Beers In Sacramento reached out to Mike Ungerbuhler to post about his journey to become a certified beer judge. Mike will post every Sunday for the next three months to share his experiences. Mike has his own blog, Insatiable Thirst, make sure to check it out. Here's Mike...
Welcome back fellow travelers. Our journey continues with some serious sensory training; stretching is advised. Exercise can be fun and at other times it can be grueling. While I surely can't describe tasting beers as grueling, this week’s class was at minimum, a challenging exercise routine of aroma and flavor. I discovered some figurative muscles that I have not used in a while, or at all, in the sampling of nearly all of the 24 standards in the comprehensive Siebel Kit. I will share with you some of the pains and challenges faced in this week’s class. Pardon my limp.
Week 3: Aromatic Exercise
We met this week at the brewing facility and taproom of Lockdown Brewing Company in Rancho Cordova, CA. Thanks in part to the help of Susan Kelly, we dove head first into the tasting of doctored light base beers. There were 20 total samples poured, which were infused with nearly all that the Siebel Kit offers. This ranged from subtle flavors and aromas to the nearly putrid. Subtle flavors and aromas tend to be on the more agreeable side. Banana and clove for instance, are a natural byproduct of the strain of yeast used in Hefeweizen. This certainly can be pleasant and is important to be able to detect. Banana and clove are appropriate to Hefeweizens and should be detected when judging that style of beer. However, it would be inappropriate to detect those flavors or aromas in an IPA; while other fruity esters would perfectly acceptable in small amounts.
It became apparent to me this week that judging beer, which can be fun, will also include sampling some things that one would rather not put into their mouths. Imagine if you will, a convalescent hospital or diaper bin. Try and place those aromas; now picture wafting those smells in a beer that you are supposed to taste. The fecal scent is caused by a compound called indole, which stems from an extreme contamination of the beer. In this case, it came from a small vile and it was vile indeed. Aromas like sour milk, rotten veggies, or in the extreme case fecal, are all signs of contamination in or infection of the beer. The introduction of oxygen to beer also causes off flavors and aromas, like that of wet cardboard and a dirt like flavor. As we were nearing the end of the Siebel Kit, I began to experience palate fatigue. I really need to work on my stamina. I guess that means more twelve ounce curls for me.
Thankfully we only had a few commercial examples to sample this week, all of which were on the lighter, lager end of the spectrum. I was pleased to sample beers that were not infused with anymore of the Siebel Kit. We tasted a few varieties of lagers; Czech (also known as Bohemian), German, and Classic American. All of these were refreshing and tasty, but one stood out to me. The standout beer was Weihenstephaner Pilsner. The aroma was an inviting blend of grassy citrus and a sweet graininess. Its appearance was a crystal clear golden yellow with a bright white head. The flavor was reminiscent of lemon drops, but balanced with a slight mineral quality. Its light body and moderate carbonation made for a very drinkable and refreshing beverage. Weihenstephaner Pilsner is a classic example of a German Pilsner and will most certainly be on my radar.
I am happy to have your company on this journey and I hope that you stick with me along the way. The journey can work up a mighty thirst. This week’s thirst quencher is Session Lager from Full Sail Brewing. This beer is what American beer was prior to that horrible, dark age known as prohibition. It has a subtle grassy and herbal hop aroma. Its appearance is typical of a lager, pale yellow and crystal clear with a thin white head. The flavor is balanced well by a grainy malt sweetness and slightly floral hop presence. It has plenty of fizzy carbonation which aides in the refreshing aspect of this beer. I think that this is a great summer beer and would suggest grabbing a few while we still have some summer left to enjoy.