The Beta Test
Inspired by Lew Bryson’s theories—as well as his cinematic allusions—All About Beer staff decided to see how beer sequencing could enhance or destroy some of our favorite beers.
We headed to our local, and lined up fourteen diverse beers, all favorites we were familiar with. Then, in a fairly unsystematic way, we sampled pairs of beers, and observed the effect of the first beer on the flavor of the second. In between, we munched on bread, and sipped sparkling water.
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
Bell’s Two-Hearted Ale
French Broad Wee Heavy
Young’s Double Chocolate Stout
Victory Prima Pils
The safest bet is to stick with one beer all evening, but that’s boring.
Study the Four Cs—Beers can cut, complement, contrast or corrupt each other. The first three can be good: the last is a waste of good beer.
A combination that cuts: Prima Pils followed by Warsteiner Dunkel
Very interesting effect: Similar intensity, but contrasting dominant notes made the dunkel come alive. Hennepin followed by Hopfenweiss, the weissbier becomes winey, tannic and dry. Sierra Nevada followed by Two-Hearted was a seamless replacement of one set of hop flavors with another.
A combination that complements: Young’s Chocolate Stout followed by Kasteel Rouge
Divine, like no-flour chocolate cake with raspberry coulis. Don’t use Guinness: it’s too dry, there’s no magic. Dry stout isn’t a good dessert beer. Be careful mixing beer traditions. We thought two malty, darkish beers, Belhaven and Warsteiner Dunkel would get along, but the dunkel was washed out and bland.
A combination that contrasts: Sierra Nevada PA followed by Celebrator Doppelbock
Relieves hop fatigue. Celebrator was a balm; however, its flavor was profoundly affected by what came before. In this combination, the black licorice notes were dominant. In general, malt after hops is more interesting than vice versa—the malty beer explodes with flavor.
A combination that corrupts: Pyramid Wheat followed by Allagash Wit
The spices in the wit became unpleasantly metallic. The lesson here is that wheat beers may not pair well, given the importance of spices. The banana in a hefeweizen and the coriander in a wit can clash badly. Allagash Wit followed by Hennepin was delicious, but emphasized bitter notes in the Hennepin. Wit and saison are complementary styles (Belgian wheat beers), so this pairs spice with spice, it appears.
There are obviously wheat beers that like each other: Pyramid Wheat followed by Hopfenweiss was a combination that stepped up complexity, spiciness and yeastiness. American wheat and German wheat get along better than either gets along with Belgian.
Sequencing sweet beers is problematic. When Celebrator was followed by Young’s Chocolate Stout, the stout tasted like chocolate milk, very plain. We wondered, do you have to get progressively sweeter in order to enjoy later beers? In fact, when one malty beer followed another, often the differences were stripped away and only bland sweetness remains.
Malty beers are very vulnerable to what came before. Celebrator, in particular, changed dramatically depending on whether it followed a Scotch ale (French Broad Wee Heavy brought out its raisin notes); a hoppy, strong weissbier (Hopfenweiss robbed the doppelbock of its complexity, though it wasn’t unpleasant), dry stout (Guinness restored the balance of the Celebrator).
The pairings were a revelation, well worth an evening’s experimentation.