Is Your Taste Changing?


It’s the first Tuesday of the month and I’m at my go-to, The Cloverleaf, for our
MBA (Masters of Beer Appreciation) / PhD (Professor of Hops and Drafts) Night.
Tonight’s featured brewery is Allagash and there’s an Ultimate Wild Ale Flight and
five different bottles so plenty to chose from. Being an IPA guy Allagash has
never been one of my favorites, but you have to respect them.

Rob Tod started Allagash in Portland ME in 1995 and has grown it to a top craft
brewery; the Brewers Association has them at #28 for 2019. He literally built his
own brewery, which is what many of the early craft beer pioneers did as there
wasn’t a readily available supply of brewing equipment around, and wanted to
start with only one beer; a Belgian style wheat beer he named Allagash White.
When you’re talking the mid to late 1990’s many didn’t know what to think of this
hazy beer, but they gave it a try and it caught on. A Gold medal at the World
Beer Cup in 1998 (not half bad for only starting in 1995) and then another at the
2002 GABF should tell us they were doing something right

They added another brewer and added more beers to their lineup. In 2007 Rob
took a trip to Belgium with a few other “possibly” notable brewers; Sam
Calagione, Adam Avery, Tomme Arthur and Vinnie Cilurzo. There he learned
about Coolship brewing which inspired him to try to brew traditional Belgian-style
spontaneously fermented beer in Maine and became the first one to not only try it
in here in the states but succeed. Their spontaneously fermented beers were so
well received that in 2010 they were invited to the Lambic festival in Belgium
named “The Night of the Great Thirst” and for the next four festivals, held
biannually, were the ONLY American brewery; not too shabby!

Allagash deserves a lot of credit for not only finding their niche but owning it and
not wavering. When hoppy IPAs were taking over and brewery after brewery
decided to join and not buck the trend, Allagash stayed their course. Their only
dalliance I recall was a Hoppy Table Beer which was very enjoyable, but not the
hop bomb we’re seeing from many other breweries. So, I guess the moral is if you
make good beer, no matter what style, we craft beer drinkers will find it and yes
drink it.

Okay so back to our MBA/PhD night. I ordered the Ultimate Wild Flight and was
not overly impressed. The Helena, a Flanders Red Ale was good. The Little Sal
was on the sweet side but reminded me more of cherries than the blueberries
they used. I found the Fox Leap least exciting as I got no cherries nor the
bourbon barrel taste I expected. And then there was the closer, Shiros Delight,
an American Wild Ale which I thought to have a very light taste for 9.9% abv and
was getting subtle notes of cherry and plum; clearly the winner of that flight.

The night was still young (since we started in the afternoon) and they also had an
“Allagash From The Cellar” selection of five different bottles. When I ordered my
next beer after the flight (and to be honest w/o looking at what was available on
draft I’m not recollecting it all, not implying that it wasn’t good) I also ordered a
12.7 oz. bottle of the 2020 Coolship Red and some glasses so we could all taste
it. The Coolship Red was described as a 6.2% Lambic, aged on raspberries for
six months in oak wine barrels; sounded pretty interesting to me.

The Coolship Red arrives, is opened and I pour. We’re enjoying it and basically
all think it definitely better than any of the four in the flight. I like to log my beers
into Untappd and as I pull it up, I see I had a Coolship Red two years ago on
8/7/18, which being the first Tuesday of the month was definitely an MBA/PhD
night with Allagash as the featured brewery. What surprises me most is I only
gave it 2.50, which seems low for what I’m tasting now. I open up my comments to
read “Tart, fruity, not the best style for me.” For this check-in I’m giving it a 4.00
and commenting “Interesting how much more I like this than 2 years ago, it’s very
refreshing, a slightly sweet tart.”

I must say I’m a little surprised at the difference between today and two years
ago. Now certainly beers brewed a couple of years apart and aged in an oak
barrel will never be exactly the same. And let’s not forget the situation/experience
of what you’re drinking are different and so your taste buds are never going to
react exactly the same either, but in this case, I’m leaning more strongly to the
last few words in my 2018 comment, not the best style for me.

