Searching for the line between "hobby" and "obsession"

Beer Night at Barking Dog

It’s January in Minnesota. It’s really freaking cold outside (wind chill of -19 a few days ago). What better to do on a Saturday night than get a fire roaring and invite some good friends over for some hot pizzas and cold homebrewed beers? Throw in a few microbrews for good measure, that’s what.

I had a great time introducing people to some new Barking Dog brews last night. Probably the most fun was administering blind taste tests where I pitted my homebrews against similar commercial versions and had people try and guess which was which.

Dead Soldiers on Beer Night

The first match was between my new Off-leash Coffee Stout and Lagunitas’s Cappuccino Stout. When drinking these side by side, their differences were quite apparent even though both were coffee stouts. Off-leash tasted closer to a traditional stout, with a thinner body (5.5% ABV) and a coffee-forward flavor profile. Cappuccino Stout was noticeably maltier with the coffee coming through more as an aromatic side-note rather than a significant portion of the flavor. This was partially due to Lagunitas’s brew having more of an “imperial” grain bill than mine, coming in at 9.2% ABV. All that malt pushed a lot of the coffee flavor aside, which I actually found more enjoyable than my version.

Next I pitted the Off-leash against Surly’s Coffee Bender. This wasn’t a fair taste test for those familiar with the flavor tenants of stouts vs. ales, as the two beers didn’t have much in common besides their coffee flavors. Knowing that Surly steeps coffee grains in their beer and that I took a different approach by essentially brewing a pot of coffee and mixing it in with my batch, it was interesting to taste the intricacies of how the flavor came through due to those differing methods. For both matches, it was split about 50/50 as to opinions on which beer was Barking Dog and which was the commercial example.

Finally, I pitted my Double Dog Dare IPA (D3) against Lagunitas’s Maximus. Both are IPA’s but mine has enough alcohol to be considered a “double” or “imperial” IPA. D3 was brewed in June of last year and was the third batch I attempted. As a consequence of being a new brewer, I neglected to do a yeast starter or pitch enough yeast for this 9% ABV batch to fully ferment it, so it came out too sweet and incomplete. It still tastes ok but you can tell it’s not my best work (in fact, I’ll admit it’s been my worst batch so far) and doesn’t hold up against any commercial examples, let alone Maximus.

Pairing my beers against commercial examples like this was kind of an afterthought in planning this party, but I think people really enjoyed trying to figure out which was which. I think I’ll be a bit more intentional in the future about finding commercial beers very similar to Barking Dog brews to make the match-ups as challenging as possible, because this game was a lot of fun!

Many people brought some cool microbrews to the party. My strategy for the night was to open as many different beers as possible to give everyone the opportunity to taste the greatest number of brews. Here’s the full list:

  • Summit Imperial Pumpkin Porter (MN)
  • Lift Bridge Farm Girl Saison (MN)
  • Surly Coffee Bender (MN)
  • Surly Abrasive (MN)
  • Barking Dog Off-Leash Coffee Stout (MN)
  • Barking Dog Sammy’s Golden Porter (MN)
  • Barking Dog CUJO SPICE Pumpkin Ale (MN)
  • Barking Dog Double Dog Dare IPA (MN)
  • Boulevard Imperial Pilsner (MO)
  • Left Hand 400 Pound Monkey (CO)
  • Dogfish Head World Wide Stout (DE)
  • Lagunitas Cappuccino Stout (CA)
  • Lagunitas Maximus (CA)
  • 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA (CA)
  • Huyghe Brewery Delirium Tremens (Belgium)
  • Het Anker Lucifer (Belgium)

On top of that, we had a few more beers ready to go that we didn’t get around to drinking:

  • Surly Smoke (MN)
  • Surly Darkness (MN)
  • Goose Island Urban Wheat (IL)
  • Great Lakes Christmas Ale (OH)
  • Odell’s Woodcut No. 4, Oak Aged Lager (CO)
  • Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale (CA)

Even though it was tough getting out of bed then next day after sampling all those brews, I’m pretty pumped to do another beer night and be more purposeful about pitting my brews against the professionals’.


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