Guest post: What happens at a beer tasting?

Regular contributor Rachel Woolgar gives the lowdown on a recent Badger Ales beer tasting at The Soho Collective in central London and ponders the wider appeal of such events

I had never been to a beer tasting before and wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Honey Badger flyer scannedOn arrival we were given a beer cocktail. Other than the odd shandy my only experience of these was last summer when one was served to my partner at a branch of ‘Be At One’. A potent mixture of lager and alcoholic ginger beer over crushed ice. I wasn’t too keen. I was pleasantly surprised then when presented with something that resembled Pimms.

After hot footing it across Leicester Square on a rather warm evening it was most welcome. Called Honey Badger, it was a delicious confection of Badger’s Golden Champion ale ‘muddled’ over ice with angostura bitters, a dash of honey and a garnish of fresh basil. The taste of the beer combined nicely with the honey and was enhanced by the bitters. The basil added an interesting dimension.

The beer tasting was a small, informal media event expertly hosted by Mark Woodhouse – who, he told us, was the seventh generation of Hall and Woodhouse (the brewery behind Badger beer). His co-host was head brewer Toby Heasman. Mark shared his passion for beer and brought the brewery to life with anecdotes from its 240 year history while Toby gave us the lowdown on how the beers were brewed.

We tasted four bottled beers, three of which are widely available in supermarkets, and this year’s limited edition brew which you can only get in the Badger shop.

First up Tangle Foot (5%) a ‘classic golden ale’ which I’ve had on cask at my local Hall & Woodhouse pub and enjoyed. Toby explained it uses Goldings as aroma hops and indeed it Tanglefoot bottlehad a pleasantly hoppy aroma. Clear and amber in hue it had a sharp, clean taste but a pear drop aftertaste which lingered.

Next we had Fursty Ferret (4.4%), which I’ve also tried before (I’m always abashed at ordering it because of the name for some reason though). This was darker in appearance than the Tangle Foot and had an orangey aroma. My first sip gave me caramel and honeycomb flavours which gave way to a malty taste. Think having a bite of a Crunchie bar followed by a Malteser!

I ensured I sipped plenty of water between beers so as to be able to discern the different tastes. Unlike a wine tasting you do swallow the drinks you taste. Swilling and spitting is not encouraged. The hosts were generous in the supplies of each beer, but it’s not the sort of situation where you’re going to knock the whole bottle back. It’s more about sampling and appreciating the flavours, rather than just downing it without a second thought to what you’re tasting. A third of a bottle was enough to get a good measure of each brew.

The penultimate beer was Golden Champion (5%) which had featured in the cocktail. Lighter than the first two and with a delicate peach smell this was probably my favourite. Mark dubbed it a ‘breakfast beer’! I’m not sure I’d go that far but it was certainly light, fruity and delicious.

Sturminster Beast bottleThe fourth and final beer was Badger’s 2016 Limited Edition The Sturminster Beast (8.7%). With trepidation I poured some into my glass and thought to myself it looked like Coke. This was no mass produced soft drink though. Rather a powerful strong stout with an intense espresso and Bourneville chocolate aroma. It tasted of burnt fruit and treacle toffee and although I liked it, I thought it lacked the oomph I associate with other stouts and porters I’ve tried.

More Honey Badger cocktails were presented as things drew to a close. It was a pleasant evening and I really enjoyed hearing more about the history of the brand. I’d be keen to attend more events like it. It was a fun, informal way to try new drinks in a relaxed setting.

I’d be happy to pay around £10-15 as an alternative to just another night down the pub. If the cost included, say, 3-4 drinks and perhaps some snacks afterwards to fortify you I think it could be very successful. I also think tastings like this could work as public, ticketed events in a town like Basingstoke (where I’m based) – not just big city centres.

I’d happily encourage my friends to attend and I think it would appeal to women as much as to men and would be a good way of introducing them to beer if it’s not currently their preferred tipple.

Making the Honey Badger beer cocktail
Making the Honey Badger beer cocktail

The other thing that struck me was how an organised beer tasting evening could have potential as a fun way of meeting new people – making use of alcohol as a social lubricant but making it more about enjoying something tasty rather than swilling it down willy nilly, the modus operandi of getting drunk.

It could even be rolled out as an internet dating initiative (A bold brewer might form a partnership with someone like match.com?!) – an opportunity for single people to get together (Slow dating rather than speed dating? Ed). If it had more interactive elements, such as ranking and judging the best beers, that would also provide something for shy singletons to get talking about.

I will definitely go to a beer tasting again and I think the major pub chains could really benefit from getting on board with running them. Punters would get to taste all the beers they offer – which we might not try on a regular pub visit – as well as hearing more about the brewery/pub chain which could endear people to visiting more often.

I’ll be keeping my eyes and ears open for a local event I can take my friends to.

  • Look out for Rachel’s next guest post where she’ll look more closely at beer cocktails.
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