Flight 1, 3 out of 4 tasters rated New Planet's Tread Lightly Ale their overall favorite.  (The 4th taster ranked Bard's the top pick.)  For me, the funniest part of the tasting came when one taster sipped beer A and declared, "The only gluten-free beer I've had is New Grist.  I like this beer much better than that one."  Ironically, beer A was New Grist!  For the New Planet TLA, several tasters detected a slightly sweet, hint-of-cider quality to the beer, but praised its overall flavor and drinkability.

Among Flight 2, 3 out of 4 tasters ranked Green's Dubbel Dark their overall favorite.  (The 4th taster ranked Green's Amber Ale the top pick.)  Without question, the Green's beers had the best head of foam, by far, among the 8 brews.  However, I was surprised by Dubbel Dark's great showing.  In my own tasting notes, the beer was disappointing.  The beer's very dark color gave me the expectation of the smooth, creamy texture of a stout or porter, with the accompanying chocolate and coffee flavors that come from heavily roasted grains.  That wasn't the case at all.  In fact, that lighter-than-expected flavor appealed to one taster, who wrote: "Good. Expected a heavy taste - not the case."

For the Best in Show, New Planet's TLA again came out on top.  2 out of 4 tasters ranked New Planet's Tread Lightly Ale their Best in Show.  Green's Dubbel Dark earned one Best in Show vote, and Bard's Beer also earned one Best in Show vote (with that taster ranking Green's Dubbel Dark a close second).  Clearly, I think, this shows a split in tasters' beer style preferences more than anything else - do you like light lager-style beers, or dark Belgian-style ales?

And so there you have it.  In a blind beer tasting, when biases are removed and objectivity reigns supreme, New Planet and Green's came out on top.  With the Fourth of July just around the corner, use this information wisely, and stock up on some brews for your barbeque!

- Pete


Gluten Free Steve said...

It was a great beer tasting event! Thanks for including us.

peterbronski said...

Hey Steve... It was great to have you guys over! Look forward to seeing you at the Boulder arts festival in July.

Cheers, Pete

Emily said...

I love this! I was so disappointed when I turned 21 (being GF) and my friends would go out for a beer and I was "dd." Not the case anymore! I must agree with the win for Tread Lightly ale. I love it and as soon as the 3r raspberry came out I went to the store to buy it. I also have tried the dubble dark and liked that a lot too.
I think I might have a beer tasting here with some friends who drink regular beer to see how my beers rank for them.

thanks for the inspiration and a good assessment of the flavors out there. (I'm sad that they don't sell tread lightly outside colorado yet!)

Cheers! Prost!

peterbronski said...

Hi Emily... Glad you enjoyed the post! I think it's just a matter of time before you see New Planet sold beyond Colorado's borders. Prost indeed!

Cheers, Pete

celiacman said...

Awesome idea! There are certainly some new beers referenced here that I'd like to try now. Especially the Tread Lightly although I have yet to find that in my area. Of course, now I can actually look for it.

Love the comment about the taster liking "Beer A" better than New Grist. It made me laugh out loud. That's actually one of the ones I like best, along with St. Peter's.

Thanks for sharing.

peterbronski said...

Hi CeliacMan... Glad you enjoyed the blind tasting! For now, New Planet is only distributed in Colorado, so you won't find it in Seattle. But that's hopefully changing soon.

Cheers, Pete

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the articles on GF beers. I especially enjoy the depth of the reviews and inclusion of several opinions.

Regarding "skunky" beer, that might be a fault of light damage, rather than temp.

I'm trying to brew some GF beer at home, with limited success so far. My sorghum beer was "cidery" and I've never cared for beers with rice or corn...too thin. I am however fermenting another batch (sorghum-based) right now, at a lower temperature which I've read may help reduce the "cidery" taste.

peterbronski said...

Hi Anonymous... When your latest batch of beer is ready to drink, feel free to check back in and let us know how it turned out! I find that heavily hopped beers can also help with sorghum's typical "cidery" taste.

Cheers, Pete

Anonymous said...

Anon checking in again...

I made a batch with whole (sweet, dark) sorghum. NOT a good idea.

I made a couple batches with Light Sorghum syrup (from Northern Brewer). At least drinkable... but, a pronounced "cidery" taste still a problem.

A friend shared some of his homebrew, (same syrup used as mine) and his was MUCH better. He used Safale S-04 dry yeast, while I had used Nottingham Ale dry yeast. This could really be the difference between his success and my failure...

Also, FWIW...I tried roasting buckwheat berries (groats) to add dark color and more flavor. I didn't like it at all.

peterbronski said...

Thanks for sharing results from your recent brewing. Here's to the next batch... =)

Cheers, Pete