Name That Orange
We were drinking a couple pints of Gigantic Brewing’s Endless, a juicy IPA brewed with Citra and Mandarina hops, and I was at a loss. Obviously, it tastes of citrus. But I had the hardest time coming up with a better analogy. Is it like a satsuma? Is it a pomelo? What does a mandarin taste like again? I kept circling around looking for the right variety, but in the end I gave up. It’s been months since I’ve seen a cutie. I haven’t tasted a sumo in at least eighteen months.
Keeping track of beers in my mind is hard enough. Keeping track of three hundred fruits and vegetables is impossible. Despite writing about beer for almost seven years, I am regularly stumped trying to describe a flavor – especially in beers that rely heavily on tropical, new world hops. I am not a supertaster. Sometimes my beer notes are the typographical equivalent of a shrug.
When it comes to writing tasting notes, every writer falls somewhere on a spectrum between between the ornate, flowery pole and the technical, utilitarian pole. One writer might describe how “sweet oranges dance with aniseed, biscuits, caramel, and hops in the tantalizing nose,” while another uses terms like DMS, diacetyl, acetaldehyde, esters, phenolic, or oxidized. Both are valid ways to evaluate beer, and no one drinker writes entirely purple prose or a technical manual.
But all writers are trying to turn their subjective experience into something another person can objectively understand. You get into the weeds though when you’re comparing a beer to an obscure wine like barolo or a weird fruit like gooseberries. I doubt many readers can instantly imagine the scent of lanolin. (I know it well, Sarah is a prodigious knitter.)
In the end, all tasting notes are metaphorical. Unless a beer is literally infused with citrus, it only tastes like a grapefruit. I pray the “horse blanket” flavor in your lambic is figurative. But reaching for a really out there description like “Strawberry Shortcake met the Big Bad Wolf,” can be incredibly entertaining and evocative.