The Beer Trials
By Seamus Campbell and Robin Goldstein
I’ve talked briefly in the past that so much of our enjoyment of beer isn’t just the beer in the glass, but environmental as well. It’s a culmination of things that can make or break a beer at times. One of the things that can also have a heavy bearing on our opinion is the label.
How many of us have made snap judgments based solely on who brewed the beer or possibly even the style of beer? I’d bet that all of us at one time have formed an opinion without even opening the bottle or can. We can’t help it, we’ve been taught to see, learn, and assess situations.
The idea behind The Beer Trials is to take away the hype. It’s about giving each beer a fair shake by tasting it via a blind judging. You strip away the hype and what you’re left with is the beer.
Some of you may be curious about their methodology. Without getting into it in great detail, each judging panel was held in a brightly lit apartment where all of the participants were away from any strong smells or odors that could affect their palate. They attempted to make sure that each beer selected was the freshest example they could come across. Each participant was told the style of beer during the sampling process and was given a tasting sheet to make notes about each beer.
Now, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.
As a non-frequent homebrewing competition judge, I think that blind tastings are best way to honestly judge beers. As I detailed above, we can too often get caught up in the label or brewery and even though it shouldn’t, that can help to shape our opinion.
I applaud the writers of this book for bringing forth a clear and concise method of not only how they tasted the beer, but also for providing their notes and thoughts on each beer. Also of note is that they include what bottle sizes the beer is available, the ABV, the country of origin, price categories, and some quick two or three word characteristics.
The book grades each beer on a 1-10 scale, where 10 is the highest score a beer can achieve. All of the beers in the book are easy to quickly find which gives you the opportunity to get a quick up or down opinion on.
Also of appreciation is the wide array of beers that were sampled. There were certainly more than a few styles missing, but the overall book tries to capture the standard beer marketplace as it currently exists.
The unfortunate part is that while I do appreciate the method in which this book was put together, I do have some quibbles. I guess my first problem, and probably what I think is the biggest problem is the grading system.
I’m not about to argue about grades that were given. For example, Foster’s was given a score of 6 while Boulevard Pale Ale achieved the same score. My issue lies in that each beer review is just given a score, but there is no reference to that beers rank within a style. Some acknowledgment of the beer’s overall rank within the style would have been helpful.
As a craft beer nerd, my next issue comes with what beers were chosen. They decided to give about half of the 250 reviews in the book to macrobreweries, which means that we’re given reviews for things such as Corona Light, Bud Ice, and even a few malt liquors. It’s just unnecessary, especially given that a lot of the reviews for these beer are essentially given one of two options: refreshing or bland. Maybe it’s just me, but the next edition of this book doesn’t need to tell us Hamm’s is bland.
Speaking of reviews, it’s interesting to see how a book so devoted to tasting beer blind gives a third of each review to speaking about the bottle or can’s design. It’s so superficially stupid. The authors have devoted so much effort to making sure that the stuff that’s in the bottle gets put first and then spend too much time telling us if the label is pretty or not. Ridiculous.
Should You Buy It?
While I do have quite a few problems with how the book is laid out and some of the beers they’ve picked, I do think it’s a fascinating look at how beers are judged when the labels are removed. I guess the determination on whether you should buy this book or not really comes down to just how comfortable you are with beer as a whole.
If you’ve just started down the craft beer road, I think this is a wonderful reference to new beer drinkers. More often than not, all of the beers that people love are some of the highest graded beers in the book. The Beer Trials gives new beer drinkers a great handbook to try and steer them to beers that they may not have tried in the past.
I do have a more difficult time giving a recommendation to hardcore craft beer drinkers to purchase this book. I think more than anything it would be something that aficionados would briefly glance at to see how some of their favorite beers ranked, but it would be something they’d rarely pick up afterward.
I’m curious to hear everyone’s thoughts on the concept. I’ve also been given the opportunity to interview the authors of the books, so if you have any questions for them, feel free to leave them in the comments and I can possibly set something up to talk to them.