Saturday, 21 November 2009


I spent Saturday afternoon at Decanter magazine's grand tasting at the Landmark in Marylebone. Despite tasting scores of wines over four hours, I walked out sober and managed not to disgrace myself in front of the young lady's parents. That's what judicious spitting can do for you (although I did let some of the finer clarets and dessert wines slip down the hatch). But could you imagine doing that at a beer festival?

We're told you need to swallow beer to appreciate the flavour. If that's true, then the answer to my question is probably no - you're going to get pissed if you sample lots of beers (particuarly the stronger ones) in a session. There's no point in pretending otherwise. Does that mean smart events like those organised by Decanter, devoted to learning about and appreciating wine, can't be replicated in the world of beer?

Some of those wine buffs are seriously skilled at the art of spitting. Having ruined a white Ede & Ravenscroft shirt at a previous tasting event (red splashback), I've learned to lean in low over the spitoon on the basis that it's better to look silly for a moment then spend the rest of the day wearing one's folly. But today I spotted a tweed-wearing silver fox who barely bent his head when ejecting his spent mouthful. He was a crack shot at several yards. It was fearsome to witness.


  1. I'm sure they could. I've no doubt there's a pool of people one could sell expensive tickets to for such an event.

    I personally wouldn't be interested. I drink beer because it tastes nice and its modest alcohol content makes it ideal for drinking through the evening. I pick and choose my beer festivals, but when I go it's to converse with mates, with the added bonus of trying a few different beers.

    I have to say I'm a bit bemused by these type of events. We don't go to 'food school' before ordering food (however expensive). And we don't go to 'film school' before we can enjoy a film. So why should beer drinking (or wine drinking for that matter) be any different?

  2. Some would argue that wine, beer and certain other things we grow to love are in fact acquired tastes. Didn't you find your taste in beer changed as you learned more about it, and tried different types?

  3. I did used to be a more conservative in my tastes yes, and maybe an event like this would enable people to realise that beer/more beers were to their taste - without having to buy a pint of the stuff in order to find out. I just found that as I got into my 20s I felt less and less like gassy lager all night and moved on to Guinness before I got bored and tried other beers.

    I just dislike the whole 'I'm getting notes of straw/hedgerow/mouldy apple' nonsense that goes with wine tasting. The experience I have of wine tasting/tasters confirms this, as well as the fact that there's always at least one smug prat in a cardigan who needs bringing down a peg or two. I just find myself wondering 'where is a flatulant beer festival goer when you need one?'

  4. There isn't much point in going to a wine or beer tasting if you're not going to try and detect and enjoy the flavours distinct flavours each offers. And if you do want to share your own perceptions with others you're going to need to put them into words - and that's where taste metaphors come in.

  5. Jeff - I hope you tried the Pago de Cirsus from Navarra in the awards room. Its an amazing drop by the guy that directed Basinct Instinct. Also the Vergelegen V is mind blowing

  6. It's a load of crap that you need to swallow beer to taste it. Like the joke that women "taste" more accurately then men.

    I spit all the time. Swish and gargle. Total waste of beer when you do it as "tasting" is like "pairing" - a manufacturer construct aimed at pimping up the commodity for the producers' and vendors' profit.

  7. The idea that different flavours are detected by different parts of the tongue is a myth. Bitterness is usually said to be detected at the back of the palate. T'ain't so. Ask a physiologist. We tend not to spit when beer tasting because we like it that way (and most of it is only 1/3 to 1/2 the strength of wine).

  8. The moment Avery makes a spitting video, I charge a trip to the UK on the credit card. If he's smart, he'll plan it in late December, 2012, when I may have difficulty traveling.

  9. Maybe my tongue's been dulled by too many years of beer, but I find it hard to believe that people really do detect a) 'licorice allsorts' and 'the faintest hint of bath salts' in their wine, and b) like it in consequence!

  10. I never quite believed the 'wisdom' that the tongue had specific zones for tasting different flavours.

    Nor do I accept that in spitting out do we get the same full experience of tasting something as we do when swallowing it.

    Perhaps the practice simply came about not from wine's ability to be fully appreciated this way, but more from its likelihood to make you drunk quite rapidly? (& therefore less able/inclined to appreciate the nuances of flavour or drive home, etc).

    As far as I am aware, the current wisdom is that some of our flavour receptors are indeed on the tongue, but that those in the area between the back of the throat & the nose are also vital in our perception of flavour. Put simply, I'd suggest that if you don't swallow, you don't taste something as fully.

  11. Does anyone think that by spitting you do not also swallow a small portion? What manner of hork would one have to master which could eradicate all vestige of fluid in the mouth?

  12. Wow, "hork". What an excellent verb.

  13. People insist on comparing beer and wine. They're two different drinks entirely. (Bar possibly barley wines and fruit beers)

    Beer in Britain is a drink of the masses where as wine is a drink for the few. It is drunk because it is warming, tasty and warms the cockles of your heart. It's not sipped and spat out like wine because it just isn't that kind of drink. Personally I'll sample beers in pints because often a good beer on first taste can become cloying by the end of a pint.

    Poncy spitting and "aromas of passion fruit and garbage juice" can be left to frenchmen and Oz Clarke.

    Drink beer, beer taste good. Drink more! Simples!


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