Kit vs. Extract vs. All-Grain II: The Stoutening

The contendersAll did not go according to plan.

The post-mortem of the first Kit/Extract/All-Grain blind comparison decided that the brewer's proficiency with the various methods was affecting the outcome. It was therefore decided that for round 2 there would be three different brewers working to roughly the same recipe, each with a track record of successfully producing good beer via a particular brewing method. The result would be three beers in the same style made under optimum conditions with only the respective merits of their method of production to set them apart, thereby allowing the method itself to be judged, not merely the beer.

Since there was an old Brupaks Black Moor Stout kit to hand, stout was the chosen style for the test. The presumed poor condition of the unmade kit would serve to highlight one of the issues faced by kit beers: low turnover of stock and resulting oxidised off-flavours. As the kit expert, IrishPartyAle agreed to make this up, to an OG of 1.043. I made a similarly simple dry stout using dry malt extract, OG 1.043, and sbillings produced an all-grain version at 1.041.

The names IV, V and VI were assigned at random, and the tasting panel assembled on 28th July to try the beers blind.

But, as I said, all did not go according to plan.

 

The Kit beer got infected -- badly so -- and came out as pungent vinegar. It was very clear to the brewer, and then to the other 11 members of the tasting panel, that this beer was not a fair comparator for the others. Interestingly, despite the lesson of the previous tasting that All-Grain is just as susceptible to infection as Kit or Extract, 75% of the panel decided that this had to be the Kit beer. One member, perhaps on the previous form, decided this travesty was All-Grain while two others were undecided, except for one ruling out the possibility of it being All-Grain, and the other deciding it was anything but Kit. For obvious reasons, everyone deemed this their least favourite of the three, demonstrating a low incidence of masochism among the group.

(Some of) The panel The second favourite beer of the trial was the Extract, clocking up 10 of the 12 second preferences, with the two first preferences accounted for by yours truly the brewer and a commentator who elected it "the best of a bad lot" (cheers n1mbus: cheque's in the post). In another blow to the project methodology, over half the panel cited overcarbonation as a major criticism of the beer, so perhaps priming calculations are at least as important as the method of brewing. However, 50% of tasters commented that the beer was thinner and less flavourful than the lower-OG All-Grain stout.

The All-Grain stout was runaway winner, with 10 first preferences, though with little agreement as to why -- commentators mentioned its hop profile, its coffee roastiness, its chocolate maltiness, its smooth texture, its fizzy texture, and various combinations of these. And yet despite this, a mere 7 of the 12 correctly guessed it was an All-Grain beer. Four thought it to be Extract, with one hedging his bets between Extract and All-Grain. Yet all five erroneous assesors deemed this to be their favourite beer. Six panellists decided that their favourite beer was extract, though only two of them guessed the method correctly. It seems that, among ICB members at least, it is not taken as read that the best beer is the All-Grain one.

Which asks the question: what do people think are the distinguishing characteristics of the three methods? With two tests complete, it seems that the least-favourite beer (ie the infected one) is being consistently marked as Kit, with little good reason.

But with no consistency between the guesses of Extract and All-Grain we cannot say what each individual's criteria are. For some thinness shows a beer to be Extract; for others this means it's definitely All-Grain.

Perhaps the next test will clarify matters, or further confirm that -- all other factors being equal -- the method of brewing is irrelevant to the quality of the beer.

Thanks to all who participated!

A full table of the results is set out below, showing each participant's guess, and their order of preference with 1 being the favourite:

 
Kit
Extract
All-Grain
bighair
Ext./AG - 3 Kit - 2
Ext./AG - 1
brian_c
AG - 3
Kit - 2
Extract - 1
gonecaving
Kit - 3
AG - 2
Extract - 1
grainne
Kit - 3 AG - 2
Extract - 1
halite
Kit - 3
Extract - 2
AG - 1
IrishPartyAle
Kit - 3 AG - 2
Extract - 1
MrsBeerNut
3
2
1
n1mbus
Kit - 3 Extract - 1
AG - 2
rossa
Kit - 3 Extract - 2
AG - 1
Saruman
Kit - 3 Extract - 2
AG - 1
sbillings
Kit - 3 Extract - 2
AG - 1
TheBeerNut
Kit - 3 Extract - 1
AG - 2
Total no. of guesses
9K; 1AG; 2DK
2K; 6E; 3AG; 1DK
4E; 7AG

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