Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Concord Pale Ale Challenge

The weekend before last, my old friend El-squared and his wife invited us over for dinner and to watch the Patriots-Jets AFC Divisional Round playoff game. Of course, the Patriots lost, which really didn't break my heart, but there was a competition of a completely different variety taking place during the game.

Prior to heading over, I called El to ask if I should bring any beer, to which he informed me he'd recently purchased a beer refrigerator and stocked it with about $100 worth of mostly micro-brews. He also told me that many of the varieties he had on hand were Pale Ales—his favorite style—and he proposed the idea we have a taste test.

He didn't have to twist my arm. I even added the suggestion that we make it a blind taste test, and we recruited our wives to set it up for us.

The lineup consisted of four Pales commercially brewed in New England, one home brew, and a well-known offering from a western brewery. Unfortunately, we knew the six beers going into it, so it wasn't as blind as I would have liked it to be. As a result, in addition to rating the beers, we spent a little too much time trying to figure out what was what.

Obviously, it would have been better had we not even known the beers involved, but that would have been difficult, so I'll admit to being a little affected by pre-conceived opinions of at least two of them.

The winner of our little contest, was Dale's Pale Ale, from Lyons, Colorado's Oskar Blues Brewery. El gave it an A, while I surprisingly only gave it a B+, although this was my highest mark of the night.

Second place went to my very own Grafton BrideAle. Now before you start accusing me of favoritism, I'll say that I only gave my own home brew a B, while El was more generous, awarding it a grade equal to that of Dale's. While I'm flattered, I honestly think he's out of his mind.

Third place was a tie between Whale's Tale Pale Ale, brewed by Nantucket, Massachusetts's Cisco Brewers; and Shoals Pale Ale, from Portsmouth, New Hampshire's Smuttynose Brewing Company. Both beers received grades of B and C+, although I favored Whale's Tale, while El favored Shoals.

Portland, Maine's Geary's Pale Ale was our fifth place finisher, which was a bit of a surprise to me, but when I tasted it blindly, it did nothing for me. On the other hand, I wasn't the least bit shocked that Burlington, Vermont's Magic Hat #9 was the beer we rated the worst.

Surprised that I only gave Dale's a B+, and that this rating was also my highest of the night, El asked me to name a beer that I would give an A. While a few came to mind, particularly some of the brew pub offerings I've written about here in the past couple years, I realized that there aren't too many. I'm not sure why it's so difficult for me to hand out this highest of ratings, but I did drink a beer this past weekend that is worthy. Stay tuned for more on that subject.


  1. I'm looking forward to the Pickin' Splinters porter. :)

  2. Hmmm...interesting idea. I've read that Chinook hops can impart a subtle, piney flavor.

    Chinook are pretty powerful hops, so it would have to be a Porter that's a little high on the bitterness scale, but I think there's potential.

  3. Chinook - as in salmon? Hmmm...I have been known to wet a line from time to time. :)

  4. I'm not really sure what Chinook hops are named for, but I can assure you there's nothing fishy about them.