At one of CB&B’s recent tasting panel sessions, a taster remarked that the word balanced has become an empty one, that it doesn’t really say much about the beer being described. Others disagreed, claiming that you can taste when a beer is out of balance. Still others of us continued to drink samples of beer just to make sure we had obtained sufficient data points to justify our continued indecision on the issue.
The idea of balance varies from one taster to another, not just in his or her perception of a beer’s sensory profile, but also in his or her personal preference. Beer judge training and testing attempt to reduce personal subjectivity in the evaluation process, but it’s impossible to eliminate it altogether. We all bring our own likes and dislikes to the flight at hand, and as unbiased as we strive to be, these necessarily show up in how we perceive flavors, aromas, and mouthfeel.
I accept, for example, that my judgement is virtually useless when it comes to spicy food. “Is this dish hot?” a friend will ask when ordering Mexican, Indian, or Thai cuisine. And as much as I’d like to offer something helpful, years of palate punishment at the hand of capsaicin have rendered my personal tastes completely untrustworthy. My sister-in-law finds black pepper too spicy, while I enjoy dishes that induce weeping.