Fed up with the regular beer imports, AsiaLIFE editor Mark Bibby Jackson contacted craft company Beervana in order to take a blind taste challenge to see if Americans know how to brew decent ale. Photo by Nick McGrath.
Being a Brit I come from a land where ales are served warm and full of flavour, so it’s hard to acclimatise to a country where the only distinction between beers is how cold they are. Therefore the arrival of Anderson Valley and Rogue beers from California and Oregon respectively — even though they come from the other side of the Pond — is something to be welcomed. So, I offered to don a blindfold and put my taste buds to the hops test. Nine beers were served to me unseen and I marked them out of ten.
The first beer smelt like a stout or an English brown ale, although it had a more fruity flavour than a traditional British stout. Awarding it 7/10, I was shocked to discover it was American Amber Ale by Rogue. The tasting notes said “toasted sweetness meets moderate hop bitterness with some caramel and toffee notes”. Most of this passed me by. Still, it was a tasty enough brew.
I thought the next beer up was a Samuel Adams or, at any rate, an American red ale. Thanks to its soft malty taste, I could have got stuck into this one if there was not some serious drinking ahead. Another 7/10, this was Poleeko Pale Ale by Anderson Valley brewery. The notes talked of “aromas of pink grapefruit and lemon zest combined with mild maltiness reminiscent of English biscuits” but my simple palate has never been a fan of tasting notes, even in wines.
The third beer was the first of two failures for me. Lacking in aroma and with a mild taste, it reminded me of an English light ale, which I have never really taken to. With a flat 5 from me, the St. Rogue Red Ale is not one I’ll be rushing back to.
The fourth made up for the disappointment of the previous brew. Although I couldn’t detect much aroma, it had a distinctly flatter taste and was one of the better beers on offer. But not even half-way through the experiment and I had started to lose faith in myself. Beginning to doubt my first impressions, I thought it was a red ale, only later to discover it was a pale ale. Still, the Hop Ottin’ IPA by Anderson Valley received an 8/10 and is a name I shall remember.
I believe chocolate should be eaten, not drunk, and have never been a fan of chocolate stouts traditionally wheeled out at Christmas time. The chocolate smell of beer number five was overwhelming. Despite there being a strong stout flavour, it definitely was not for me. Chocolate Stout by Rogue received a generous 4.
By the time the next beer arrived I was still reeling from the taste of chocolate. That was my only excuse for awarding the Yellow Snow IPA by Rogue a mere 6/10. With a fruity aroma and a full hoppy flavour, it was slightly more carbonated than the first few beers but also had more taste. In hindsight it should have received 7 out of 10 as well.
My host Brian Bartusch from Beervana informed me that the next brew, Hazelnut Brown Nectar by Rogue, was his best seller in Bangkok. It’s easy to see why. The initial impression of burnt aromas was replaced with a flavoursome yet flat taste. A stout with a caramel essence was my call. In fact it was an “American twist on a traditional European Brown Ale with a strong hazelnut aroma that introduces a rich, woody brew with butterscotch and coffee notes”. Although I hate to follow the crowd, it was my favourite and polled 9/10.
The last two drinks suffered from being at the end of an intensive session. My taste buds shot to bits, I felt that the penultimate beer was a red ale similar to the second. Another pleasant tipple, the Boont Amber Ale by Anderson Valley received another 7.
The final beer was Beervana’s other best-seller alongside the Hazelnut Brown. A bland but eminently quaffable ale was my verdict, giving it a diplomatic 7. In truth it was at least one beer too far my taste buds. Next time I shall give the Dead Guy Ale by Rogue better attention.
After the tasting, my blindfold was removed in order to sip the beers once more, but this time with the label to help me. It was surprising to discover the first ale was not a stout or brown ale and even more of a shock to find the third ale was not red. Those ales with most flavour tasted similar after the blindfold was removed, though I sense that some of the more subtle traces lie more in the tasting notes than in my undiscerning taste buds.
As for an expert’s opinion, Brian Bartusch is clearly a man of the people, preferring the two beers that are his best sellers. “For me the Dead Guy is the most drinkable at any time and it always makes me happy, while the Hazelnut is a little bit something special,” he says. “It has organic hazelnut extract added to it, so it’s not a traditionalist beer, but I think they balance it well. But in two weeks I’ll have a different favourite.”
Overall, with the exception of the Chocolate Stout, the quality of the beer was surprising. There’s more to Uncle Sam’s beer than a gaseous bottle of Bud. And there are far worse ways to become blind drunk in Bangkok that drinking some Rogue and Anderson Valley beers.
For more about the availability of Rogue and Anderson Valley in Thailand, visit: www.seekbeervana.com/home/