SOMERVILLE - Maybe it was a bartender who was too lazy to change the draft line. Or maybe it was that focus group you participated in ten years ago for a $25 gift card and a lime green fanny pack. But someone, somewhere along the line has switched your brand of choice to a competitor’s without your awareness at least once in your life. And you probably couldn’t even tell the difference.
Blind taste tests are nothing new. In fact, it’s as fundamental a part of marketing as predictive algorithms and data privacy breaches. Coke vs. Pepsi. McDonald’s vs. Burger King. Taco Bell vs… whatever isn’t Taco Bell. It’s an industry that’s predicated on consumer recognition and saturation over actual substance. Hated those Mentos commercials back in the 90s? They earned the company a reported $120 million in sales in 1996 alone. Somewhere in the Netherlands, a marketing executive with incredibly fresh breath is sleeping soundly tonight on 100 count Egyptian cotton sheets while you still haven’t found the fresh that goes better in life.
But beer isn’t a breath mint. And while it might be food for at least some of us, it’s in no way subject to the same generic classifications you might find in the food and beverage industry. It’s not just a question of being able to differentiate between a can of Schlitz and a limited batch pilsner. And it’s not even a question of variation in styles. It’s a question of the very nuances of those styles which are responsible for the meteoric rise in both craft beer and subsequent festivals celebrating it over the past ten years. Maybe that’s a sentiment that’s overly presumptive. It’s certainly pretentious as all hell. And maybe that’s why you should be attending the first (and hopefully annual) Blind Beer Fest on March 6th. To prove me wrong.
Mass. Brew Bros. https://massbrewbros.com/ aren’t strangers to blind taste testing. They’ve been informally hosting them for over three years. Scoff if you will at their embarrassing moniker, but chances are they know more about beer than you, I, or that schmuck with the bad facial hair two seats down pretending to read Infinite Jest. I trust ‘em. In fact, more than I trust the average bartender. And you should, too. Not because they’re self-styled beer evangelists. Not because they’re an independent alternative to heavily financed status-seeking hops advocates who should remain nameless. But because they can discern those nuances based on experience alone. And that means both trial and, more often than not, error. Sometimes egregious errors.
“As part of the education process, we really felt strongly that the best way to really train your palate and to get to know beers is to strip away all the branding, all of our preconceived notions, and literally just taste beer blind, because then you’re exercising everything from your eyes and your nose to your palate,” Kelsey Roth, who first collaborated with the site on a series of invite-only blind tastings in 2016, told Boston magazine earlier this week. “That’s when people’s minds are blown a little bit because they [picked] a beer they thought they didn’t like or a brand they didn’t care for.”
It’s not just the blind taste test that separates the Blind Beer Fest from other area festivals. Mass. Brew Bros. Bob Kelley and Rob Vandenabeele are insisting on a guaranteed marketing free zone. No branded coozies and no giveaway keychains. Not even the names of participating breweries will be revealed until after the event. It’s legitimately blind sampling, free from bias, forethought, and preconception. And it’s an idea you should hope catches on. Yes, there’s always going to be a place for self-referential in sponsored beer festivals. You know what to expect from your favorite brewery and that’s why you choose to pay good money to celebrate all two dozen of its subsidiary brands over three consecutive days. But that’s not a celebration. It’s stagnation. Lord knows beer deserves better than that.
“We want adventurous people who are excited to come try all different Massachusetts beers and have their eyes opened a little,” says Kelley.
Mass Brew Bros. Blind Beer Fest will be held on March 6th from 6:30 pm - 10:30 pm at the Center for Arts at the Armory located at 191 Highland Ave in Somerville. Tickets are available from Eventbrite starting at $40. For more information, visit Blind Beer Fest 2020.
Image via Flickr/duzern