I once described beer flights as “sloppy little beer thimbles.” And that was one of the nicer things I’ve said about them. “Sad little beer blights.” “Tiny, uninspired specimens.” I could go on and often did. I long saw beer samplers as sad little representations of a brewer’s hard work and intention.
There has never existed a brewer who dreamed the product of their sweat and labor would be enjoyed an ounce or three at a time. Beer flights or tasters have always been a necessary evil, such as at American style beer fests offering hundreds of beers. But no one would claim that beer samplers lend themselves to a great drinking experience.
But that’s exactly the point of the beer flight, something I inherently understand but apparently lost touch with during my personal beer journey. Beer tasters aren’t about drinking, they’re about sampling, experiencing, trying new things. The objective is manifestly about quantity, not quality. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Like taking a one day hop-on, hop-off bus tour of a major city so you can cram a dozen attractions into three hours. Do they offer the full, immersive experience of slowly perusing every piece in a major art gallery? Of course not, but that’s not the point.
The experience of ordering lets the drinker travel as many flavor paths as possible while giving them a reasonable enough understanding of the beers sampled. And like watching a packed 60 second trailer for a two hour movie, sometimes that’s all you need to get a beer’s measure.
I once railed against tasters but no more. Because, truthfully, I loved tasters before I despised them. They offer an unparalleled window into new styles and opportunity to sample different flavors of beer even if imperfect in form. After drinking hundreds of samplers along the way, I started to prefer drinking pints or half-liters of beer, trying to understand and appreciate each beer on a slower, more in-depth basis. But two things changed that for me: the absolute explosion in the number of breweries and beers produced in the US today and spending less time in the pub and more time at home.
When there were only a few thousand breweries in the states, it felt possible for a particularly engaged beer lover to sample beers from a substantial number of them. And though mathematically challenging, there hardly seemed a need to rush to try everything. You could savor each pint. Any case of FOMO was mild. But when that number ballooned to 8, 9, or more than 10,000 breweries, we quickly lost the ability to keep up with the breweries even in our own backyards. And when each of those breweries produce dozens if not hundreds of beers a year, it becomes not just a laughable exercise in futility but a numeric impossibility to try every beer. But we beer lovers are nothing if not pathological in our need to experience the new, the novel, the next. It’s in craft beer’s DNA.
In addition to the natural FOMO that defines a craft beer drinker’s essence, I’m also excited to make the most out of my brewery visits after several years spent largely drinking in the confines of my own home. In my pursuit of the pint and home beers, I had lost touch with the pure chaotic joy of ordering samplers. In some places you might get four, six, or ten, or 14 different tasters on your tray. In others, you can choose to play nice with your palate or just decide to destroy it with your selections. It’s like buying one of those fly anywhere for a month deals, your imagination is the limit.
With a return to ordering tiny tasting glasses of beer, I’m looking to attack my palate, to try things I would never buy in a store. Sure I’ll order your pils or helles to reset my palate but the rest of the list is gonna get weird. A barrel aged ESB? I’m in. Pastry pilsner? Let’s do it. Your grodziskie? Whoa, let’s not get too crazy.
Experimentation defines craft beer’s essence. We all secretly love tasters even if we publicly dunk on them. I loved tasters before I hated them. And now I love them again. So let’s get weird. Maybe I’ll even drop in a hazy IPA.