Beyond TODAY is an extension of our weekly column for the TODAY Show food blog. Over there, I talk about my hunt for the much-hyped Pliny the Elder on a recent trip to California. Over here, we’re sharing one from the archives about how hype can effect your perception and enjoyment of a beer. Click here to check out Today’s Bites food blog.
I recently had the pleasure of sampling a very rare, very highly regarded beer, and it was pretty good, but not as good as I thought it would be. The problem? High expectations, or hype. It’s like a nasty ester that spoils the brew, an off flavor that casts a pall on an otherwise good beer.
I won’t name the brew, because this post isn’t about one particular beer living up to its hype, it’s about ANY super-hyped beer living up to its enormous reputation. There are a few that actually manage to do so, but in my experience, it’s a rare thing.
Speaking of rare things, I remember back to the Pints for Prostates Rare Beer Tasting in Denver last year, where the beers I liked best were the ones I hadn’t really heard of before. The ones that disappointed me the most were the super-hyped “ungettables” that didn’t taste as magical when surrounded by an orgy of other awesome beers. Shoulder to shoulder, many didn’t quite live up to their reputations.
This got me to thinking of some of the best “wow!” flavor moments I’ve ever had with a beer, and most of them involve an element of surprise. Here are a few off of the top of my head:
- The first time I had a Chimay Red, I was blown away that a beer could be so involving. This was my craft beer epiphany when I realized I had been missing out on a whole world of goodness.
- My visit to Idaho where our buddy Rick at Brewforia gave me a taste of Schlafly’s Reserve Imperial Stout (a 2006 in this case) and my toes were curled with an unexpected sultry pleasure.
- The hot Friday evening when I had a cold Arrogant Bastard after work and its hoppy goodness perfectly matched the flavors that my brain was craving.
- The Hitochino Nest White Ale I had in a Japanese restaurant in Hollywood a few weeks ago that charmed me with its subtle banana and citrus flavors that paired so perfectly with the food we were enjoying. I’ve been craving it ever since.
I could go on, but you get the idea – these are mostly regular craft beers that I had no preconceived notions about, or they were familiar beers that surprised me with how well they matched the moment. I’ve been fortunate to taste many great beers in many cool circumstances, but for me it’s been the little moments that have left a big impression.
Well, mostly. I still remember the first time I tasted Sam Adams Utopias (2009 in this case) and my body actually tingled with pleasure. I knew it was supposed to be special before I had it and it still surpassed my expectations. Of course some folks will say it isn’t really a beer, but you get the idea. I think this exception proves the point – it’s rare when this happens, a magical moment.
Overall, I contend that the best beers you’ll ever taste are the ones that sneak up on you. The ones where you grab for the bottle and examine the label, searching for an explanation of why the beer is so awesome. The ones that instantly leap into your top five. The ones that aren’t filtered by prejudice or hype. The ones you weren’t expecting.