Beer Madness, Round 2: Strong flavors, stronger reactions

By Greg Kitsock
Tuesday, March 22, 2011; 2:08 PM

After a marathon Round 1 of Beer Madness, swirling and sipping 64 ales and lagers on a Monday night, we reconvened the following Sunday with two fewer tasters on our panel.

Mixologist J.P. Caceres and brewer Ellie Tupper were both feeling under the weather. Tupper had dispatched husband Bob to take her place, which left us with an even number of tasters. To avoid a tie, our host, Birch & Barley/ChurchKey beer director Greg Engert, pushed back from the judges' table and instead helped run the tasting.

In Round 2, the match-ups became less equal as porter squared off against black IPA, Scotch ale challenged doppelbock, and tripel tackled saison. The scores weren't quite as close as in Round 1, with 6-3 being the typical margin of victory.

Once again, our panel seemed to prefer strong, straightforward flavors over subtler beers.

Bob Tupper praised local brew Port City Porter, terming it "chewy, soft chocolate . . . moreish." But our panel gave the nod, 6-3, to its opponent, Evolution Brewing Co.'s Rise Up, a flavored stout that screamed "black coffee!" at the top of its lungs. Sommelier Kathryn Bangs loved the stout, gushing, "Whoa! Espresso, chocolate, jalapenos." "Love! Like a chocolate-covered coffee bean!" said panelist Christina Hoffman.

Similarly, the smooth, dessert-like Breckenridge Vanilla Porter edged out Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout in a 5-4 squeaker. "Wow! Like a box of chocolates!" wrote Restaurant 3 chef Brian Robinson of the flavored porter. Bangs dissented: "This beer rides a motorcycle. It will ravage you. It will not call you in the morning."

The piquant and fruity Exit 4, a Belgo-American hybrid from Flying Fish Brewing Co., knocked out the gentler Stillwater Stateside Saison. "Aroma is gorgeous. tastes beautiful," Hiromi Kowaguchi said of the former. Bangs picked the Stateside Saison (" may I have eight more, please?"), but had kind words for the Exit 4 ("this would be a great cocktail ingredient").

Tilted Smile from Uinta Brewing Co., a strong imperial pilsner with a sturdy malt backbone to balance the hops, was pummeled, 8-1, by Prima Pils from Victory Brewing Co. Some tasters seemed to damn the Pils with faint praise, though. "A little watery but a nice flavor," wrote Whitney Meagher. "I wish I could eliminate both of these," griped Duff Gillespie. "Citrusy and light. I like," Justin Garcia wrote of the Prima Pils.

For the record, Prima Pils was my favorite of the round. "Prickly, peppery hop, slightly floral aroma. I could drink this by the pitcher," I wrote.

Sensory overload was pulling us in different directions.

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