I’m probably not the first person to do such a post but it was something I thought about the other day whilst drinking, and mentally criticising, a beer from Flying Dog brewery. It struck me of how much I was praising a beer that was, when I stripped everything back, a bit of a disappointment. Yet I was nothing but complimentary about it. I love Flying Dog and hadn’t been disappointed with any style they’d done up to that point. They are, in point of fact, one of my favourite breweries.
I suppose everyone has their favourite breweries. Mine would include the likes of Abbeydale, (because they were the first brewery I fell in love with) Millstone, (because they are my local but also make consistently great beers) Red Willow, (because I’ve never had a bad beer by them, cask or in bottles, and Ageless remains my favourite beer of this year) Flying Dog, (still my favourite Americans) and De Molen. I tend to never be disappointed by any of these and am always excited to try something new by either one, but this lends a certain amount of bias to it.
Don’t get me wrong, these have earned my respect with good reason and I must have adored their beers initially to have reached this condition. But now they can do little wrong in my eyes without intentional thought.
A clear example of this coming early this year/late last year when Millstone released their stout, aptly named ‘Stout.’ It was ordinary. In fact, because I expect more from Millstone, it was disappointing. That is my honest assessment. Yet at the time, I praised it highly. “A really great example of a simple style,” I said. Favouritism.
So tonight I want to experiment with stripping away the partiality. I checked my stores and happen to have a Red Willow beer I’ve never tried, Fathomless. I’ve also decided to contrast it against an Oakham Green Devil IPA. I’ve chosen this beer as I’ve heard good things about it but, personally, not been as blown away by Oakham as others. What I’m going to do is taste each beer in a different frame of mind; imagining it’s brewed by one of the aforementioned breweries and imagining it’s brewed by a brewery I’ve never heard of. Let’s try it.
It pours flat and with a dense dark colour . It initially smells of roasted malts and vanilla and there is a hint of the sea in there, with salty undertones, but perhaps I'm reaching because of the style. Subtle smokiness pleasantly coming through. To taste, it’s smooth at first with a thick malt taste and the smokiness coming through. It has similar elements to a much stronger imperial stout style. Those dark liquorice flavours are finished with a little zingy hoppiness and finally, a taste of brine on the tongue with seaweed filling your tonsils like a fresh salmon. As it really settles, the aftertaste returns to darkness and you feel like you've just had an 11% Imperial Stout.
It pours really flat and really black. At first I think I’ve stuck my nose in a glass of Guinness as it has similar attributes to this standard stout. But smell again and it's almost like having a John Smiths shoved up your nose too. Malty bitterness is the best way to describe this. To taste, it's sharp and it feels like quite a robust porter with a sickly salty after finish. The flavours are a little muddled with this with all manner of flavour appearing in each mouthful. It's an enjoyable stout but that seaweed finish makes it too sickly to have more than one. It balances more as it warms in the glass and is pleasant without pushing boundaries.
It’s flat but a clear golden honey colour. The scent is heavenly; really powerful grapefruit and mango notes powering through before you reach anything else. And the taste is even better, sitting on your tongue and just dissolving into bitter citrus hops. It packs a lovely hop punch but retains a gentle smoothness that is very Moorish. It’s great stuff.
It’s flat but a clear golden honey colour. There’s lovely grapefruit hop aromas that are big and mouth watering. But the taste? A little redundant. I'm expecting a big punch in the mouth of hops from that scent but the taste is a little secluded in comparison. There's definitely a nice hop presence and a drying, moorish taste but I'm not getting the hit I want. Perhaps the ABV is too low for the style I’m expecting. It’s a decent drop and very drinkable but smells better than it tastes.
In truth you can never complete this experiment officially unless it’s a blind taste test, but I was surprised how contrasting the opinions were. I can only admit that there was no forward pretence to this taste off. These were my thoughts on these two beers whilst in a particular mind set. Hopefully, judging from this experiment, I’ll reconsider my partiality before drinking anything from any brewery again. It’s great to have favourite breweries, especially the local micros you can support, but I don’t wish to let that cloud my judgement. It’s still not going to stop me opening another Red Willow beer now. No doubt, it will be delicious…