After a longer than planned hiatus, we finally reconvened a blind tasting panel at the weekend for the return of the popular Getting Blind With Crafty series. For the uninitiated, this is where we pick a beer style, gather a panel of knowledgable beer sorts and ask them to assess beers in a competition style setting.
You may wonder why we do this, given there are state-based competitions in most Australian states as well as the annual Craft Beer Awards. Well, apart from the fact they're huge amounts of fun to do, whether you're on the judging panel or serving the beers and listening in to comments, we also look to source our beers from retail rather than straight from the brewery, meaning what we're tasting is more representative of what you, our readers, will be spending your hard-earned dollars on.
That's not the only reason for picking up the beers this way; it also allows us to see whether freshness comes into play (it should do with these beers in which hops play a key role) and let you know which brewers are putting best before, packaged on or other identifying details on their beers to help you decide whether they're worthy of your cash.
GETTING YOU INVOLVED PT I
There was one new element introduced this time around – one that we'll retain for the future. These days, in contrast to when we first started holding these sessions, there are generally too many beers of each style to reasonably taste in one session. So we put a list of all potential entrants live on the site last month and asked readers to pick the ones they would most like to see assessed.
We took the top ten from the public vote and then bulked it up to 15 with five "dealer's choices" used to ensure beers we thought should be in there also got a run – because they were recent trophy or gold medal winners, were beers from little known breweries that we rate highly, or to ensure a spread around the states.
Initially, there were 11 from the public vote as there were two with the same number of votes in tenth place, but this became ten again once we realised Wolf of the Willows Wolf Blood, which received the third most votes behind Modus Operandi's Former Tenant and KAIJU! Hopped Out Red, was sold out.
The number of beers then rose to 16 after a rep of some standing in the beer world suggested we include a beer that had come top in a recent tasting he'd held (from a brewery with which he has no affiliation). We'd also tasted it recently and figured it was a cracker that deserved a spot on the day.
When it came to presenting them, the ambers were presented as a flight together and we looked to work from lower ABV beers up to the bigger ones, advising the panel of this, to ensure "smaller" beers wouldn't be assessed by palates attuned to bigger beers.
If there's one thing this tasting told us above all, it's that fresh really is best when it comes to hoppy beer styles like this. Four of the top six are beers that were packaged and started hitting shelves within the past six weeks, while other beers that have won major trophies or gold medals in the past that had six months or more of age on them are found in the lower reaches.
Interestingly, of the six beers that didn't make the top ten, two picked up gold medals at last month's Australian International Beer Awards and one is the reigning Supreme Champion Beer from the International Beer Challenge in the UK. Where there are batch numbers or dates on the bottles, we'll provide those to the brewer along with judges' feedback, while one can only surmise that in the case of Prancing Pony's much-loved India Red Ale it comes down to the beer feeling the effects of age (it had a Best After date of November 14, 2016 on the bottle).
Returning to the top end, the top two are packaged in cans, which some claim offers better protection for hoppy beers, but given they were also among the freshest beers tasted, it's impossible to glean much from that. Overall, it does suggest paying attention to the age of hoppy beers when buying them and, if breweries don't provide a packaged on or best before date, find a retailer you trust to tell you how long beers have been in their fridges.
As a side note, we were pleased to see the Hoppy Amber from Five Barrel in Wollongong fare well. This beer really impressed the Crafty team when we visited the cellar door last year and, as such, we were keen to use up a dealer's choice pick to bring it to wider attention.
THE TOP TEN
1. Mismatch Evil Archie's – 6.66% – Cellarbrations at Collingwood – BBF 19/04/18
3. Feral Fantapants – 7.5% – Grape & Grain – No date stamp visible
5. Akasha Fire Within – 5.8% – Grape & Grain – Packaged 17/05/17
6. Five Barrel Hoppy Amber – 6.5% – Direct from brewery – Packaged 17/05/17
7. Little Creatures Fire Falcon – 5.8% – Dan Murphy's Alphington – BBF 11/01/18
8. Dainton Family Brewery Red Eye Rye – 4.8% – Grape & Grain – No date stamp visible
9. Nail Red Ale – 6.0% – Grape & Grain – No date stamp visible
10. Exit Amber – 5.0% – Grape & Grain – Packaged 04/11/16
The other beers tasted were:
- Two Birds Sunset Ale – 4.6% – Grape & Grain – BBF 17/08/17
- Six String Dark Red IPA – 6.0% – Purvis Beer Richmond – BBF 15/12/17
- 2 Brothers Grizz – 5.7% – Purvis Beer Richmond – Only batch number visible
- Prancing Pony India Red Ale –7.9% – McCoppins Fitzroy – Best After 14/11/16
- Hop Nation The Buzz – 6.5% – McCoppins Fitzroy – No date visible
- Noisy Minor Admiral Ackbar – 8.4% – Direct from brewery – Only batch number visible
GETTING YOU INVOLVED PT II
In the past, we've held public blind tastings along the lines of these in Melbourne, Hobart, Perth and Adelaide. They've always been a lot of fun and, if we had more time, we'd do them more often.
Now, for Melbourne readers, we are – hopefully every two months (provided we find the time to run a Getting Blind With Crafty session every two months). We were approached by Tallboy and Moose about running them at their brewpub, so the plan is to take the top 12 beers from each session we run and feature them in a public blind tasting within two weeks of ours.
The first event is taking place on June 28 and will feature the top ten plus two others, with Carwyn Cellars sourcing the beers. There are just 30 spots, with tickets costing $29pp. You can find full details and book a spot here.
We've also got a limited number of discounted spots for Crafty Cabal members to be snapped up via your member's area.
What's more, Carwyn Cellars will be making blind tasting packs featuring the 12 beers available for you to buy and run your own session at home. And, who knows, if we can find the right partners elsewhere, maybe these could start up elsewhere too if there's interest.
Thanks to Temple for hosting once more and to the writers, brewers and reps that gave up a Saturday afternoon to judge and pour.
You can read past blind tasting features here and look out for the public voting round for the next one when, all being well, we plan to return to imperial stouts.