Blind Beer Tasting: 14 IPAs in 45 minutes

A few months ago, Don and I had a great idea: A Big IPA Blind Tasting!

Could we identify our favorite big IPAs in a blind tasting?
How much of the draw is the brand and the scarcity?
Is the liquid really as good as we think it is?

After a birthday vacation to Burlington and Montreal, Don and I acquired a few cases of scarce Vermont IPA’s – we thought we were ready. But a few more twists brought us two big IPAs from Maine (Foundation and Bissell) and two MA treasures (Trillium and Treehouse).  Coincidentally, our homebrewed IPA was also finally ready for prime time this past weekend and this line up was just too good to be true.

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We rounded up some IPA-digging friends and busted out the cheese and charcuterie for the occasion.

The Lineup:

45 minutes & 35 ounces of Double IPAs later…

We each took notes of progressively worsening legibility (making me wonder if we were actually blind while we did this tasting). We decided on a few clear favorites among the group. Favorites that don’t exactly match beer advocate’s rankings.

With the brand removed from the equation some beers fell short, while some beers continued to impress.

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Top 2 in no particular order:

  • 14th Star – Tribute
    • “Hoppy”, “Great”
  • Burlington Brewing Co – It’s Complicated being a Wizard
    • “Best nose”, “Very solid”, “Heady Topper?”

Top 3-6 in no particular order

  • Tree House – Green
    • “Great”, “Balanced”, Sherbert”, “Green?”
  • Trillium – DDH Summer Street
    • “Citrus”, “Pungent”, “Green?”, “Sherbert”
  • The Alchemist – Heady Topper
    • “Peppery”, “Citrusy”, “Like!”, “Bitter after taste”
  • Foundation – Epiphany
    • “Balanced”, “Sweet but not malty”, “Very unique”

The rest:

  • Fiddlehead – Second Fiddle (97/-)
    • “Fruity”, “Resiny”, “Good”
  • Houblon – Chouffe (94/97)
    • “Belgian”, “Farmhouse”
  • Bissell Brothers – Substance (94/82)
    • “Farmhouse”, “Musty”, “Bitter”, “Metallic”
  • Lawson’s – Super Session #2 (91/-)
    • “Light”, “Session”, “Citrus”
  • Rock Art – Limited Access (90/-)
    • “Very good…or not”, “Balanced”
  • Foundation – Blaze (89/-)
    • “Malty”, “Low quality”
  • Trader Joe’s – Boatswain Double IPA (65/-)
    • “Very Malty”, “Caramel”, “Sherbet”
  • Homebrew – Honey Stung IPA
    • “Malty”, “Trader Joe’s?”, “Dark”

How We Did the Double Blind Tasting

To make this a double-blind study (Meaning the person pouring the beer can also participate!) Don poured the beer in another room, and handed the beer to me – I set it on numbered sheets of paper in our kitchen.

He noted the order he poured the beer on a sheet of paper (hidden from me), and I noted where I put each set of samples in the order that I put them down (and hid that list from Don).

After we finished the tasting, we matched the beer names from Don’s list with the numbered samples from my list to find out which beers were which.

 

The Next Blind Tasting

Next time we do a tasting, we’ll NOT taste 14 beers in a row. Maybe more like 5, and we’ll taste them twice.  By the time we hit #8…#13…#14, we had forgotten why we liked #2 so much. A smaller group of beers would let us go back and retry the samples, and maybe write more meaningful comments than “good” or “like!”

In Conclusion

Our brand perceptions seemed to make an impact on perceived amazingness of some beers. Surprisingly, reputable beers with strong brands and intentional scarcity, like Fiddlehead and Bissell Brothers, didn’t stand up to the quality and flavor of the new brews of Burlington Beer Co. and the more widely available  14th Star’s Tribute.



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