I love blind beer tastings. And as I throw more of them it seems many others love them too. I’d like to encourage everyone to try them and share in the fun, here are three different ways.
Why Host a Blind Beer Tasting?
Preconceived notions can override a surprising amount of what we actually taste. We’re told that X beer is highly rated or Y beer is hard to get, so of course they’re great! Zombie Dust is an amazing IPA, right? Of course! Except, in a blind tasting it lost to Fat Heads Head Hunter.
One way to get past these preconceived perceptions is a blind beer tasting. On the flip side of that, everyone is right and anyone else is wrong. If you read about a blind tasting that bashes your favorite beer you’re apt to reject its conclusions, called confirmation bias, telling yourself how you know better. You can either continue to reject the blind tastings conclusions, or you can repeat the tasting yourself, remember, they’re also a lot of fun.
So, how do you do a blind tasting?
#1 My Original Method
What I’ve done a few times is have folks put their own bottles into paper bags. Other occasions we’ve had non-participants bag the beers. We’d then open the bottles and pass them around. This has two large flaws:
- People may remember which beer is theirs because they are the ones who bagged it.
- People could guess which beer it is from the glass/can color, size, etc.
If you have limited resources (people not taking part) to work with then I still think this is a decent way to conduct a blind tasting. I did this for a blind tasting a few years ago, we weren’t concerned about collecting data, and we had a lot of fun doing this.
#2 My Refined Method
When I decided to host a recent sour tasting I wanted results and feedback. I threw together a quick document to allow people to rate, take notes, and guess at what beer it was.
Luckily for the recent sour tasting, we had two volunteers available. One person was opening the bottles and keeping track of what order they were in. Another person was pouring the beers for us inside of a very large box, so we couldn’t see what bottle they had.
I think this way worked very well, but I learned the next week there is a better method, the Pat’s Pints method.
#3 The Pat’s Pints Method
Pat Woodward, of Pat’s Pints a Columbus beer blog, has written about a number of blind tastings. He’s also the brains behind the 2016 King of the Ohio Session Beer tasting and the Ohio-brewed Double IPA Blind Taste Test that I took part in. Pat has blind tastings down pat (I couldn’t resist).
Pat’s method requires one or more people to sit out of judging and take care of pouring and management. The participants break down into groups of 3 or 4 people. Then, somewhere out of sight, the pourer pours the first beer for each group and tracks what beer is what number for what group.
Each participant had a simplified BJCP score sheet (shown on the left) as well as the original BJCP score sheet (center) for guidance. Pat also passed around printouts of the BJCP style guidelines for DIPAs and a hop flavor wheel (shown on the right below).
The person pouring the beers brought each round of cups out for us to try and we filled out the simplified BJCP sheets with comments and a score. After each beer, the folks in each group compared notes and briefly discussed the beer, reaching a general consensus on points.
We did this for the rest of the beers in our flight, getting clean and numbered cups for each beer. At the end of our flight, we picked one beer to move on to the final round.
For the final round, all participants got to try each of the four finalist beers and we rank ordered them with the lowest score being the winner, like golf.
This blind beer tasting method does many things better than the previous options. First, it’s less beer per person per flight, meaning less palate fatigue. It also provides better and more comments, providing spaces for aroma, appearance, flavor, mouthfeel, and overall comments. It also feels more balanced to provide a finalist round separate from the main rounds.
Of course, it requires much more planning and management by a non-participant. If you’re looking for more rigorous results, or writing a blog post, this is clearly the best method. If you just want to have fun then the first method will work just fine.
Blind Beer Tasting: Your Method?
Have you hosted a blind tasting? How did you arrange things? Leave a comment and let folks know! I’d appreciate feedback on these methods as I plan to have more posts on tastings this year, next up will be barrel aged coffee stouts.