Beer festival

The sweet tooth of the GABS drinker


One of these GABS samples could contain a People’s Choice winner. But is there a way for a brewer to improve their chances of winning?


Lets just say you’re a brewery who wanted to take out the People’s Choice Award at GABS. If you were really calculating, you could look at the previous winners and finalists to see what beers rate highly and see if there was any sort of pattern there.

Turns out there has been a bit of a pattern of sweet beers going down a treat – and it seems to be getting stronger each year.

While, in 2012 the People’s Choice Award went to Yeastie Boys Gunnamatta, an Earl Grey-infused IPA, I couldn’t find any lists online of the runners-up for that year. So I’ll start my theory with 2013.

That year the winner was Bacchus Brewing’s White Chocolate and Raspberry Pilsner – a sweet beer – followed by these runners-up (I think this is the right order, too)

Feral’s Barrique O Karma
2 Brothers’ The Magic Pudding
Garage Project’s Death from Above
Bridge Road Brewers’ Hop to it Honey
Two Birds’ Taco

That’s one other sweet beer – from 2 Brothers (which I’ll put in bold for later reference).

In 2014 the winner was a sweet beer, La Sirène’s Praline.
And here were the runners-up, in order

2 Bacchus Brewing Co – Sex, Drugs & Rocky Road
3 KAIJU Beer – Where Strides the Behemoth
4 Garage Project – Umami Monster
5 Bright Brewery – Battle of the Bulge
6 BrewCult – Pepper Steak Porter
7 2 Brothers Brewery – Crème Caramel
8 7 cent Brewery – White Rocket in Flight Afternoon Delight’
9 HopDog BeerWorks- Brett the Bloody Orange’
10 Little Creatures Brewing- The SS Menno

In 2014 as well as the winner, there were two more sweeter styles that were among the top beers. And, they’re taking up the two two spots as well.

Onto 2015, and the winner was BrewCult’s Milk and Two Sugars. That was followed by these guys.
2 2 Brothers – Hazella
3 Big Shed Brewing Concern- Golden Stout Time
5 ParrotDog – Puffinus Hutton
6 Ekim Brewing Co – [ragna]RÖK
7 Mismatch Brewing Company – Banoffee Pie Dessert Ale
8 Burleigh Brewing Co – Peach Saison
9 KAIJU – Betelgeuse
10 La Sirene Brewing – Bébé Rouge
11 Moon Dog – Spotted Dick With Custard
12 Duckstein Brewery – The Marsellus Wallace Porter

This time we’ve got five that could be classed as sweet beers. So the number of sweet beers appearing high up in People’s Choice voting is increasing year after year – from two in 2013, to three in 2014 and five in 2015.

So if you want a chance to nab the keg-cut-in-half trophy that is the GABS People’s Choice winner, then making a sweeter beer is a pretty good bet.

But why do they do so well? Part of the reason is obviously because more people are making them and more sweeter beers means more chance of some of them appearing in the top beers of the festival. Some might also suggest that it’s a byproduct of more newbies coming to GABS and being surprised by what they may see as beers that taste nothing like what they think of as ‘‘beer’’.

Me. I put it down to palate fatigue. Tasting a lot of beers over a session or two (or more), tends to dull your taste buds a bit, to the extent where anything with a degree of subtlety loses out. For me that was evident in the Quiet Deed smoked hefe at GABS this year. I liked it but couldn’t taste strong smoke, and the brewer felt like he should have put more in. But I want to try it away from GABS because I reckon, with a fresh palate, I’ll like that beer a whole lot more.

Anyway, so when you have palate fatigue what tends to happen is it’s only the bigger flavours that stand out (which is why I’ve long called bullshit on wine tasters’ and judges’ ability to discern quality after a day of tasting). And a big sweet beer does stand out.

It’s not the only thing that stands out either. BrewCult’s Milk and Two Sugars – this year’s winners – had really strong coffee flavours that would wake up a jaded palate. And a rough head count over the last three years shows 11 beers in the top 10s that are sours, wild ales, super-high ABV beers or those with strong and unusual flavours.

And the prevalence of these strong flavours increases each year, to the extent that, in 2015, only one of the 12 beers listed above didn’t fall into that category. That’s Burleigh’s Peach Saison (note: I didn’t taste this one and am going on descriptions of its flavour and intensity from others).

It seems, if you want to be the people’s choice, you’ve got to go big – either in flavour or alcohol.

CAVEAT: Of course, what works for the people’s choice may not always work well for a brewer after that point. More and more brewers are bottling their GABS beer and that’s a whole different ballgame. A beer with strong flavours that piqued your jaded palate may prove to be too much when you try a bottle of it when your taste buds are fresh. That’s if you even buy a bottle – each year I hear people say ‘‘I liked the 80ml tasting sample but I don’t think I could drink a whole bottle.

Also, the ‘‘quieter’’ beers at GABS may well end up being the ones you can drink more of later on. Because maybe you want a good beer rather than one that always makes you think ‘‘wow, it tastes just like [insert certain food item here].

3 replies »

  1. I don’t think it is necessarily palate fatigue, although that certainly becomes an issue after a while. For most people, who just attend a single session of GABS, a brewer has 80 mls or less to make an impression. I tend to end up swapping tasters with my friends, so a lot of the beers I try, I might only try 20 -30 mls.

It's your shout

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s