Think you know your Minnesota craft beer? You might be surprised.
The folks at the Growler magazine were when they started holding editorial blind tastings among their staff. Removing all branding and other indicators from the beers they were sampling revealed unexpected nuances in the brews.
“Every time we do one, we are completely surprised by the results,” said Brian Kaufenberg, editor-in-chief of the magazine.
“Well-known breweries you might love sometimes don’t make the grade. Sometimes they don’t even make it to the best-in-show round. And breweries you’ve never heard of come out on top.”
It occurred to Kaufenberg and his team that it would be educational to do this in a public setting.
So, they’ve opened up a mega blind taste-test for the Minnesota beer-drinking masses.
Unlabeled: A Blind Tasting Showdown kicks off July 18, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Upper Landing Park in St. Paul ($50 tickets at growlermag.com/unlabeled). This one, focusing just on Hazy IPAs, is the first in a series Kaufenberg hopes will run quarterly. (The parent company of Growler also runs the Beer Dabbler series of beer festivals.) The next Unlabeled, in September, will be devoted to Oktoberfest beers.
At this first event, which Kaufenberg says might be the first of its kind in the country, attendees can sample a whopping 48 Minnesota-made Hazy IPAs. And they’ll use an app to score them on aroma, flavor, appearance, mouthfeel and overall impression, according to the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines.
“If you want to get really in the weeds, you can,” Kaufenberg said. Or, just give each sip a score from 1 to 50.
At the end, there will be a grand reveal.
With summer festivals often plastered with branding for corporate sponsors and vendors, Unlabeled is a completely branding-free event. It has to be, Kaufenberg said.
Brewers won’t be pouring their own beer. Tap handles will be blank.
“That’s the powerful thing about doing blind tastings. It strips away any preconceptions you might have for a brand,” he said. “There’s no way for you to know what you’re drinking. It’s all about the quality of the beer in the glass.”
Unlabeled begins with the Hazy IPA, a juicy, opaque beer with low bitterness, that caused a bit of controversy when it came on the scene among IPA purists. But consumer demand for it prevailed.
“It’s a very trendy beer style right now,” Kaufenberg said. “It’s fruity and can taste juicy and citrusy, so that works with the warmer weather.”
And for a first outing, Unlabeled had to be all about a crowd-pleaser. It’s part of Kaufenberg’s mission to reach all kinds of beer drinkers, not just the die-hards.
“I really think this event is the great leveler,” he said. “Everyone is on the same playing field.”