If You Go
What: Blind Beer Tasting
When: 6:30 p.m. March 28
Where: Twisted Pine Ale House, 3201 Walnut St.
Tickets: $20, available at twistedpinebrewing.com/blindpairing
Info: 303-786-9270 or twistedpinebrewing.com
Gerry Leary runs his hand over the front of an antique pickup truck parked in front of Twisted Pine Brewing Co. He traces the shape of the hood as it curves distinctively into the front side panel, then casually names the make — a Ford — and the model year.
Blind since birth, Leary worked as an auto mechanic for nearly four decades before becoming a Master Coffee Roaster and opening The Unseen Bean in Boulder. He works by smell, touch, sound, taste and by experience, and he says he's constantly logging these sense memories as frames of reference to better make sense of his world.
"When I enter a building, a car or anywhere really, I'm always making a map in my mind and paying attention to certain clues," he said.
How his guide dog reacts, for example. Or the quality of an echo reverberating off of a soft or hard object, how things feel and by recognizable shapes, like the front end of an old Ford truck.
Leary will help others better tune into these nonvisual cues during a Blind Beer Tasting — it's March 28 at the Twisted Pine Ale House as part of Colorado Craft Beer Week — in which blindfolded participants will taste their way through five beers paired with small bites provided by local cheese shop Cured.
"What I try to create for people is the thought pattern of tasting without looking and using your imagination to build an image," he said. "And then looking at it and tasting again to see what happens to that image that you've created."
If we eat — and drink, for that matter — first with our eyes, then jumping headlong into the sensation of taste without preamble can be a disconcerting experience. I enjoyed the opportunity to taste through the pairings with Leary during a trial run of the event and found that knowing nothing about the beers or cheeses beforehand and having no visual frame of reference transmogrifies the tasting experience.
What I tasted as roasted green chilies in one cheese, for example, was in fact cumin. I also had difficulty discerning whether beers were lighter or darker, as darker beers often have a lighter mouthfeel than their hoppier counterparts and can also have a more pronounced bitterness. Which, in many ways, is the point of the exercise — to put preconception aside and evaluate the experience only for what it is.
"The very first time you pick up the glass and put it to your mouth, you're not sure what's going to hit your lips," Leary said. "But even the feel and the weight of the glass in your hand can offer a subtle clue as to what's inside. Then you get a little bit of the smell, and that brings certain things to mind.
"When you taste, think about the things that you can't see. How does the carbonation feel? Does the beer feel heavy or light? How does it wash over your tongue? What flavors can you pick out?"
For instance Leary says that, for him, stouts are generally more bitter, pale ales are a bit heavier and not as bitter, and IPAs are usually sweeter and more floral or fruity tasting.
A common perception is that hoppy beers are bitter, and darker beers are thicker with maybe some roast or sweetness to them. But tasting through each of these styles blindfolded, and comparing the image that I'd created in my mind's eye to what I saw and tasted when I lifted the blindfold, caused me to become aware of some of the more subtle characteristics that Leary mentioned.
"It's like if someone picked out a grape that was similar in size and shape to a cherry, and they put that grape into your hand without you being able to see it. The first think you might think is, 'Oh, a cherry,' " he said. "And when you put that grape into your mouth, you're already anticipating a cherry flavor."
Preconceptions color our world, in other words, and sometimes it's instructive to block out those biases in order to really see.
Contact Tom Wilmes at firstname.lastname@example.org.