***Notes of a Beer Nerd is a column written by resident cellar dwelling mammal, Timperial Stout. Feel free to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions, concerns or comments***
Stasia is a whiskey drinker. Stasia is not a beer drinker. She would never buy beer for herself. She does, periodically, have beer in her fridge though, but only because she is sometimes paid in beer when she is playing gigs with her band The Endeavors.
She figures there is no sense in refusing it, so she takes it home and keeps it incase she has a visitor that may be interested. Whiskey (sometimes on the rocks, sometimes up) is her drink of choice. Had it been vodka and cranberry juice I probably would have zero hope for conversion, but I feel that beer drinkers and whiskey drinkers are similar is some ways. Malted grains are at the core of both beverages. Some beers are even aged in wood barrels just as whiskey is. There is hope for her.
The obvious first step in this task is to understand the palate of Miss Stasia and what it is that she doesn’t like about beer.
Things that Stasia doesn’t like about beer:
A bad first experience. Her father let her try some of his Miller Genuine Draft as a child. It was terrible (shocked!).
Carbonation. Burping is un-lady like and uncomfortable. It’s also a problem when you have to sing, and often when she is out drinking she is out to play a show.
Caloric intake. All beer drinkers that she knew when she first began to drink had beer bellies. Beer bellies are undesirable.
Hops. Once upon a time she ate hops at Redhook Brewing and felt that they tasted like grape nuts. Oddly, grape nuts aren’t all that bad in Stasia’s opinion, but the flavors that hops most commonly lend to beer such as pine, citrus, herbal, and most notably bitterness are all undesirable. Stasia is also not fond of sour flavors either.
She might be sounding a little picky at the moment, and we surely are not off to a good start, but there are some flavors that she likes that could work in our favor.
Things that Stasia does like that we can work with:
Coffee. As one of her favorite beverages, she drinks it everyday and likes it very sweet.
Chocolate. It’s a woman’s best friend.
Smooth and soft liquids. Think about the mouthfeel of her drink of choice, whiskey.
It now seems pretty obvious that a dark stout would fit in nicely with her likes, but when asked about her thoughts on dark beers she cringes.
Why such a guttural reaction? Stasia thinks that the darker the beer, the more it must taste like beer. It sounds like we have a pretty blank slate to work with which could work to our advantage.
I’ve long pondered the best way to convert a non-beer drinker. Frankly, I feel it my duty to help these people better enjoy life. It seems to me that within the enormous amount of styles that beer can manifest, there must be at least one or two that would/could be enjoyed by any one individual, especially since I personally get such a profound enjoyment out of the beverage. It’s what it is to be a beer advocate I guess; a strong desire to educate and to have all kinds of people join me in appreciation of beer.
Hitachino’s Nest: Bridging the Gap
For a variety of reasons, Kiuchi Brewery’s Hitachino Nest (HN) label has always stood out to me as having a good line-up of conversion beers. The series possesses a certain amount of international intrigue that can be coupled with a sense of class. In other words, drinking HN beers can be an experience very far removed from the stereotypical macro-beer drinking practice (those beer bellies discussed earlier, raucous frat boys, NASCAR, wife-beaters, etc.).
There are unique flavors at play, as well as new and interesting takes on classic styles. That being said, a sip of a HN brew may not necessarily be representative of the beers we enjoy on a regular basis, but conversion should be on a gradual slope, and HN feels like a good place to start.
The labels and glassware design are an added bonus, especially if your convertee is a female. In this particular case, the owl motif simply clinched my decision to go with HN. Anyone who has been in Stasia’s apartment knows exactly what I mean -there are owls everywhere.
What does Stasia think about the concept of drinking beer from Japan? Well, she tells me that she never saw any of her Japanese friends drink beer before, so it’s an odd concept. She has had other Japanese culinary offerings in the past that she didn’t like at first but with time came to respect and enjoy. Exotic ingredients have the potential to shock Stasia and put her in defense mode, which could be an issue when tasting these beers.
8 HN beers were gathered for this tasting. That is a lot of beer when you are just splitting it between two parties, so we decided to taste half in one sitting and the other half at a later date, to be determined.
The first beer poured was the White Ale, a 5% abv witbier. When asked what the “white” in White Ale may refer to, Stasia suggested a white tea flavor, or simply, the color of the beer itself. We, of course, know it’s all about the wheat used in the mash.
“It tastes weird, like tin.” – Apparently, this beer tastes like the tanks of a brewery smell. Stasia thinks breweries smell ripely of apple juice (not good).
“The carbonation is not pleasant.” – I then asked for her thoughts on Champagne, just for clarification, and she isn’t fond of that either.
“Sometimes when I drink wine, the first taste is unpleasant, but by the end of the glass it’s not too bad. There is potential for that here.” – As it turns out, after the initial assault, Stasia’s taste buds began to acclimate and it didn’t seem so bad.
“It tastes like alcoholic apple juice with less sweetness.” – After hearing my thoughts on barnyard funk she was completely turned off (stupid me!).
She prefers to not repeat this experience.
The second beer poured was the Real Ginger Brew, a 7% abv spiced beer.
“I like ginger. Smells like ginger…tastes like ginger…oh wait…oh no…not good at all.” – When asked what it was that she didn’t like she struggled to answer.
“It’s sour I think.” – I didn’t get much more out of her in regards to this one.
In the end, she would rather have more of the White Ale than even take one more sip of RGB.
Her response was so very strange since this is typically one of the most drinkable transition beers that I can think of out on the market. In my opinion, its straight ginger candy! Oh well, lets move on.
The third beer poured was XH, an 8% abv strong ale matured in shochu (sake) casks.
“I like the smell.” – I explained the cask aging and it seemed to intrigue her. Unique is good, and sake…well it’s not a whiskey barrel but it could be worse.
“Best first sip so far.” – I think the strength and liquor accents just may remind her of her drink of choice. We might be onto something here.
I like the smooth feel of it in my mouth.” – Again, whiskey-like attributes are winning us points.
“I get your portion of this one since you finished my last two.” – Well then…have at it.
The final beer poured of the first session was Japanese Classic Ale, a 7% abv IPA matured in cedar casks.
“This is drinkable. I’d say it is my second favorite, behind the XH.” – This IPA is not bitter in any traditional way, and the wood notes may work to our advantage.
“Bright. Fruit juice comes to mind…apple juice again.” – I can’t really explain how this flavor could be detected. It is possible that any sort of odd fruity flavors from the hops or sour notes from fermentation are linked to sour apple in Stasia’s mind.
“If this was the first beer of the night I probably wouldn’t like it, but in comparison to the others and with my apparent ‘taste bud acclimation’ situation, this is decent.” – Well, it sounds like we made some strides in round one, albeit small ones, but hope is still alive.
I ended our Japanese Classic Ale experience with a tasting note of my own that I couldn’t keep to myself, since this is the only HN beer in the series of 8 that I’d never had before. I explained that I picked up a distinct “wet paint” scent and flavor that I couldn’t get out of my mind. Yet again, I should have shut up because once this little bug infiltrated her mind she was completely put off.
#4 – Real Ginger Brew
#3 – White Ale
#2 – Japanese Classic Ale
#1 – XH
I personally thought that the ginger beer would stack up a little bit better, and the IPA, though it has the wood element, I figured would be last. I few curve balls, but with each new beer experience that I share with Stasia, the closer I am to finding the perfect beer to convert her with. I am very excited for session 2, coming soon to a blotter near you.