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Today we're at it again, and this time we're focusing on pale ales. When Kelli and I hosted something of a mini-college reunion with our housemates (and their families) from college recently I saw a golden opportunity ... they were basically a pre-assembled (and willing) panel of beer tasters.
As with the previous lager tasting, I was curious how a quality gluten-free beer would stack up against barley-based beers brewed in a similar style when the tasting was blind and participants had no knowledge of which beer was gluten-free and what beers they were tasting.
The "rules" were identical to last time, with one important exception—this time I told them that 1 of the 5 beers in the tasting was gluten-free, and I asked them to pick which one they thought it was. Then, as usual, I asked them to rate the beers from most to least favorite (on a scale of 1, most favorite, to 5, least favorite).
The beers were:
- Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA
- Ithaca Flower Power IPA
- New Planet Off Grid Pale Ale (the gluten-free beer in the bunch)
- Full Sail IPA
- Dogfish Continuously Hopped IPA
Pick the Gluten-Free Beer
So were people able to tell which of the 5 beers was gluten-free? In a word, yes. 5 out of 6 tasters correctly identified New Planet's Off Grid Pale Ale as the gluten-free brew.
I couldn't taste the other beers, of course, to compare for myself, but I'll admit that this result surprised me. Going in to the tasting, I expected New Planet to blend in more than it did. Given that the pale ales and IPAs are all pretty hoppy, I thought that the hoppiness of the beers would have been a common denominator, one that masked the underlying flavors of the grains with which they were brewed. It seems I was wrong about that one.
Rate the Beers
But how did New Planet rate? Well, despite correctly noting its gluten-free status, conventional beer drinkers still ranked it quite well against the barley-based competition. 2 out of 6 tasters in fact rated it their 2nd most favorite of the bunch.
All of the beers had a wide distribution of rankings. For example, 3 out of the 5 beers received votes for being both the most favorite beer and the least favorite beer. No clear "winner" emerged from the group. (I'm starting to think that beer drinking is so individualized as to make the value of these tastings questionable ... except that it's fun to bring a group of people together for official business that involves drinking beer.)
If you look at the number of votes each beer received for a Top Two ranking (being someone's 1st or 2nd favorite), New Planet was in a four-way tie with three barley beers. Similarly, if you took the average score for each beer, the results were surprisingly tight. All five beers scored within a 1 point range centered squarely on the median (2.5 to 3.5 average ranking), with New Planet "placing" ahead of Ithaca and just behind Dogfish.
Although this time around tasters were able to pick the gluten-free beer out of a blind tasting lineup, once again on the matter of taste a gluten-free brew held its own against a panel of barley beers, traditionally stereotyped as tasting "superior" to GF beers. Perhaps we can put such stereotypes to rest once and for all.