Local flavors

Treat yourself to a sampler tray
By JOSH SMITH  |  August 25, 2010


Sampler trays were invented for the adventurous, the inquisitive, and the indecisive. Whether you fall easily into one of these categories or not, now is the perfect time to try a sampler.

Beer Advocate — the craft-beer loving magazine and website — is promoting the last full week of August as Local Beer Week. This is a great idea and great opportunity to explore the variety of offerings from your local brewer.

Drinking local beer has many good effects: it's green, it's fresh, and it supports small businesses in your community. So when you're out at the local package store, bar, or restaurant this week, order from a brewer in your state, or city if possible. And if they don't have any to choose from, ask why not!

This shouldn't be much of a sacrifice for residents of the Biggest Little. Providence features several excellent beer bars, an elite beer store, and two well-established, centrally located brewpubs — TRINITY BREWHOUSE and UNION STATION BREWERY. With a number of regularly rotating taps, the sampler tray (also called a taster tray) is recommended for all but the most frequent of customers.

Taster trays are an opportunity to learn what a brewer is all about, as well as try some new styles of beer. When tasters are not pre-selected for you, do be sure to order a mix of different styles. This is the perfect time to test the limits of your comfort zone and try your first Smoked Porter or Berliner Weisse! At a slightly more than the cost of a pint, the investment is minimal . . . and you may just discover your new favorite beer!

Generally coming in 4-ounce pours, samplers allow one to peruse the standard six plus taps in one sitting and still walk out under one's own volition. I have had samplers come in countless different sized paddles, place mats and, at YESTERDAY'S ALE HOUSE in Newport, a model schooner ship! Whatever the format, samplers are fun and social, a great chance to hang out with friends and compare thoughts on craft beer.

Most brewpubs will sort your selections into a logical drinking order. Unfortunately, their logic may be incorrect. There is a very pervasive myth that when sampling you should drink beer from lightest to darkest. While the color will give you some clues about the beer you are about to drink, it does not tell the whole story.

Instead, it's more important that you know your ABVs and IBUs. The percentage of Alcohol By Volume and number of International Bitterness Units are far more indicative judges of what you are in for. By starting with less alcoholic and only mildly bitter beers and then working your way up the spectrum, you preserve your palate for the beers at the end of the tray. Think about it: if you start off with a monster Barleywine, that Blonde Ale is only going to taste like water in comparison.

Take for example my taster from Union Station. I started with their SUMMER BLONDE and GOLDEN SPIKE ALE since these two had the lowest amount of alcohol. My more bitter beers — the TRIP HOP and HALF DAY IPA — came next. I closed with the beers over 5% ABV, the RIVER OTTER PORTER and BARLEYWINE. My taster at Trinity followed a similar pattern: BELGIAN WIT, SCHWARZBIER, THE KOLSCH, ESB, IMPERIAL IPA, and RUSSIAN IMPERIAL STOUT.

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