We convened for session #17 to cover Category 9, Strong European Beer. Only (“only”) three styles to cover, but all of them pretty heavy hitters.
Category 9: Strong European Beer
The BJCP style guide describes this category as follows:
This category contains more strongly flavored and higher alcohol lagers from Germany and the Baltic region. Most are dark, but some pale versions are known.
(Emphasis added by me.)
|9A. Doppelbock||9B. Eisbock||9C. Baltic Porter|
|16 – 26 IBU||25 – 35 IBU||20 – 40 IBU|
|1.072 – 1.112 O.G.||1.078 – 1.120 O.G.||1.060 – 1.090 O.G.|
|1.016 – 1.024 F.G.||1.020 – 1.035 F.G.||1.016 – 1.024 F.G.|
|7.0 – 10.0% ABV||9.0 – 14.0% ABV||6.5 – 9.5% ABV|
Taking the three styles together, there are a lot of similarities in the descriptors. Complex malts should dominate the aroma; hops should never be prominent (and usually “virtually absent”). Alcohol should assert on the nose, as long as it isn’t solventy or hot. Aromatics of dried fruit are common, though 9A and 9B are more likely to derive those from malt while in 9C they could be esters. All three styles should be dark (though 9A has pale versions); head color follows the beer color, and there should be good persistence. All three of them should have excellent clarity. Flavors will include “rich and malty” and “smooth” and “clean lager character”. There should be little-to-no hop flavors. Alcohol should be detectable but (again) neither harsh nor solventy. The 9A and 9B styles should be “toasty, not roasty” while 9C should be “roasty, not toasty”. All three should have fairly full mouthfeel and some alcohol warming, but carbonation is fairly variable between the three styles.
We had a new member join us tonight, and we were also lucky enough that Jason (one of our BJCP mentors) had attended as well to give some advice and refresher material. Following that preamble, we dove into them,
- 9A. Doppelbock. Andechser Doppelbock Dunkel. Judged; structured tasting. Scores from the group were clustered in the high-30s and low-40s. That said, while there was a lot of agreement from the group that it was a good example of the style, the judgy nit-picking centered around two things. First, while it had some of that “toasted bread” flavor in the mix, it also seemed like this was lower intensity than the “significant Maillard products” indicated in the style description. Second, the beer did not seem “boozy enough” — again, compared to the expectations set by the style guide. To the first point, we pondered whether age (oxidation?) would cause the intensity of the Maillard products to lessen. On both points, our judging mentor cautioned us about getting too pedantic about some of these points; balance is always key.
- 9B. Eisbock. Aventinus Eisbock. Judged; structured tasting. This was a case study in “trust your gut”. When I started my structured evaluation of this beer, I was distracted by an out-of-place aroma and flavor. It subsided as the beer warmed, but I couldn’t shake the impression. I almost didn’t remark on it. But I was dying to know, so I asked the group: “Did anyone else get like… soy sauce?” Several emphatic nods from around the table, though others had written down “fishy” or “fish sauce” or “oyster sauce”. The point being: we all felt it was out-of-place, and we all wondered if it was “just me”, but we all sensed something salty and savory. Jason pondered if that was our olfaction processing the alcohol. Certainly possible. “But…” There was much discussion, but we kept coming back to that. Jason nudged us back on course, asking us to consider the Eisbock as a concentrated (through freezing) Doppelbock. This snapped into focus for most of us (especially compared to the Doppelbock we’d just had 15 minutes ago) — and it provided a good frame of reference for how to judge/score one. On that note, our scores were all clustered in the low-30s.1
- 9C. Baltic Porter. Smuttynose Baltic Porter. Not judged; no structured evaluation. Being pressed for time, we cruised through this one fairly quickly. Just first impressions. Brief sidebar conversations in small groups at ends of the table. Comments about the roasty character compared to the toasty/Maillard from the Doppelbock. This seems to be one of the bigger differentiators of the styles within the category. There was also a brief discussion of the fermentation characteristics of a Baltic Porter — i.e., lager yeast run at warmer temperatures, not unlike a California Common.
- Triangle Test. We were abused once again with an off-category Triangle Test to build our skills. Similar to our last triangle test, we received a red, a blue, and a turquoise cup — each with a little bit of (sniffs deeply) Double IPA in it. I didn’t get it right this time. My notes looked like this:
In a nutshell, Erin did it again where we got two different treatments of Heady Topper. This time he’d given us two samples of a Heady Topper that spent two months in the refrigerator, and a sample of a Heady Topper that spent two months on top of the refrigerator. From the group, 7 of 12 got the odd beer out (again: not me this time) and only one person got close to guessing what made it different. Speaking for myself… I latched onto a small detail that helped me last time around and never quite allowed myself to let go of that.
- Bonus beers. With the category study and skills training out of the way, we circulated a couple of other beers that people had brought in for sharing — including my very last, one year old Diplomatic Mission braggot.
- Do your sensory impressions first. This was advice reiterated by Jason. When you’re doing a structured evaluation, write down all your perceptions first. Try to avoid looking at the style guide or talking to your peers. Don’t fall victim to priming effects. Or, as someone in the room put it: “Once someone else says ‘dark cherries’ then that’s all anyone is going to smell or taste.”
- Don’t latch onto “just one thing”. This is what sunk me in the triangle test. Because the head retention helped me get it right last time, I got fixated on that detail of the one cup. There were hints as I moved through my evaluation that perhaps “turquoise” wasn’t the one, but I was stuck on that detail. Generalizing from this, I could see how I might grab onto a specific aspect of aroma or flavor and allow that to lead me to certain conclusions while ignoring other detectable aspects. I need to remember not to do that.
- Get feedback on your feedback. Especially if you have access to an experienced judge! Share some of the comments from your scoresheet. “Is that an adequate description? Was my feedback actionable? Does it sound like I made unjustified assumptions?”
- For what it’s worth, I gave this bottle a 31; compare that to one I’d sampled in May 2017, which earned a 38. [↩]