Required Reading: Ruminations on the culture of sampling

It’s funny how some ideas, some topics, can float around in the back of head like wisps of smoke, just insubstantial enough that you know there’s something on your mind, but you can’t quite get a handle on it.  And then, quite by coincidence, someone goes and hits the nail square on the head – well, in my case, that’s usually hitting the hammer right on the thumb, but I digress – delivering one of those incredibly satisfying “Eureka!” moments.

(And I’m referring to Archimedes there, not the recently cancelled show on the cable channel formerly known as “SciFi”).

I didn’t realize what had been bugging me until I read a blog post from Beer Phxation titled “Two Ounce Culture.”

It was followed by additional thoughts from Appellation Beer in this post, and then again by This is Why I’m Drunk, in “A Few Words on … ‘two-ounce culture’.”

You should read all those.  Don’t worry, they’re pretty succinct and to the point.  Unlike, you know, my posts.

Ahem, moving on.

As soon as I read the first one, I realized that this very question had been itching at a place I couldn’t scratch recently, even if I hadn’t quite put my finger on it.  I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I’ve sipped a short sample of a beer that I was otherwise very much looking forward to, only to make a snap judgment and move on, or worse, not remember it at all.  If I recall correctly (although there’s quite the possibility that I don’t), I blazed a path through Cincy Winter Beerfest last year that would have made Gunnery Sergeant Tom Highway proud, making a point to get a taste of every entry on my itemized list of typically-not-available-to-me brews.  How many of the those do I really remember, though?

One.  Exactly one.  RockBottom Cincinnati’s Tazza Mia Espresso IPA made quite the impression.  In fact, it’s the only sample I can recall going back for multiple times.  All told, I probably “tasted” it four or fives times at Beerfest, so it’s no wonder that’s the one I remember.

That’s not, of course, to say sampling is bad.  It’s absolutely not, and I’d be sadder than a toddler with a missing  Tickle-Me-Elmo if I couldn’t get a sampling flight at many better beer locations.  But at the end of the day, I guess what’s finally become clear to me is that there’s more to a beer than you can experience in a 2-oz pour.  Sure, that quick hit will let you mark it off your Craft Beer Bucket List and maybe finish up that Untapped badge you’ve been working on.  But it won’t tell you how that beer transforms (perhaps opening up) as it warms, or whether it’s a little too challenging for your palette 14 ounces later.

Sure, you can tell a lot about a beer from a 2 oz sample, and it’s tempting to line ’em and try as many of them as you can.  Variety, after all, is the spice of life.  But I think in the future, I’m going to try to keep from hopping around from one beer – one taste – to the next as quickly as I can.

In other words, I think it’s time for me to slow down and do a little more in-depth research.  Would you care to join me?


2 Replies to “Required Reading: Ruminations on the culture of sampling”

  1. Thanks for including me in the conversation. I feel like it’s one that will become more prevalent as more and more people come into the world of craft beer. As you note, it’s worth it to stop and enjoy the beer every now and then rather than simply compile an impressive list, even though that can be fulfilling in itself.

    I have to actively try to take notes at beer festivals because if I don’t, I fall into the same trap you mention. I remember next to nothing. Not because the alcohol wipes out my memory, but because everything blends together when trying to look back on a day’s worth of samples.

    What a tough life, right?


  2. I agree that 2oz pours are way too small, but I’m a huge fan of beer tastings and, in particular, when there are an appropriate amount of people so that everyone gets 4oz pours. That is the sweet spot for me.

    Provided beer quality and everything is held constant, I’d much rather have three 4oz pours of variety than a single 12oz beer. It allows me to try more things, yet still consume enough of each to get a good idea of what each is all about.

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