I sincerely hope that everyone had a fun and safe 4th of July!I spent mine doing a bit of traveling and, as I travel, I like to try whatever beers I can along the way. However, since I am doing my own driving, that can present some real challenges.So here’s a few words of praise for the “sampler” or “taster” sets you can get at many breweries and brewpubs. I stopped in San Antonio and was able to try no fewer than a dozen beers while I was there and then move on to my overnight stop about an hour out of town, safely.
Standout beers were the Bat Outta Helles, a great summer lager that’s available at both of Freetail Brewing’s locations and also in cans. Alamo Beer Company’s new brewery is both “green” and gorgeous. Their Schwartzbier is also a thing of beauty, rich, toasty and oh so smooth! I also got to try eight beers at the upscale Southerleigh brewpub in the former Pearl Brewery brewhouse, my favorite there being the Imperial Stout, which was strong and roasty, just like it should be!
Without the ability to get smaller servings of these beers, I would have never had a chance to try more than two or three. I have seen criticism of samplers by bartenders that they are a pain to pour (especially the huge 12-16 beer sets that some places offer) and require a lot of extra barware. I’ve heard beer geeks (not the kind that watch the show, I’m sure) remark that a sampler doesn’t do a brewery’s work justice, since a beer that can be consumed in a few good sips doesn’t really let you evaluate it fully. However, I’d argue that it only takes a few sips to fully evaluate a beer. I once shot video of Michael Jackson, the Beerhunter, tasting at the Great American Beer Festival and he completed his evaluation of the beers he tried in exactly three sips!
I will say that the order in which you drink a sampler is critical.You can’t start with the Double IPA and expect that American Premium Lager to taste like anything but water afterwards. Work from lighter to darker, from low hops to high hops and lower alcohol to higher alcohol (lots of combinations to consider there). Beers with strong flavors from spices, smoked ingredients, fruits, barrel conditioning or sours should either be saved for last or tasted where they most fit with surrounding beers. Often a brewery will have a recommended order, but it’s been my experience that many get that order wrong. Ordering a sampler is a great way to train your palate and explore new styles, not to mention helping you decide what you’d like a whole pint of later!
Bev Blackwood II is the Southwest Brewing News Contributing Editor for Texas and has been covering Texas beers for 17 years An award winning home brewer, Bev has also brewed professionally at St. Arnold Brewing Company and was part of the team that brought home Saint Arnold’s first Great American Beer Festival gold medal in 2007. A long time member of Houston’s premiere homebrew club, the Foam Rangers, Bev teaches their Beer Judge Certification Program course and has also taught at Rice University’s Glasscock School of Continuing Studies.
The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.