Beer Run

Beer Run: Judging by one expert’s reaction, New Helvetia has two winners

It was clear from the moment he started speaking that Mike Moore, all 6-foot-11 of him, was a giant in the beer industry.

Renowned for his expertise as a certified beer judge, Moore travels the world judging in major beer competitions. Turns out, he has plenty to say for those interested in digging deeper into craft beer. During a presentation peppered with science, insight and humor, Moore spoke Monday night to a small gathering at New Helvetia Brewing. At $25 per person with chatting and tasting for more than an hour, it amounted to a master class in beer.

The folks who run New Helvetia wouldn’t have known where Moore’s no-holds-barred tasting of their beers might lead.

Spolier alert: Moore, who has tasted thousands of beers, from world-class Belgian ales brewed by monks to misguided brews with all the aromatic appeal of road kill, wound up raving about two beers and referred to one as “beautiful.” More on that in a minute.

Moore guided us through four beers and provided insight into how a certified judge approaches the process. We took stock of the appearance, then smelled the beers, tasted them and tried to judge the quality. Sure, we picked up some of the same aromas and flavors as Moore smelled and tasted, but his takes were far more nuanced, and, because his benchmarks are so vast, he was able to place the beers in context far better than the rest of us could.

“The embarrassing parts,” said New Helvetia partner David Gull, “is I know so little about beer compared to him that it makes me want to go back to school. It was very humbling.”

But is it necessary to hit the books and parse flavor notes and aromas to enjoy craft beer?

As this column has documented previously, Sacramento’s craft beer scene has grown tremendously, and the beer consumer has become better informed and more discerning. But in order for the beer scene to continue to evolve, the beer consumer must be willing to gain more knowledge.

Moore and others like him can play a role in helping us up our games. For those who want to dig even deeper, there are classes available locally to become a certified beer judge. Watch for that in a future Beer Run.

It was evident throughout much of his talk that Moore, a career pharmacist with a background in chemistry, can size up plenty before he even tastes the beer.

Among other things, judges such as Moore take into consideration the appearance, flavor, mouthfeel and overall impression to come up with a total score out of 50. Within those categories, Moore can become painstakingly detailed. For one beer, he called out nearly 10 aroma characteristics in seconds.

“I smell hops, but I also smell a lot of malt,” Moore said, referring to Broadway 51, a double IPA collaboration between New Helvetia and Oak Park Brewing (51 refers to the bus line that connects the two breweries).

Then he tasted it. His reaction was immediate, a broad smile sweeping over his face, a tone of joy and wonderment slipping into his voice.

“See the balance? Beautiful. When you first taste it, hops. It’s still a lingering bitterness, but now you get this rolling honey malt, they call it. This is beautiful. Wow,” Moore said, raising his glass to inspect the beer once more. “To me, it tastes like honey, tangerine, pine and there’s a little bit of rosemary in there. Excellent.”

We sniffed and tasted as he spoke. Yes, there was that honey note he mentioned, a touch of sweetness mixed with something floral and big on the citrus. But rosemary? I smelled again. There, amid layers of bigger, bolder flavors, was a subtle herbaceous note of mint mixed with pine, perhaps.

We moved on to the Thurston, a relatively high-alcohol rare German style known as Adambier. New Helvetia’s Thurston won in the gold medal in the historical beer category at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival. But would it pass Moore’s sniff test? I had heard some beer geeks downplaying New Helvetia’s win because it was in a relatively arcane category. So I wondered, was this a truly great beer? Or one that slipped through the cracks?

It didn’t take long to get our resident expert’s impression.

“See how complex it is? This is one you could age for years and years,” Moore told us. “Now let’s taste it. At first I taste more brown sugar; then it goes into an oak/vanilla mode. Wow! This is complex. Then there is a little bit of a cocoa powder, then more vanilla, and a little bit of the grain comes through, what I call a golden graham cracker crust. It finishes like a little hint of cocoa dust and chocolate and vanilla and milk chocolate and, at the end, quite mineral. You get that epsom salt/magnesium finish. It’s a little salty on the finish.”

From the tone of his voice, it was clear that salty was a good thing, in this instance.

Moore looked toward New Helvetia brewmaster Brian Cofresi standing toward the back of the room and said, “It’s so true to style, Brian. Awesome.”

Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.