That was great and since sharing a 12.7 oz bottle amongst five isn’t all that much
beer I’m thinking we should do another one! I peruse the four others available
and decide to go with the 2018 Pick Your Own described as a 6.2% Flanders
Red, aged in an oak foudre with Lactobacillus and Pediococcus for two years
after adding fresh, local raspberries, cherries, strawberries and blueberries. My
beer buds are definitely excited I’m ordering another one!

The Pick Your Own arrives, is opened and I pour. Do I know how to pick em! This
is the best yet and we’re all thoroughly enjoying it. This is what’s great about craft
beer; ordering a different beer that tastes great and enjoying it with your friends;
it doesn’t get any better than this (wait that sounds familiar like it came from an
old beer commercial, so I look it up and duh it’s been used for lots of different
products but yes there are a bunch of Old Milwaukee ads using it; hard to believe
it was used with Old Sludgewaukee, it was drinkable in it’s day but yea it could get
A LOT better even back then)!

Back to Untappd to log this one in and bingo, I logged in it two years ago on
8/7/18! So, wait am I really here in 2020 or did I just take a ride with Christopher
Lloyd aka Dr. Emmett Brown in his time traveling DeLorean?!? I must say this is
curious and I’m very interested to open my 2018 check-in to see this next
comparison. Well there it is, another 2.50, although my comment was a little more
positive, “very fruity as it warms up, a pleasant sipping beer on a hot day.”  Two
years ago, it was obviously on draft, as I noted it improving as it warmed.
As an aside, if I were creating the perfect craft beer bar, I would have two coolers,
one for all the lagers, ales, IPAs, etc. and one for the Belgian style and more
importantly all those imperial stouts that are ALWAYS way too cold when first
poured. Being warmer might wreak havoc with pouring them but there should be
a way to handle that. But until then I’ll continue to order two at once so the ones
that need to warm can sit and do just that.

Okay where was I; oh, about to check-in the Pick Your Own. I’m giving it a 4.00
and commenting, “Wow 2 years ago I wasn’t so excited by this giving it a 2.50 but
today it is delicious, robust and showing the numerous fruits used.” Two years
ago it was a draft, this a bottle and again we’re talking about an American Wild
Ale, so could never be exactly the same, but I’m still thinking this may well have
more to do with my taste than the beer.

Let’s think about this. When I started drinking it was pitchers of cold American
lagers. There wasn’t much interest in foreign beers; hard to believe Heineken
was considered one of the better back then. As more European and Canadian
beers came into our market, we were starting to get different tastes; the maltiness
of some of the German beers, the lightness of the Czech style pilsners and yes,
the sour of the Belgians which were never high on my list.

Then came American craft beer, which at first was mostly just your basic lagers,
ales, IPAs and stouts. As craft beer became entrenched and more breweries
opened every year, brewers began trying to brew beer they and we liked and
make their own niche. There were a small percentage who decided that Belgian
style beers would be their calling and many like Allagash, Ommegang, The
Bruery and The Lost Abbey to name a few became some of our American
standard bearers for Belgian style beers. Many other breweries decided that the
full spectrum was more to their liking but also brewed Belgian style beers very
well like Firestone-Walker, pFriem, Boulevard and Schlafly to name a few.
Opening a beer menu today will typically include at least one of these; witbier,
saison, farmhouse ale, sour, tripel, dubbel, grand cru, golden strong or even a
grisette on tap and usually many in bottles.

As I’ve tasted more of our craft beer offerings, I’ve also started tasting some of
the classic Belgian offerings of Rodenbach, Chimay, Saison Dupont, La Chouffe,
Gulden Draak and of course La Trappe and come to appreciate their difference
in style and taste as well as their quality.

So yes, craft beer has challenged me to expand my taste and I’m happy to say I
appreciate that and I’ve been up to the challenge!

Is your taste changing? If not maybe it’s time to accept the challenge of those
beers you may not be all that fond of; you never know what might happen…

Glenn DeLuca writes about beer and culture of drinking. He may
be reached by writing

***   ***   ***
Glenn DeLuca
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