Sunday, 8 December 2013

Live Blogging: Beer O'Clock Pilsener Taste-Off

Beer O'Clock has arrived, the Auckland sun has come out momentarily to greet it and (despite appearances) I have before me two bottles of Pilsner to try. So I'm going to try an experiment: I'll live-blog a taste test comparing the two, one from eatablished award-winning Tutara brewery from Paraparaumu, the other from Auckland's newest craft brewers, the Black Sands Brewing Co from Kelston--who boats about being the only Westie craft brewers.

You aren't allowed to mention oxymorons.

First up, the Tuatara Bohemian Pilsner...

Looks great in the glass. Light coloured with a substantial and head. Earthy smell of malts and fruit. Grapefruit, lime, even grass... (and visitors here are saying they like the bottle, whose neck has been given the texture of a tuatara's skin)...

Tastes good. Less fruit and more hops. The hops stay around in the mouth. Less clean than your 'standard' pilsener, more oily than crisp, but not at all bad for that. Carbonation disappears quickly from the glass, taste continues...

Overall, a very quaffable, decently hoppy summer pils, that's maybe just a little simple, a tad unexciting. If I were adjusting my stereo to play it, I'd say it lacked midrange and some decent musical arrangements.

So on to the Black Sands...

Lion Rock on the label, and it pours with a head like the foam off the Piha surf.

Good colour, very slight cloudiness. Aroma less punchy initially, and more of fruit than malt, sort of a grassy passionfruit. So let's taste it...

Aroma increasing substantially, and beautifully, as it sits in the glass while I piss around taking bloody pictures. Starting to smell now like it's a full-on citrus garden!

So, to taste...

Hell's bells! That's a Pils with flavour. A full mouth-feel, and flavour that delivers all the way down. It starts with the fruits, in smell and in taste, gets increasingly malty in the mouth, and has a great lingering aftertaste of fruit and malt and hops and a well-blended suggestion of general gorgeousness.

Beer this good should be chained up and made to only come out on weekends. Excuse me now while I concentrate...

This is more than just a Pilsener. It's a Pilsener with a Pale Ale uncle, that just gets better as it sits in the glass. (I'm getting feijoa now, and banana...) Which is not as hard to do as it sounds, because those delicious flavours linger delightfully in the mouth.

I'm declaring a winner already here, and unlike the First Test it's not even close. Victory by an innings and several dozen runs goes to the new brewer...

I'm told that distribution of Black Sands in in its early days, but you can fill your own at Hopscotch in Mt Eden, and at Jervois Rd Cellars. You can find it on draught at Grand Central Ponsonby. And you can find it around the place in bottles, but Galt knows where.

(Full disclosure: the Black Sands brewers tried to bribe me with one free bottle of the stuff to review. One bottle! As if I'm that easily bought...)



  1. Had a couple of the Black Sands IPA at Grand Central recently and the hoppiness turned to happiness very quickly and made for a very pleasant evening! Looking forward to more from this brewer.
    Angela and Richard

  2. the drunken watchman8 Dec 2013, 19:49:00

    "Earthy smell of malts and fruit. Grapefruit, lime, even grass..." ????

    what a load of waffle

    next thing you will be trying to sell us the London Bridge :)

  3. the drunken watchman8 Dec 2013, 19:54:00

    "Hell's bells! That's a Pils with flavour. A full mouth-feel, and flavour that delivers all the way down. It starts with the fruits, in smell and in taste, gets increasingly malty in the mouth, and has a great lingering aftertaste of fruit and malt and hops and a well-blended suggestion of general gorgeousness."

    "a well-blended suggestion of general gorgeousness"?

    hell's bells all right - how many of these things did you drink before you wrote that?

  4. the drunken watchman8 Dec 2013, 21:08:00

    "This is more than just a Pilsener. It's a Pilsener with a Pale Ale uncle, that just gets better as it sits in the glass. (I'm getting feijoa now, and banana..." and ... no Peter, you're just getting drunk :)

  5. " ... no Peter, you're just getting drunk..." You say that like it's a *bad* thing!

  6. the drunken watchman9 Dec 2013, 22:21:00

    "getting drunk is a bad thing" says the drunken watchman. WTF ???

    we drunks gotta stick together and correct each other's hallucinations is all :)

    the drunken watcjman said that?

    moi? .. not a bad thing, just recognising hallicinations for

  7. the drunken watchman10 Dec 2013, 12:49:00

    no, the hallucination that someone is putting feijoas and bananas into the beer :)

  8. the drunken watchman10 Dec 2013, 22:33:00

    happy that it is resolved : "taste" is but an hallucination. Like an acid-head seeing Jesus :)

  9. DW is going to shoot me here, but banana in a pilsner would generally be considered a fault at anything more than very low levels! ;)

  10. the drunken watchman, I think Waikato beer is better than the beer that PC is tasting. I would add that Ranfurly is also better. See you at Papamoa.

  11. the drunken watchman12 Dec 2013, 00:08:00

    Greig... I can only suggest perhaps that if a beer drinker aspires to tasting banana in his beer, he simply add some? .. or is that simply too prosaic for Auckland?

    That is what we down-coiuntry hicks would do. No shortage of feijoas or other tropical fruits here. You could put all sorts of things into your beer, and save yourselves the trouble of having to 'guess' what's in it based on your obviously flawed senses of taste (i.e presmubly noone really put any bananas into the beer that Peter thought he could taste them in). Much simpler to just put in the taste you want, right, rather than leave it to chance?

