Since they were one-shots no one will ever be able to taste again, I won't go into great depth on the review. What was fun and fascinating about the experiment is in seeing how a single ingredient can change so much. The basic recipe was a 6.2% porter, and I'm not sure how the smoked malt might have tasted--there was an inadvertent blending of a small amount of the chile and plain (I thought they had brought me the wrong beer). Triangulating from the five, I can say that it was a fairly robust porter, balanced between sweet and dry, and quite tasty.
But beyond that, each was quite a bit different from the other. Take the honey and maple examples. Here's what I would have assumed: the maple would contribute more obvious flavor, as the unfrementables contribute more than honey's, which mostly gets consumed by yeast. Yes and no. The honey, it turns out, actually contributed lots of sugar that wasn't fermentable--it was quite a bit sweeter than any of the others. The maple was a flavor component, and while it may have boosted alcohol, it wasn't by enough for my tongue to appreciate it. I talked to brewer Ben Edmunds, and he was surprised at how these two behaved when they were brewed, too; the maple was a slower, longer ferment than the quick-burning honey.
It's not totally surprising that Ben ran this experiment--he's sidelines as a beer educator (or is he an educator who brews on the side?). But I wish more breweries would do this. The value is in trying beers together with just a single variable's difference. In terms of appreciating and understanding beer, it can be revelatory. A few possibilities I'd love to see:
- Beers made with different single hops. For example, a few pale ales brewed with Cascade, Amarillo, Citra, Goldings, and Saaz (or Sterling).
- Beers made with different yeast strains.
- Beers fermented in different environments--say different temperatures and in different vessels (at Upright, an open v closed fermentation, for example). This is a bit esoteric, but I'd be fascinated.
- Beers made with strains of fresh and dried hops side-by-side.