Blind Tasting Beer

Beers being served blind...

Beers being served blind...

On 7 October, 4 November and 2 December, we’re running a blind tasting series. We’re kicking off with “Big, Bought, Boutique”. It will feature four beer styles, with three beers in each style category presented blind; one from a “big” brewery, one from a brewery that has been “bought” by a big brewery, and one from a “boutique” brewery. We’ll follow this with “How much?”. This tasting will showcase a cheaper beer against one of the most expensive representations of the style we can find! We’ll add in a crisps, cheese and chocolate comparison as well (as snacks are important with your beer and you want the best for your hard-earned dollars). Again, all tastings will be served blind.

Our final blind tasting will be “New Zealand verses The World” – Hope we win that one. We’re a bit biased but we think we’re making some darn good beer in the country right now and we’re keen to see how it stacks up against the original versions of the style.

So, what are these tastings about? Why are we serving all the beers blind?

If you’re interested in beer, and on any form of social media, lately you might have noticed lots of discussion and press about whether New Zealand has reached peak beer. And, a lot about beer quality. We’ve been quite interested in all this discussion. There’s very little informed commentary about whether we’re genuinely close to market saturation by way of contract brewer, beer bar and breweries. There’s also no real way to form a statistically reliable view on quality.

Most of the commentary we’ve seen is opinion-based. We have no problem with this. But, we do find it interesting when one person holds their opinion out as a source of truth about all things beer. Opinion is subjective. The point of our blind tasting series is to take away some of the subjectivity by taking away the labels and letting the beers speak for themselves.

The last time we ran a blind tasting, we called it “faux beer”. It was around the time that Lion Nathan introduced the “Crafty Beggars” range and called it, "a craft beer you can actually drink". The range didn’t last long. Its last Facebook post was some time in 2013. It was also at the time Boundary Road (Independent Breweries) introduced The Resident range. The last mention of this on their Facebook page is 2012 and the website now links to a shoe sale store!

The “faux beer” tasting was controversial. We got accused of setting up the new ranges to fail, and being opinionated and subjective ourselves! Of course we are. But what the critics didn’t necessarily realise at the time was that we gave all the beers in the tasting an equal chance of success by serving them blind. And, the results were enlightening. The “craft beer you can actually drink” proved pretty undrinkable. We served up the “Good as Gold” pilsner which received no votes verses the 17 received by Croucher Pilsner. The Resident Pilsner received one vote. Then there was the “Wheat As”. It didn’t do so badly, with five votes against 11 for the Tuatara Hefe – the winner in that round. Tuatara will fall into our “bought” brewery category in the upcoming tasting.

We also used the Crafty Beggars “Pale and Interesting”…The notes say, “It was not”. None of the “faux craft” – the big breweries’ beer received any votes in the pale ale round. They all went to Epic Pale Ale! The surprise of the tasting was, however, The Resident Red Rye IPA. This was one beer from the big breweries that many of us walked away saying we’d buy again.

Our up-coming blind tasting series will give us a chance to see if anything’s changed, and the chance to challenge our opinions and subjectivity. The “big” breweries have largely stopped their efforts to replicate the success of craft. Let’s see how some of their offerings sit in the market now? We’ll have selections from Lion Nathan, DB and Independent’s standard range. And, selections from some of the breweries they’ve “bought”. People have largely forgotten about the early, modern time, craft brewery sale of Macs many years ago. We’ll be adding them to the tasting, along with Emerson’s, Panhead and Tuatara. This will provide the slither of a chance to see if the nature of their beers, or the quality has dropped since their sale. And, of course, we’ll have some independent or “boutique” breweries in the mix as well.

One outcome of “Big, Bought, Boutique” may be that people find a quaffable, quality beer at price that is good for student weekends or staffies drinks; beer that can be bought by the six pack rather than the bottle. We’ll explore the concept of value and cost a bit further in the “How much?” tasting…does paying more for beer mean you get a better one? Some of the recent commentary about beer quality mentioned the price of a pint. We think beer should be fault-free no matter the price. This tasting will be an opportunity to explore the taste and quality of both a cheap beer and a more expensive one of the same style, to see if you do “get what you pay for” or if sometimes we might be paying too much.

Our final tasting, “New Zealand verses The World” is really a bit of fun leading into the festive season. It will be a fun way to have some festive drinks with friends. And, it will enable us to compare our beer offering here in New Zealand against some of the original versions of the style. Brewing is relatively new in New Zealand; the first beer was purportedly brewed by Captain Cook. The same cannot be said of the beers of Europe. There’s been brewing in the UK since the early 100s (they are still a part of Europe right now)! The tasting will be a little insight into how well we’re going here, and how quickly we’ve come up to speed!


If you’re keen to join us for any or all of the tastings, head over to Eventfinda to purchase a ticket.

We’re offering discounts for multiple bookings. If you book one, leave us an email address and we’ll send you through a discount code. Give us 24 hours to get on to this.

If you joined our lovely Phil Cook on a Beervana Walking Tour you should also have a discount code.