Last weekend was without a doubt the highlight as well as the end of the week. An old friend from England came to visit, which was a great excuse to have a few beers whilst reminiscing about the olden days and how everything was pretty crap back then. Furthermore, the first shipment from the beer club I’ve just joined arrived Saturday morning, which provided the perfect excuse to invite another couple of friends for the inaugural Konstanzer Anglo-Canadian-Norskie beer tasting session.
And so it came to pass that one Norwegian, one Englishman and three Canadians sat down last Saturday evening with 9 half-litre bottles of beer in front of them to do a very proper, unbiased and statistically valid beer-off. I had carefully chosen the following beers quite randomly: PilsnerUrquell, Störtebeker Alkoholfrei, Rothaus Märzen, Wernesgrüner Pils, Tegernseer Hell, Meckatzer Weiss-Gold, Früh Kölsch, Beck’s Pils and Breznak Pils. There were, in other words, four pilsners, one Bavarian helles, two golden non-pilsners that taste almost, but not entirely unlike export, one kölsch and one where the alcohol for unknown reasons had been rudely taken away.
Kölsch, for those who haven’t had the pleasure of drinking beer in Cologne yet, is a very nice beer style indeed. It is top-fermented and therefore technically an ale, but unlike most ales it's as golden and refreshing as any pilsner. Better still, the finest examples of the style have a hint of fruitiness that makes them extremely drinkable, a fact which the people from Cologne have learnt to appreciate. In fact, they manage to drink so much of the stuff that it rarely, if ever, makes it as far as the city border before being consumed.
Back in the south of Germany, the mood was excited and the taste buds on high alert as we prepared the double-blind tasting session. One challenge was how to conduct a double-blind tasting while still allowing everyone to take part. We solved the problem by having one person (me) wrap all the bottles in newspaper before removing the bottle tops and placing them randomly (the bottles, not the bottle tops) in the fridge. Then, another person (not me) would, out of view from the others, pick a beer randomly from the fridge and pour a 100ml measure into each person’s glass, before marking the newspaper with the ordinal number in which it was served (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc). This way, neither the people tasting nor the person pouring had the faintest idea of which beer was which. We would then appreciatively taste our way through this thimbleful of beer, usually wishing there was lots more of it, before scoring the beer out of a maximum of 10 points and trying to hazard a guess as to which beer it actually was.
As you can surely imagine, this was tremendous fun. Drinking 9 different beers in a couple of hours is in itself a bit like celebrating New Year’s Eve and St. Patrick’s Day at once, and with the added bonus of the score sheet and the honour awaiting the winner, this was surely going to be an evening to remember. Therefore, we all made sure we wrote very careful tasting notes and we scored each beer on criteria such as smell, taste, light-headedness and gut feeling.
Then, finally, came the climax. The bottles were ceremoniously disrobed and their true identities revealed. We drunkenly added our scores up – and there was a winner! And a runner-up! And, most shockingly, a loser which wasn’t the alcohol free beer, but one of the most revered and celebrated beers in the world! However, before I reveal these exciting results, I have a confession to make. I only managed to correctly identify two of the nine beers. It was difficult, difficult I tell you! The Kölsch was less hoppy than I had expected, the Beck’s actually more hoppy and the cheese and onion crisps didn’t as much cleanse the palate as render it completely useless. Never mind, the way I see it, such a poor result is the perfect excuse to go on practising.
1) Meckatzer Weiss-Gold (31.5p)
2) Rothaus Märzen (31p)
3) Breznak Pils (27p)
4) Früh Kölsch (26.5p)
5) Wernesgrüner Pils (26p)
6) Tegernseer Hell (25p)
7) Beck’s Pils (22p)
8) Störtebeker Alkoholfrei (15p)
9) Pilsner Urquell (14p)
It should be pointed out that not all the participants were as fanatical about beer as myself, something which was also reflected in the scores – my lovely wife, for example, prefers dark beers to the lighter ones and therefore wasn’t exactly generous with the points since her average score was about 2.5. However, when the top two and bottom two were concerned, we were all pretty much in agreement, and I take that as a sign that it wasn’t entirely random.
The most noteworthy result, of course, is the fact that the famous Pilsner Urquell ended up rock bottom, even behind the alcohol free stuff. I think this might be the clearest message so far that the global brewing conglomerate, SAB Miller, should stop meddling with a once-great beer and start brewing it with the love and affection it once was. “Urquell” means “the original source”, and it is sad to see this beer now being brewed in various cheap places hundreds of miles from Plzen where it was born. I expect that this blog entry will make them see the error of their ways, and perhaps bring out a new version – they could call it “Urqurquell” – which tastes like in the good old days (which I seem to remember being crap at the beginning of this post, what the heck was I thinking?)
On the other hand, I was happy to see that Meckatzer’s Weiss-Gold was awarded the victory since I have repeatedly praised this very beer in this very blog, and it’s very good. Very well, that concludes today's long blog post - I hope you've been entertained and inspired. Blind tasting beer is a real eye-opener as it were (unless you're actually blind I guess, but then you're unlikely to read this blog), since you can't get away with knowing from the label what the beer is supposed to taste like. Actually, there's an idea: I'm going to do a real blindfolded test where I don't know anything about the beer beforehand and have to figure out everything by taste and smell. I'll keep you posted.