Blind leading the Blind #1 – Pale Ales

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACollaboration – it’s one of those buzzwords that really grabs the attention of beer geeks everywhere. The thought of two of our favourite brewers teaming up to create something extra epic always garners squeals of excitement from the beer community. So now us beer bloggers are trying to get in on the action! I’ve teamed up with Jason, the brilliantly bearded Canadian mastermind behind Brews & Bacon, to collaborate on a series of posts. Of course, our version of collaboration simply involves us drinking beers together, something that we often do anyway. Only this time we’ve got some semblance of structure to our drinking, and we’re recording some scrappy notes to try and bring you something that you may find interesting. You may even squeal a little, but I’m probably hoping for too much there…

Our collaborative concept is simple – blind beer tasting. Basically we pick a beer style, and then secretly buy five beers of that style for the other blogger to blind taste. We also put a few rules around the beers that we’d purchase:

  • One beer would chosen as a ‘benchmark’, a representative of the style as agreed upon by the two of us, to act as a baseline between our results
  • One would be from a ‘faux craft’ label, just to make things extra interesting – will one of us rank the Coles beer highly?!!!
  • The other three would be of our own choosing – as crafty as we like, and from anywhere around the world.

The beers are poured, in secret, into clear tasting cups. All five are numbered and then presented along with their bottles, which are hidden in a paper bags (classy stuff right?). Once all the prep work is done we drink them, make notes, taste a little more, reveal the beers, sigh/laugh/cry (depending on the outcome), then make some more notes. Keep in mind that neither Jason or myself are pro’s at this whole beer judging thing, and we’re certainly not just these beers against any sort of style guidlines. This is purely about the flavours that we like, and the beers that we’d prefer to drink. Also keep in mind that this is a collaborative post, so Jason will be posting his results on his page here. Make sure you check out his thoughts on the beers that I bought for him.

For our inaugural tasting we chose Pale Ales. This is quite often the style that gives people their first real beer epiphany, so it seemed like an obvious place for us to start. As for the benchmark brew, we went with one of the most quintessential Pale Ales that this country has produced, even if it is a little divisive these days – the Little Creatures Pale Ale.

Now that we’ve got the basics covered, we can get into the fun part. Here are my tasting results from the beers that Jason bought for me. For each beer I made notes prior to the reveal, and a then a few more thoughts afterwards. All five beers were sampled prior to the reveal, but for the ease of presenting the results I’ve revealed each beer after its own (relatively unedited) notes.

Beer One

This is the darkest of the bunch, definitely looks malty. There’s a solid firm head on top, so I’m betting it’s hoppy too. Smells of typical British malts, with all that apricot-y and marmalade-y business going on. First taste is definitely malt driven. I don’t dislike it, but it feels a little flat to me. It’s not a Pale Ale as I’d define it. The bitter…where’s the bitter?! Good lacing down the glass, but weak head retention. Overall, a decent score of 7/10

Reveal – 4 Pines Pale Ale

Afterthought: This is a solid, solid beer. The only reason this didn’t score higher is purely personal – I wanted more hops. Although it’s not what I want from a Pale Ale, it still grew on me as the more I drank it.

Beer Two

This looks much lighter, and much more orange. There’s a floral aroma, the kind you get wafting up from slightly used urinal cakes. It tastes distinctly ‘Aussie’, a bit like warm VB spiked with cheap vodka (I’ve done some shameful things in my younger days). The head is gone, but a pretty good lacing remains. To be honest, I started sobbing part way through sampling this beer, pleading to Jason “I just don’t want to drink this anymore!”…hence my score of 0/10

Reveal – Fat Yak

Afterthought: I can’t help but quote Ralph Wiggum here – “I can’t believe I used to go out with you”. This was, once upon a time, my favourite Aussie beer. Now it makes me cry. Oh how I’ve matured over the years.

Beer Three

This is the same colour as beer two, but slightly cloudier. There’s not much going on in the aroma at all (sad face). There ain’t much in the taste either; a whisper of caramel and a slight booze. It’s definitely not as incredibly awful as beer two, but there’s also no real positives. I’m left completely unfazed by this beer. Head retention and lacing are both poor. I wouldn’t go looking for this beer, but I certainly don’t hate it like I do number two. Wait, Coconut?! WTF?!! There’s something buttery going on here as well…hmmm. A completely middle of the road 5/10

Reveal – Holgate Mt Macedon Ale

Afterthought: I’m pretty devastated by this result. I’ve loved this beer in the past, even touted it as my go to BBQ Pale Ale! But even now that I know what it is, it’s still just causing me to throw my arms up in the air and snort in derision after each sip. It’s just…plain. The buttery quality does lead me to believe that this may be an off bottle. I’ll need to purchase myslelf a six-pack and do some major over the holidays.

