The good folks at tasteyourbeer.com were kind enough to send me a sample Beer Tasting kit to review, so let me start off by thanking them for their generosity. The kit–similar to popular kits designed to improve your wine tasting skills–comes with everything you need to get started identifying the many different hop varieties used in your favorite beers.
The Beer Tasting and Hop Appreciation Kit comes with a Hop Cheat Sheet* on the inside cover which lists the names of the hops in the kit (*the only error I found in the entire kit was that the cheat sheet listed Northern Brewer as one of the included hops and did not list Fuggle; but there was no N.B. in the kit and there wasa Fuggle), their country of origin, if they’re used as bittering, finishing or aroma hops, what styles of beer they can commonly be found in and a description of the aroma of the hop cones; 13 different hop varieties, (in pellet form, commonly uses for homebrewing) which all come in small vials with labels listing type, country, and acidity per cent-age, and a vial of palate cleanser (in my case, coffee beans); a Quick Start Guide with serving instructions; a 47-page Beer Appreciation Guide (with such sections as ‘A Bird’s Eye View of Beer’, ‘The Long and Arduous Journey from Bottle to Mouth’, tasting instructions, and instructions on hosting your own tasting party); access to the Taste Your Beer hop database, which tells you what hops are used in many common American brews; access to the terms database with definitions of many common beer terms; and a beer color swatch so you can match the color of the beer you’re drinking to the number representing its color on the swatch.
Wanting to really put the kit through the ringer, I decided to test not a glass of beer, but an actual unknown hop cone I had in the freezer (*I was recently given a few batches of homegrown hops by my girlfriend’s mother but she doesn’t know which harvest was which variety, so I thought this would be the perfect time to try and find out). I went through all of the varieties with U.S. origins (since the hop I had was grown here in Maine) and quickly eliminated a number of varieties I could tell right away it wasn’t. I narrowed down my choices to Liberty and Chinook and, after much comparison, I think the unknown hop in my possession is a Liberty hop. The problem with the type of comparison I did is, of course, that hop plugs like those provided in the kit (or the huge amounts of hops used in a brewed beer) are much more aeromatic than a single, dried hop cone, so I very well may be mistaken in my identifying.
However, right or wrong, the most important fact remains that I had a great time trying to sleuth out my hops. While I’ll admit that the Beer Tasting Kit is certainly a little gimmicky (then again, what of this nature isn’t? wine tasting kits are certainly on the same plateau), it was still a lot of fun to play around with. The kit would certainly go a long way towards turning a non-believer, a beer novice, or a wine snob, into someone who appreciates the unrivialed depth and variety good beer has to offer (if nothing else, it makes a great beer present for your father-in-law…). I certainly have to hand it to these guys for doing their part for Good Beer Advocacy and for attempting to heighten the awareness that there really is more to beer than American Light Lagers (and, when it comes down to it, more to beer than wine). The kit was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon and I’m excited to try it again next weekend, beer-in-hand. cheers.