Raven, Nogne O, Samuel Smith, Schneider Weisse advance in Beer Madness

Take a peek into the March taste test for our annual Beer Madness competition and meet the panelists who rated all 32 beers.
By Greg Kitsock
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

By Round 3 of Beer Madness, the weak, the watery and the stale had been eliminated. With eight beers from eight nations making the cut in our annual quest for Everyman's favorite brew, our panelists hunkered down for some serious decision-making. They grew more pensive; they gripped their pencils more tightly; their comments were terser and less frivolous.

We tasted beers in four categories, and in this round's only unanimous decision, Baltimore's The Raven aced Mexico's Dos Equis Ambar for the lager crown. Taster Morna Steiger praised The Raven for being "floral, bitter," while sniffing of Dos Equis, "Did I have this beer before? I hope I didn't vote for it." (She had, giving it the nod over Pilsner Urquell in the previous round.)

More typical was fellow taster John H. Harris III's verdict on Dos Equis: "Not bad, just plain."

In the pale ale matchup, Nogne O Pale Ale from Norway edged out the Belgian Trappist ale Chimay Red by a 3-2 vote. The Scandinavian version of a hoppy American-style pale sharply divided our tasters. Steiger, no hophead, wrote that the Nogne O "lingers, not in a good way," while panelist A. Grace Lopez found the same beer "nice, complex, bold."

In a duel between dark beers, Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout from England squeaked by Xingu, black beer of the Amazon, 3-2. Steiger and Raul Arroyo-Mendoza praised Brazil's Xingu for its sweetness, while Lopez wrote of the roastier Samuel Smith: "I think the coffee has returned like a loyal friend." Harris liked the Xingu, but he termed the oatmeal stout "outstanding."

Finally, Germany's Schneider Weisse Hefe-Weizen trumped Italy's Baladin Nora by a 4-1 vote. "Tartness limits drinkability," Arroyo-Mendoza wrote of the Italian spiced ale, flavored with ginger, myrrh and orange peel. "These are interesting," mused Lopez, but she found the classic German hefeweizen, with its characteristic banana and clove notes, "just a bit more interesting." Steiger, who cast her vote with the majority, summed up the pairing as a contest between "a good summer beer" and an "even better summer beer."

And so three great brewing nations (the United States, England and Germany), plus one dark horse (let's face it, Norway is better known for its herring and cod than its beer) advance to the Final Four. But in a blind tasting, anything can happen.

Kitsock can be reached at food@washpost.com.

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