You may have read last week’s blog where I grappled with a Bergamot IPA from De Molen. Grapple isn’t really the right word to be honest, it was a very one sided contest that I easily won. However, it did spark further thoughts on a topic I have been thinking about over the last few years and that is the concept of taste and olfactory blind spots. I’ll explain what I mean.
For me, the Bergamot IPA was more hop-driven than anything else. However, my wife, who was sitting a few metres away from me as I tasted the beer, immediately asked me what on earth it was - so pungent was the odour of Bergamot for her. Not only was I quite annoyed at how well she seemed to be nosing my beer from a distance of two metres, but it made me realise I had probably just stumbled across a tasting blind spot. An odour that I couldn't easily spot.
In the same way that we are all physically different and do things better or worse than each other, we are all sensitive to flavours and odours to a greater or lesser extent (no matter how objective we think we are when tasting). I’ve met tasters who just don’t spot certain elements and others who can’t consume certain drinks thanks to super low levels of compounds those drinks possess. What’s interesting too, regarding these blind spots, is that we can either reinforce or remove them depending on our tasting habits.
I have friends who are so sensitive to diacetyl that they scream D-bomb at every third beer they taste. But, from a life of drinking buttery Chardonnay, for me, big diacetyl tends to slip under the radar quite easily.
kettle-soured beer lovers will spot the hallmarks of Lactobacillus a mile off, but when it presents in a wine as a fault - many wine aficionados wont spot it. Their palates simply aren’t aware of what it is, so it slips by as an element of complexity or something that just can’t be named.
It’s the same for Brett which is perceived as a fault in wine. I spent many years drinking Bordeaux and Rhone where Brett is as common as it is in a Belgian Trappist brewery and so, for me, it was deemed to be a funky complexing element. In many ways I was blind to it, at least as a fault.
Tasting with others is the best way to notice these blind spots; it becomes all too apparent when people are chucking out descriptors you just can't spot. And don’t be afraid to admit when something isn’t obvious, after all, it’s only when you have found the blind spot can you do anything about it. Then it becomes an issue of education and, well, that just means tasting more beer, which let's face it, is a nice situation to be in.
None of this has much to do with our beer today. But, if ever there were a beer with plenty to spot - it's this beauty.
The beer pours super dark with a burnt sienna head that gradually fades. Nosing it is like sticking your beak into a black forest gateau: cherries, chocolate, vanilla and then ginger, earthy, rusty iron ore notes begin to appear. It’s a real journey in the mouth with tart, red cherries in the front palate which then open into waves of sweet syrupy thickness that spreads through the palate until you are left swallowing a fudge brownie that slides down quite effortlessly. Marvellous stuff.
This stout is like a 50 tonne chocolate juggernaut coming up alongside you on the motorway that, even in your side mirrors, simply can’t be missed... and this style of beer is a great place to hone the palate, there’s just so much going on. So grab a few this weekend and get training.