See no evil

Craft Your Senses: A Story of Beer and Blindfolds

Features By Photo by Chelsea Oram

I entered the portion of the bar sectioned off for the Craft Your Senses event, handing my ticket to the hostess as I ducked behind the curtain. It was dimly lit and already teeming with a boisterous crowd surrounding each of the seven independent breweries present. Conversation starters were being poured and enjoyed at each booth, with the imbibers smiling and, notably, blindfolded. Since I was growing curious and a little thirsty, I started my sightless flight with the closest contributor and let the adventure begin.

malted-madness-teaser-icon64 Beers. 6 Rounds. 1 Winner. It’s the Gear Patrol National Craft Beer Championship. Follow the Story This Way »

Craft Your Senses is just one of the many microbrew-inspired events currently being held all over North America. Equal parts product promotion and teaching tool, the focus of these events on locally made malted beverages is not dissimilar to the locavore movement gaining ground with foodies. Created in conjunction with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB), Humber College’s Event Management program developed the Craft Your Senses event to raise money for a worthwhile charity in the CNIB and help hop-heads develop a method of beer appreciation they may not have been aware of previously.

Much like wines and spirits, the complexity and uniqueness inherent in beer is something to be savored. Don’t get me wrong: a quick cold one after finishing up the yard work or washing the car is second to none when it comes to enjoyment. Still, taking the time explore and experiment with new brews can be incredibly rewarding. Doing so blindfolded is a slight alteration on the new trend — one that aims to make the senses step up while removing any pretense that so often swirls around the beers themselves. Most bluntly, this method is supposed to enhance the ability to dissect and discern different flavor profiles at work in each brew and to encourage some comparative discourse.

While I can’t quantify whether my senses of smell or taste were kicked into high gear while I swished and swallowed each of the offerings, I can certainly endorse the procedure. There’s an immediate excitement and anticipation when the lights go out. Things start to tingle. An alcoholic spidey sense, let’s call it. As I sipped each sample, I became abundantly aware of two things: first, of how silly I would look in any other setting, and second, that I was consciously taking more time to taste, despite the eager line-up forming behind me. I have attended other tastings in the past, and despite intentions or instruction, the results, in retrospect, now seemed forced. Despite featuring unlabeled libations, there was always an expectation of flavor because of what I had drank in the past. With a glass of dark beer in your hand, you prime your taste buds with your previous experiences of like-colored malted liquids. By removing preconceived notions, you’ll tend to let things linger a little longer. Subtler notes will make their presence felt. Stronger ones will seem all the more massive.

The best part is that unlike with wine and spirit tasting, you’re actually encouraged to swallow the tester so as to pick up on all of the notes during exhalation. Once you’ve made your mental notes and the blindfold comes off, the desire to talk about the experience and compare it with others is insatiable; with a room full of like minded drinkers and brew masters at the ready, it makes for an enlightening experience.

To set up your own evening of blind tastings you need only pick up a few essentials. Obviously beer is the most important piece of here, and loading up on new-to-you-brews is essential. You can sneak a favorite or two in there as well, but eliminate any visual cues as to which beer maybe on the menu. Blindfolds are also a key ingredient, since most people will inevitably peek. For comforts’ sake, we recommend using sleep masks. Ask your lady friends for some. After that, it’s really a simple procedure of tasting and talking — you’d be surprised by how little encouragement this takes (the talking, that is). Instead of just sharing a couple suds among buds, you’re now sharing an experience that triggers that spirit of adventure in us all. That’s not something us guys like to keep bottled up.