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I actually had this at a beer club outing last year, and I loved it so much that I went out and bought a bottle. It was a big, rich imperial stout mixed with typical pumpkin pie flavors, but very well balanced. Or was it? This was a beer that really shined in the beer club setting, where I was only trying a few ounces, if that. And as pumpkin beers go, this was the first time I'd had a pumpkin stout, a combination of flavors that was surprisingly good. But maybe I've fallen prey to a classic market research problem. Fair warning, serious nerdery ahoy. Feel free to skip to the review below.

Remember the embarrassment that was New Coke? Longtime readers know I'm a huge fan of Coke and I really freakin hate Pepsi. Why did Coke reformulate their time-honored, classic formula? Well, Coke had been losing ground to Pepsi, and then this classic ad campaign came out: The Pepsi Challenge. Basically, Pepsi went out and asked a bunch of loyal Coke drinkers to take a sip from two glasses and pick which one was better. The participants preferred Pepsi by a rather large margin. Coke disputed the results until they started running their own internal sip tests... and got pretty much the same results. So they started fiddling with their fabled formula, making it sweeter and lighter (i.e. more like Pepsi). Eventually, they settled on a formula that consistently outperformed Pepsi in the challenge, and thus New Coke was born.

Of course, we all know what happened. New Coke was a disaster. Coke drinkers were outraged, the company's sales plunged, and Coke was forced to bring back the original formula as "Classic Coke" just a few months later (at which point New Coke practically disappeared). What's more, Pepsi's seemingly unstoppable ascendance never materialized. When it comes to the base cola brand, people still prefer Coke to Pepsi, sip tests be damned! So what's going on here? Why do people buy Coke when sip tests show that they like Pepsi better? Malcolm Gladwell wrote about why in his book Blink:

The difficulty with interpreting the Pepsi Challenge findings begins with the fact that they were based on what the industry calls a sip test or a CLT (central location test). Tasters don't drink the entire can. They take a sip from a cup of each of the brands being tested and then make their choice. Now suppose I were to ask you to test a soft drink a little differently. What if you were to take a case of the drink home and tell me what you think after a few weeks? Would that change your opinion? It turns out it would. Carol Dollard, who worked for Pepsi for many years in new-product development, says, "I've seen many times when the CLT will give you one result and the home-use test will give you the exact opposite. For example, in a CLT, consumers might taste three or four different products in a row, taking a sip or a couple sips of each. A sip is very different from sitting and drinking a whole beverage on your own. Sometimes a sip tastes good and a whole bottle doesn't. That's why home-use tests give you the best information. The user isn't in an artificial setting. They are at home, sitting in front of the TV, and the way they feel in that situation is the most reflective of how they will behave when the product hits the market."

Dollard says, for instance, that one of the biases in a sip test is toward sweetness: "If you only test in a sip test, consumers will like the sweeter product. But when they have to drink a whole bottle or can, that sweetness can get really overpowering or cloying." Pepsi is sweeter than Coke, so right away it had a big advantage in a sip test. Pepsi is also characterized by a citrusy flavor burst, unlike the more raisiny-vanilla taste of Coke. But that burst tends to dissipate over the course of an entire can, and that is another reason Coke suffered by comparison. Pepsi, in short, is a drink built to shine in a sip test. Does this mean that the Pepsi Challenge was a fraud? Not at all. It just means that we have two different reactions to colas. We have one reaction after taking a sip, and we have another reaction after drinking a whole can.


The parallel here is obvious. Drinking a small dose of a beer in the context of beer club (where I'm sampling a whole bunch of beers) can lead to some distortion in ratings. I usually mention this bias in my beer club posts, but despite my usual snark when bringing it up, I do think those ratings are a bit suspect.

In this particular case, the beer did not fare quite as well upon revisiting it in a more controlled environment (sheesh, I'm a nerd), though I suppose the fact that I aged this beer a year or so also has something to do with it. Yet more distortion! I suspect a fresh bottle would have more of that rich, chewy stout character and a more biting spice presence, whereas this aged bottle showed a lot more pumpkin and less in the way of stoutness. Spicing was clearly still strong, but not quite as bright as they seemed last year. Ok fine, I admit it, all of my tasting notes are unreliable. I hope your happy. Anywho, here's my notes:

Cape Ann Fishermans Imperial Pumpkin Stout

Cape Ann Fisherman's Imperial Pumpkin Stout (2011 Vintage) - Pours a black color with minimal, rather light colored head. Smells very sweet, with a huge pumpkin pie component, with both pumpkin and spice asserting themselves. Taste is again very sweet, with some caramel flavors, a little in the way of chocolate, and even a little roastiness, but those pumpkin pie notes are here too, and they get stronger the more I drink. This seems to have lost some of its punch from last year, though it's still big and flavorful stuff. Mouthfeel is rich and creamy, a little spicy, but this doesn't drink like an 11% beer. Definitely not as great as I remembered, but still very solid and overall, as pumpkin beers go, this is still one of my favorites. B+

Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of a snifter on 9/29/12. 2011 vintage.

Yeah, so maybe I'll try to find a fresh bottle of this stuff and see if it fares any better. I've actually never had any of Cape Ann's other Fisherman's beers, so I should probably get on that too...

