I'm turning my mother-in-law into a beer nerd. It started by accident. Whenever my wife decided we were going to take the kids to see Grandma, I would pick up a little something for myself. It's not that I don't like my mother-in-law; I actually lucked out in the in-law department, but my kids in her tiny place create an ungodly amount of noise from which I cannot escape, and her evil cat Lucifer (actual name) tries to kill me every time I walk past. I need a little bit of liquid fortitude.
Turns out, so does she. Over time, I got accustomed to the fact that I would be splitting my selections with her, and began a slow education. At first, she swore up and down that she couldn't actually tell the difference between one beer and another, and didn't care what I brought over. I started staging tasting sessions, pitting wildly different beers against each other and daring her to tell me that all beer tastes the same. She grudgingly admitted that the Saison didn't taste like the Imperial Stout.
Mostly, I think it was an attitude. There seems to be a sort of reverse-elitism at play in the world of beer, splitting craft drinkers from the rest of the beer-drinking population. Finding the seriousness with which craft drinkers take their tippling to be troublingly effete, some beer drinkers look down their noses at those who find flavor important. Beer is beer, they say, and anyone who says otherwise is a snob, and probably a sissy. While I don't think my mother-in-law thought me a sissy, I have little doubt she thought me a snob.
Over time, I've disabused her of that notion (as much as is possible, given the fact that, in all likelihood, I am kind of a snob) with beer. I gave her a crash course in how to taste and evaluate beer, which aromas to expect from which styles, and how to identify them. I didn't break out the BJCP manual or anything, just convinced her that paying attention to a beer, allowing it to warm, searching out its nuances, is a rewarding endeavor.
Sometimes, she still shakes her head with a look of bemusement as I describe the flavor profile of a particular beer, and she finds herself at a loss to come up with touchstones, or else simply doesn't taste what I taste. Other times, we taste exactly the same things, even if our ultimate opinions of the beer in question might differ substantially.
Take, for example, Avery's The Beast Grand Cru.
The Beast pours a reddish brown, with precious little head despite ample carbonation. Just the first sign of its somewhat ridiculous strength. As I ticked off aromatic elements, my mother-in-law's eyes lit up in recognition, and she nodded excitedly. She got every one of them, from the obvious, almost oppressive onslaught of booze, to the raisins and brown bread that dominated the middle, on through a milk chocolate sweetness, even the banana- and pineapple-tinged tail.
With that aggressive nose, I was expecting a deliciously deep, nuanced flavor. I got it, sort of, though I didn't like it. This one comes on heavy and boozy, like a shot of rum laced with pine and citrus hops nuances, an herbal undercurrent reminiscent of gin running underneath. Malty, resinous flavors mirror the aromatics, though they are weighed down by heat and sweetness. My mother-in-law matched me note for note, differing only in her opinion of the beer's sweetness.
That sweetness was what killed it for me, and what made it for her. She's the genetic source of my youngest daughter's indefatigable sweet tooth, and she took to this sugar monster like a Swiftlet to its saliva cave. That wasn't the bird simile you were expecting, was it?
While I could still taste the other elements going on in the beer, and liked them, I couldn't manage more than my half-bottle share. It was just too sweet, that cloying top note smothering everything underneath it. That's probably for the best, as the ABV tops 16 percent. A full bottle, and I might not have managed coherent tasting notes.