Beer Four

This beer glows! I have hope for this ale. The aroma is all about the floral and fruity hops that I’ve been waiting for…even more hope! It tastes just like it smells…finally, this is what I’ve been waiting for! Passionfruit, all the stonefruit, balanced malt. This, right here, is what I want from my Pale Ales. An epic 9/10

Reveal – Little Creatures Pale Ale

Afterthought: I definitely wasn’t expecting that. There’s no doubt that this is such a polarising beer as of late, but I simply can’t argue with these results – as far as my tongue is concerned, it’s still a winner.

Beer Five

This is the lightest colour of the bunch. There’s less floral aroma, much more tropical. The body is much lighter as well, so the hops really come through with more booze. It feels slightly less balanced than beer number four because of this, but it’s still a cracking ale. This right here is my definition of a summer day Pale Ale, and I want more of it.  A highly respectable 8/10

Reveal – Mornington Peninsula Pale Ale (in a can)

Afterthought: Now that’s what I call a camping beer! This is the only beer from today that I’ve never had before, but it immediately resonates with me. I’ll be stocking up on cans off this baby over the summer.

Results Wrap Up

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  1. Little Creatures Pale Ale (9/10)
  2. Mornington Peninsula Pale Ale (Can) (8/10)
  3. 4 Pines Pale Ale (7/10)
  4. Holgate Mt Macedon Ale (5/10)
  5. Fat Yak (0/10)

Seriously, I did not see the results falling this way – LC emerging victorious?! Even after the reveal I went through and re-tasted each beer, now with the knowledge of what they were, and the results held up. The Little Creatures Pale Ale remains my Pale Ale of choice, even though I was unaware of this fact prior to the tasting. Turns out it hasn’t fallen off the wagon just yet, even though the common belief is that it no longer has the soul it once had (although Jason’s results may indicate something different, but you’ll need to read his post for that surprise)

If someone had have simply asked me to rank these five beers without tasting, the results would’ve been very different – Holgate and Mornington would be battling it out for top spot, with 4 pines sitting comfortably in third, LC in fourth and Fat Yak bringing up the rear (albeit with a little more respect than the sampled beer managed). This is arguably how most people would rate those five beers based on their levels of ‘craftiness’ (for lack of a better descriptor). Which raises an interesting social commentary – are beer geeks swayed by branding, as much as they like to say that they aren’t? I’m painting myself with the same brush here of course, because I’d much rather support the little guy than give my money to the evil money hungry mega corporations that rule the world. Many of my beery-friends will turn their noses up when Little Creatures is mentioned, because it’s “just not the same anymore”. But I stand by what I tasted here; LC is the Pale Ale still deserves respect.

The second interesting point is the position that we both ranked our bottles of Little Creatures, given it was the baseline brew that we both had. If you haven’t yet checked out the other results, head here. I won’t spoil the surprise, but it’s safe to say that his bottle of LC scored much lower. After the reveals, we tasted each other’s LC side by side, and the difference between the two was like day and night – his was truly awful. This immediately raised the question “where’d you get your bottle from?” The answers explained our findings to an extent; Jason had purchased my bottle from Malt Traders, whereas I’d picked up his bottle from BWS. We’re putting it down to one establishment showing their product the utmost respect, and the other potentially not caring enough. But there’s probably another whole blog post in that investigation…watch this space.

I hope you’ve enjoyed both of our lots of results as much as we had doing this whole thing! It was really eye opening to just taste beer without knowing where it came from or who made it, and it helped me get a feel for exactly what flavours I chase in my ale. Next time we’ll be looking at a style of beer that Brews & Bacon struggles to fully comprehend – the Pale Lager. He needs this tasting pretty badly, so if you’ve got an idea for what I should track down for him, drop us a line and let me know. If you missed the links to Jason’s version of this post, then here’s one last chance for you to head over to www.brewsandbacon.com now.

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5 thoughts on “Blind leading the Blind #1 – Pale Ales

  1. Great work, I really enjoyed reading both your and Brews and Bacon’s blind reviews. I look forward to the next one. I don’t really go near ‘pale lagers’ so i’m sure it will be informative.

  2. Pingback: Blind leading the Blind #2 – Lagers | Chasing Ale

  3. Pingback: Blind leading the Blind #3 – Hefeweizen | Chasing Ale

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