Octobeer Club

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Tonight's beer club was most excellent. Good turnout, really good beer, and an overall good time. For the uninitiated, the beer club is basically just a bunch of folks from my work who get together once a month to enjoy a nice dinner together... along with lots of different beers and wines and other alcoholic wonders. The past few months have been sparsely attended, so the beer selection was somewhat sparse, but tonight we had so many beers that we didn't even get to them all. As you might expect, lots of seasonal beers were brought, and we had a couple of quite excellent brews:

octobeerclub.jpg
(Click for bigger image)

For reference, here are some brief thoughts on most of the pictured beers (some we did not get to, though at least two of those I will review separately). As usual, this isn't exactly ideal tasting conditions, so take them with a grain of salt. In order of tasting (not necessarily the order in the picture):

  • Ithaca Flower Power IPA - While not popular with some folks (i.e. non-hopheads), I thought it was quite a good beer. Very floral, so much so that it does tend to differentiate itself from the throngs of other IPAs. Quite enjoyable and something I'd like to try again at some point. B+ (Beer Nerd Details: 7.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of my mini English tulip pint glass thingy.)
  • The Bruery Autumn Maple - Wow! This was a really fantastic beer. Full of Belgian yeast character and full bodied, this was a dream to drink. Perhaps it was just the power of suggestion, but I felt like the molasses and maple syrup flavors were very apparent, along with the general spiciness. It doesn't taste like a pumpkin beer, but it's definitely got a fall seasonal feel to it, which is a nice change of pace. The Bruery never ceases to amaze me with their beers. I loved this one and will need to find myself a bottle to try out by itself, but for now I'll give it the A it surely deserves. (Beer Nerd Details: 10.5% ABV bottled (750 ml capped.) Drank out of my mini English tulip pint glass thingy.)
  • Shmaltz Coney Island Freaktoberfest - Perhaps the weirdest beer of the night. It pours an odd blood red color with a pink head, but it tastes more along the lines of an Oktoberfest beer, though there was something distinctive and odd about the taste that was throwing things off. As a gimmick beer, it's certainly successful. The appearance is certainly a hoot, and the fact that it's 6.66% ABV is pretty funny as well. Ultimately, it's got some neat gimmicks, but it's an average beer. C+ (Beer Nerd Details: 6.66% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of my mini English tulip pint glass thingy.)
  • Otter Creek Oktoberfest - A not particularly accomplished version of the Octoberfest style. In discussion, someone mentioned that it tasted a bit like rotting otter, which is perhaps an exaggeration, but this isn't a particularly good beer. Maybe drinkable, but not something I'm rushing to try again. My least favorite of the night. C- (Beer Nerd Details: 4.8% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of my mini English tulip pint glass thingy.)
  • Blue Point's Mother Pumpkin Ale - Another of the more subdued pummpkin ales that I've had this year. Certainly not a bad beer, but the pumpkin and spice flavors were somewhat faint here. That's not necessarily a horrible thing, but it also doesn't really make the beer stand out either. It's an ok beer, worth trying, but not something I see myself seeking out at any point. C+ (Beer Nerd Details: 6% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of my mini English tulip pint glass thingy.)
  • Post Road Pumpkin Ale - I didn't realize it when I tried it, but this is actually Brooklyn Brewing's take on a pumpkin ale. It's yet another of the more sessionable pumpkin ales, perhaps slightly better than Blue Point's entry (see above), but not nearly as good as some of the other pumpkin ales I've had this year. Well crafted and worth a try, probably something I could drink again, but also not particularly special. B- (Beer Nerd Details: 5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of my mini English tulip pint glass thingy.)
  • Dundee Oktoberfest - Ah, a stealth macro! Not bad, but I'm also not sure if I'd identify this as having that distinctive Oktoberfest character either. It tastes fine, and it maybe has a hint of the typical flavors associated with the style, but it's certainly not an eye-opener either. I don't see myself seeking this out again, but I wouldn't turn it down either. B- (Beer Nerd Details: 5.5% ABV bottled (12 oz.) Drank out of my mini English tulip pint glass thingy.)
  • Victory Otto - This is one of my most anticipated beers of the year; a smoked Belgian style dubbel from my favorite local brewery. Unfortunately, it didn't quite live up to expectations. It's got a nice smoky character and it doesn't seem like that would overwhelm the rest of the beer, but I would have liked to have tasted some sort of Belgian yeast flavors here as well, and they were just absent. This makes it somewhat one-dimensional. I will say that it seemed to get better as I drank, and it certainly isn't bad, but as Belgian dubbels are one of my favorite styles, I wish this had more of that sort of style going for it. I'll probably try this again at some point, as it did end up being enjoyable, but I did find it a bit disappointing as well. B (Beer Nerd Details: 8.1% ABV bottled (750 ml caged and corked.) Drank out of my mini English tulip pint glass thingy.)
  • Cape Ann Fisherman's Imperial Pumpkin Stout - Wow, this is really fantastic beer from a brewery I've never even heard of... It's basically an imperial pumpkin stout. It's got the typical pumpkin pie flavors and spices, but it's all very well balanced. The stoutness is downplayed and not very roasty, but that's the way I like it, and the pumpkin pie character fits well with the dark style. It's full bodied but smooth, and it definitely hides the 11% ABV well. Dangerously drinkable stuff, and perhaps the most flavorful beer of the night - certainly the only beer that even came close to comparing with the Bruery Autumn Maple. I'm not sure where I can get this, but I need to find myself another bottle of this stuff. Really wonderful beer. A (Beer Nerd Details: 11% ABV bottled (22 oz. bomber). Drank out of my mini English tulip pint glass thingy.)
Well, that covers most of the beer we drank. We also had another of my homebrewed saisons (which, again, I should review, but not now) and some of the less beer inclined folks had a Leinenkugel Berry Weiss, but I kinda knew that's not for me, so I didn't try any of that. Of the unopened bottles, I'm sure I'll be trying the Warsteiner Oktoberfest this weekend, and I'll get to Founders Centennial IPA at some point as well.

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Hi, my name is Mark, and I like beer.

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