Last night I hit a few bars with a good friend, Eric. We first went to one of my regular stops, Bull McCabes Irish Pub, where I had a long time favorite, Fuller’s London Porter on draft.

A perfectly poured Fuller’s London Porter, in a nice dimpled mug, just defies explanation. It just is. I love it. About half way between whole milk and a milk shake, it’s viscosity is very reassuring. Here is a perfect example of a round flavor. No notes particularly asserted themselves in the profile, except maybe a slight sensation of licorice in the finish. Generally, there’s an integrated, weaving of various malt, hop and yeast flavors. This is what I think of when I think balance in a beer.

Unfortunately, Eric and I discovered it was trivia night at Bull McCabes. We drank up and headed to a new watering hole in downtown Durham, Whiskey. If your taste in bars tends toward classic, understated, refined, quiet, then Whiskey is your kind of joint. Of particular note is the fact the draft lines are so short as to not require glycol, meaning the beer is always in good shape. (I’m not going to even go into the opulent feast of malts running the length of the backbar.)

Both Eric and I  opted for Foothills Seeing Double IPA. I chose it for sequencing reasons. I suspected it was big  and bright enough to step past the full body and malt taste of the Fullers London Porter. The sequence turned out to be perfect. It took only one mouthful for the Seeing Double to settle in, more of a contrast than anything else.

However, I found myself back to thinking about balance. This is a very big beer, hearty and exciting. It starts strong, some toasted biscuit notes, a big mouth, then slides very quickly into a huge citrus finish. All three — front, middle and back — were robust and assertive.

Here’s where a different idea of balance came in. Unlike the Fullers, which I categorized as round, the Foothills had several complimentary elements, all very large. Each was its own characteristic which worked together with each other, but really didn’t create that rounded sensation like the Fullers did. They were distinct and collaboarative.

I’m not being critical. I actually went back for a second, which might not have been the best decision I’ve made at that hour. This is more about the notion of balancing coming from equals instead of integration of flavors.

Two ideas of balance.