Blind Leading the Blind is a beer blog collaboration between myself and Jason, the bearded mastermind behind Brews & Bacon. For those that are new to this, our collaborative concept is simple – blind beer tasting. The basic outline is:
- we pick a beer style
- we buy five beers of that style for the other blogger to blind taste
- one of those beers will be a pre-determined ‘benchmark’ beer that we both blindly taste, to act as a baseline between our results
- another beer will be from a ‘faux craft’ or ‘amusingly crap’ brand, to add a little levity and sniggering to the proceedings
- we then meet up and do the blind tasting, reveal our beers to one another, laugh, and post our findings on our blogs
For a more detailed outline of how we do this, check out the first post here.
Ok, right from the start I need to make something known – I don’t get stouts. I’ve made this declaration many times in the past, and I’ve had the discussion with a many beer mates. Their consensus is that I simply don’t enjoy the big, bold, DARK flavours commonly found in stouts; think roasted coffee beans and dark chocolate. While this theory appears sound on paper, there’re a few problems with it:
- My morning coffee everyday is a long black with no sugar, so strong coffee flavours are my thing.
- I have a permanent supply of Lindt 90% dark chocolate sitting on my desk at work, so dark chocolate also gets a big tick.
Sometimes I drink a stout and find these flavours, and I love it! But this is often the exception to the rule; more often than not, I’m left bewildered by the roasted roasty roastiness. So I was both excited and terrified when we decided that our next blind tasting would be stouts – excited to try some stouts next to each other with the hope of finally being able to define what a good stout should be, and terrified by the prospect of finding that they all taste the same to me.
The benchmark beer for this round was a tough one to pick, but based on popular opinion we went with the winter seasonal from Little Creatutres, Return of the Dread.
We also had Roger from RPM: Beer Food Random join us for this tasting, just to watch and generally talk beer shit as we sampled our brews.
Note: 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.
Where’s the head?! (a single tear drops down my cheek as I ask this question) The body has a certain..brown-ness?…to it. The smell is sweet, like cheap Easter egg chocolate (you know, the type you can only get at the Reject Shop). The sip is kinda thin, but not necessarily bad. The taste has a definite ‘fuggleness’ to it (a descriptor that we coined for “a beer that smells/tastes of Fuggle hops”). It comes across as more of a Porter? Less roast than expected, less thickness, much more hop character – earthy, and some spice. There’s even some dark fruits happening, and a slight bitter finish. I like it; I’m just not sure how ‘Stoutish’ it actually is? But being the first beer of the day, it’s getting a 5/10
Reveal – Sierra Nevada Stout
Afterthought: It was a tasty enough beer, but it was distinctly non-Stout – a thought that was confirmed by both Jason and Roger after they tried it as well. This all just adds to my Stout confusion
#HEAD4DAYS (yeah, that’s actually my note regarding the amazing head retention). Both the smell and the taste deliver a smorgasbord of darkness – fresh coffee, dark chocolate, star anise, even raw cacao, and no overpowering roast. I begin gushing to the others about how much I’m enjoying this, how every sip reveals a new flavor that I can clearly identify. This makes me feel clever, which also makes me feel happy J I think I know what this one is, a seasonal beer that I’ve had fresh of tap before, but don’t want to be so bold as to make that kind of call. I want to score this highly, but I also want some wiggle room in case another amazing stout rises from the pack, so I settle on an 8/10
Reveal – Little Creatures Return of the Dread.
Afterthought: For the record, Return of the Dread is what I thought this beer was – not that anyone should believe that. I loved it off tap, and from the bottle it stands up beautifully as well. Shame we only get to see this beauty in Winter.
Semi-solid head, and the same darkness seen in beer two. This one smells much more roasty (aka. much more Stouty). The taste is all about ‘dat acridity’, and has a far more full-on roast than the others so far. It’s thinner, and has the distinct ‘Vegemite’ taste that I remember from true-blue-salt-of-the-earth-Aussie dark beers I’ve had in the past. I think there’s some Pride of Ringwood happening as well? I’m picking this as coming from an Australian ‘big’ brewery. I’m not a fan; it’s too in your face with all its Vegemite-roasty-stoutiness…4/10
Reveal – Cascade Stout
Afterthought: I actually scored this a 3/10 originally, but had a change of heart. The more it warmed, the more it spoke to my patriotism, which gained it an extra point. It’s pleasant, but distinctly Aussie, and not really for me.
Semi-awesome head this time. Again, the colour is the same as beers two and three. There’s a strong coffee aroma; both fresh green coffee beans as well as the expected roasted variety. There’s a slick chocolate taste, and soooo much coffee, which just gets bigger and bigger as it warms. This finish is roasty, but not in an overpowering kind of way. I can’t split this from beer number two at this stage, so I’m controversially giving it an 8/10 as well.
Reveal – Mornington Sacchariferous Stout
Afterthought: If the coffee I drink every morning smelt like this stout, I’d be a very happy man. Initially it was hard to split this from the Return of the Dread, but as they both warm up I think I know which way I’m leaning…
That head though! (I think Jason may be a little too drunk to be pouring my beers now; lucky this is the last one). The colour is…wait for it…the same as beers two, three and four! There’s no huge aroma at all. The taste is mellow. Really mellow. Ummm…vanilla, maybe? Maybe not. There’s nothing that really jumps out at me at all, not even that typical stout roasty-stoutiness that I’d expect. It’s just…yeah. Very yeah. I once again find myself throwing my hands in the air, because I just don’t care. Damn you Jason – you always throw a ‘meh’ beer in the mix. I’m giving it a 2/10.
Reveal – 4 Pines Stout
Afterthought: Wow, wouldn’t have picked this result from a 4 Pines brew. While the flavour of beer number three wasn’t to my liking, at least there was some flavour there for me not to like. Right to the end, even as I let this one warm – nothingness. As a side note, this was one of the first ‘Craft’ Stouts that I ever tried, when I started learning what real beer was. That may explain my whole “I just don’t get Stouts” mindset.
The top two beers drew on 8 points, and we need a winner. Based on initial flavours the gong would’ve gone to the Dread. But as they both warm, the Dread gets a little too sweet, whereas the Sacchariferous Stout just keeps producing oodles of coffee goodness. So the winner of the extra half point, and of the tasting overall, is the Mornington Sacchariferous Stout (8.5/10)
Results Wrap Up
- Mornington Sacchariferous Stout (8.5/10)
- Little Creatures Return of the Dread (8/10)
- Sierra Nevada Stout (5/10)
- Cascade Stout (4/10)
- 4 Pines Stout (2/10)
The differences between the winners and losers here was vast. The top two were exactly what I want from a stout – coffee, chocolate, no acridity, and all kinds of other smooth flavours and experiences that make me realise why the stout is such a popular style. While the Sierra Nevada ‘Stout’ managed a 5/10, I’m still not convinced it was a real Stout. As for the bottom two – they epitomized why I’ve had such trouble understanding stouts in the past. So note to self: Stouts are great, as long as they’re great stouts. Solid advice, I think?
For our next tasting we’re doing IPA’s…which is what I said after Lagers, and also after the Hefe tasting, and then stopped blogging for half a year. So either you’ll get a post about IPA’s next, or won’t hear from me again until sometime in 2016. I’m sure you’re excited by the prospect of either outcome.
Is there a Stout that you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below. Don’t forget to head over to www.brewsandbacon.com to see what beers I got for Jason, and what he thought of them.