Hello, friends! My name is Jamie Flathers and I’d like to help you find a beer you’ll love.
“But, Jamie,” I hear you cry, “I already have a beer I love. Also, I hardly know you.”
Fair points, both. Most people I know already have a favorite beer, myself included (Ninkasi’s Oatis oatmeal stout, for the record. It’s named after a doggo.). But who doesn’t want to find even more beers they’ll love, and maybe even a super awesome meal to accompany those beers?
That’s what “On Tap and Table” will offer. And as for you and me, well, we’ll get to know each other along the way.
I feel like I should state up front that I’m not a credentialed beer reviewer. If you’re looking for someone to hold forth about mouthfeel and tannins and notes of tamarind and caramel, this column may not be for you. I’m a fiction writer by trade, training and inclination, so my response to beers will tend to be more simile-based than scientific. More than I love beer, I love stories, so that’s what this column is all about — every couple of weeks, I’ll tell you the story of my encounter with a beer, and, if circumstances permit, the meal that went with it.
Would you like to read such a story now? That’s great, because I’m going to tell one.
Several weeks ago, as I was preparing to write this column, I staged a blind taste test in my tiny Moscow kitchen with my buddy, Madison. It was a chilly early fall weeknight, and a pot of French onion soup simmered on the stove. Before us on the table sat two rows of three, half full glasses of dark beer, poured by my husband. Our goal was to rank these beers using beer-snob judging criteria I found online.
I’m a big fan of beer. I love thick, dark brews, the kind you could stand a fork up in. I don’t, however, know much about writing about beer, so, like any good millennial, I Googled stuff. I spent the night before this mock tasting reading articles and watching YouTube videos of experts trashing cheap domestics (“This tastes like maybe I watch TV on a lawn chair in my living room”). The next day, my husband and I bought three six-packs: Narwhal Imperial Stout from Sierra Nevada, Black Cauldron Imperial Stout from Grand Teton, and Bobo’s Robust Porter from Big Sky. I was excited to drink dark beers again after a summer full of ambers and IPAs.
Following the instructions in one of the articles I’d found, Madison and I gamely stuck our noses over the rims of our glasses and gave a hearty sniff. All the beers smelled about the same — we wrote words like “malty” and “yeasty” and “bready” on the judging forms I printed out. After that, we tasted. Beer A was sweet and aggressive; a malt-forward overachiever. Beer B was mellower, more well-balanced — I could taste hops at the back of my throat, along with a certain roasted something. Beer C was thin and watery, compared to the first two, and Madison and I agreed that it only had one note. My favorite part of this trial was something called retronasal olfaction, which involved breathing in, swallowing a small amount of beer, then exhaling through my nose with my lips closed. Not only could I smell the aromas more distinctly, but I felt sort of posh and tricky, like at any moment I might adopt a British accent and condescend to someone.
By the time we’d drunk all three glasses, I was reasonably toasted, and my husband had revealed which glass held which beer. Madison and I were in total agreement: Narwhal, beer B, was first; Black Cauldron, beer A, was second; and Bobo’s, beer C, was third. We tested our assertions against the reviews on BeerAdvocate.com, and we did well — they rated Narwhal highest of the three, and Bobo’s lowest. I felt somehow accomplished and vindicated, as if I’d done well on a midterm. We celebrated by eating the onion soup (it was Julia Child’s recipe, tres bien). The Narwhal, with its mellow maltiness, was the perfect accompaniment.
Flathers is a Moscow resident and University of Idaho alum. She does a killer impression of a corkscrew. She’s a Ravenclaw with Hufflepuff leanings and is usually reading two or three books at a time. Question or glad tidings can be sent to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.