    FF :)

  12. DW: it's an ester, thrown by almost all brewing yeast. Isoamyl Acetate. It tastes of bananas. Generally, a good, clean fermentation allows a rest period at warmer temperatures to encourage yeast to scavenge back their often rough by-products thrown in the early stages of fermentation. Of course, to some, it's a desirable flavour, and is required in many wheat/weizen styles. It's also often present in Waikato Draught - the strong taste of fake bananas! ;)

  13. the drunken watchman12 Dec 2013, 19:38:00

    ah, thanks Greig, good information, I stand corrected. Beer can legitimately taste of bananas (if it is crappy enough, according to some punters)

    so pray tell, what causes

    the feijoa taste?
    "a full mouth-feel" as opposed to an un-full mouth feel?
    flavour that delivers "all the way down", as opposed to partially all the way down?
    an increase in maltiness in the mouth, as opposed to just an ordinary old maltiness?

  14. Good questions DW! Feijoa... possibly an ester I'm not aware of from fermentation, or a hop oil - hops have lots of flavour components which are still being explored. Some hop oils are: geraniol (floral - surprise!), myrcene ("oily, herbal, tree sap"), farnesene (citrus, wood), humulene (spicy, fruity) etc.

    A full mouthfeel - usually contributed by more beta glucans and dextrins. Rule of thumb is the higher the mash temperature (the mash is where starches are converted to fermentable sugars by enzymatic rests at varying temperatures) the more dextrins and beta glucans remain. These are relatively unfermentable by yeast, leading to more body and therefore a fuller mouthfeel - ie. less close to the texture/weight of water.

    The latter two... no idea. Perhaps just poetic license describing persistent flavour/long finish, versus flavour which vanishes fairly quickly. Perception of maltiness is often subjective, and based on peoples perception of bitterness/sweetness balance.

    Damn, this shit is getting technical! :) Drink what you love!

  15. the drunken watchman12 Dec 2013, 22:59:00

    Greig, you really got me interested. Up to now, I just thought this wine and beer finery was a lot of posturing, but you clearly got a point... your sense of taste is such that you can identify the various esters and so on in beer, and detect the "tastes" associated with them.

    so, i decided to put it to the test. I poured a small shot of Waikato Draught, according to you loaded up with banana-flavoured esters. I gave this to my 17 year old daughter, who hopefiullly has not had her taste buds shot to bits through years of drinking the stuff like i have.

    It was a blind test - she didn't know anything about our exchange - I just asked her to taste it, and to tell me if she could taste any fruits in it.

    Nada. No detection of any fruits.

    So, pray tell, is this detection of multi-levels of various tastes an acquired skill? or perhaps there is something (inherited :) defective about my daughter's taste function?

  16. the drunken watchman12 Dec 2013, 23:03:00

    .. alternatively, anyone out there who can bear to drink a Waikato Draught so as to help me in this little experiemnt?

    let us know what fruits you can detect?

  17. Heh, no, it's not quite that simple (though it can be). We're not talking "loaded with banana" here. We're talking a few ppm of isoamyl acetate, which is used in MUCH higher quantities, as "banana flavouring" in confections. In the tiny concentrations it is found in (most) beers, it's detectable if you're looking for it and after you've trained your palate to detect the various esters, aldehydes, alcohols etc.

    Some people are "super tasters" for some things - personally I'm super sensitive to diacetyl (buttery flavour/odour) and acetaldehyde ("perfumey" green apples). While I'd not necessarily expect your daughter to notice this stuff without at least some training, a) there are people who can "just do it", and b) almost anyone with normal sense of taste can learn to do it. There's nothing special involved beyond lots of practice.

    With beer, I find it can take many people a long time to move past "tastes like beer to me". I think that's because the "loud notes" (malty ones for most mainstream NZ beers - caramel, bread, hints of roast and toast, and a general overriding sweetness) and much more obvious than the "quiet notes" expressed by hops in very small quantities, esters (though I do think most mainstream NZ beer can be quite estery), aldehydes, alcohols, oils, etc. I know there's also often a pushback reaction against this too - it's often perceived as snobbery. And it can be that way. I know people (sadly) who use advanced knowledge of things - not just beer - as a crutch to make themselves feel superior. The reality is that it simply opens up a larger world of enjoyment and appreciation for many people. It becomes a hobby, a reason to investigate new bars, new regions/countries, new breweries etc. If I ever sound snobby, I certainly don't mean to. I'm just massively keen on flavourful things, and I am driven to share this with people. Maybe this is what religious people are like? ;)

    If I recall, you're in Hamilton, same as myself? Let me know if you're interested, and I can run you through a simple tasting and show you what to look for. Of course, the downside to that is that most (not all, eh Falafulu Fisi) end up unable to go back to the cheaper stuff afterwards. Some do though, and there's no right or wrong when it comes to taste preference. Only what you like. But hey, knowledge is always good. We can even include Waikato (I want to try the new Willies Pale Ale at some point). It's been a LONG time since I've tried it, recipes and fermentations do vary, even for Lion, so perhaps I'm completely incorrect about the isoamyl acetate presence these days! :)

    Jesus I do go on. Sorry all. ;)

  18. the drunken watchman13 Dec 2013, 23:30:00

    Greig, thanks for your reply

    I'm up for that, although I am in Papamao, not Hamilton

    maybe we will swap brews over summer, i would like that


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