The Beer Trials Review


In high school, my dad’s side of the family had a restaurant and bar in Whitehall, Michigan.  The Galleon was a high-end (well, for the local price range, anyway) seafood and steak restaurant on the shores of White Lake, and we catered to the tourists and well-off locals with a taste for the finer things.  Between the restaurant’s target market and my family’s penchant for alcohol, I just bypassed the whole beer thing and went straight for the hard stuff.

Ayinger Celebrator and The Beer Trials
Ayinger Celebrator and The Beer Trials

I never tasted a beer until the ripe old age of eighteen; I went to the University of Houston and someone handed me a Shiner Bock.  I said to myself, “Hey, this beer thing isn’t bad at all!  I’ve been missing out.”

So I tried a few other beers, and … wow, was I disappointed.  In the early 90s, everybody in Houston drank Corona, and more often than not, that beer left a really bad taste in my mouth.  Literally.  I couldn’t understand why sometimes it was great, but most of the time it tasted skunky.  How could there really be so much variation in the same brand of beer?

For a decade, I stuck with Shiner Bock, venturing out only when a restaurant didn’t have it or when they offered a flight of beers.  I discovered a few other good beers in different styles, and I built up a little repertoire of favorites.  I enjoyed Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA (thanks to Houston beer guru, IT guru, and all around nice guy Sean Stoner, aka @MaslowBeer), Guinness, a few hefeweizens, and preferred Kirin Ichiban with my sushi.

When Alexis Herschkowitsch, one of the authors of The Wine Trials (see my review), shipped me a review copy of their new book, I gotta confess that I wasn’t expecting much.  I figured they did a file-save-as, called it The Beer Trials, and had tried – and failed – to reproduce the awesome parts of The Wine Trials.  I was very, very, very pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

Thanks to page 52 of The Beer Trials, I now know why Corona is usually skunky. The clear glass lets in unfiltered light in a way that harms the beer.  If I want to find better Corona, it’s just a matter of finding places that know how to store beer properly.  Even better, I can simply glance at a beer bottle and rule it out because it’s got clear or green glass, thereby making it more likely to be skunky.  Presto – book price saved.

Thanks to the categories on page 59, I discovered that Ayinger Celebrator is even better than Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA.  I’d been trying to figure out what kinds of beers were most like 90minIPA, and I hadn’t been very successful.  I never would have gambled on Ayinger because of its fancypants packaging – I mean, really, a plastic thingamabob hanging around the beer’s neck?  What kind of jerkface drinks something like that?  Well, now, I do, because it’s unbelievably smooth, very rich and complex, and it tastes like I’m drinking warm brown velvet.  That may not sound appetizing, I admit, but that’s why I write about databases instead of beer.

I tried several 9-rated beers out of the book before etching the pixels in stone for this review.  I wanted to know that the book was more reliable than a typical bartender.  I can report that I’m completely satisfied, and the only complaint I have is that the book doesn’t come with a companion iPhone app – at least, not yet.  In the meantime, I’ve typed the list of 9 and 8 rated beers into RememberTheMilk by category so I can access ’em from anywhere.

Authors Seamus Campbell and Robin Goldstein have pulled off a winner.  Thanks to them, I’ve found several new beers that have surprised me in a good way and made me interested in trying new beers again.  I would wholeheartedly recommend trying any beer rated highly in their trials, and because of that, the book is a downright steal at under $15.  The $15 you spend on this book will pay for itself in the first beer you try.

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18 Comments. Leave new

  • Try some Hobgoblin from the people at Wychwood Brewery ( 😉

    • See, that one comment right there sums up everything that’s wrong with trying to find beers I like, and why the book is so useful. Nothing against you, but there’s absolutely no relevance in that comment for me whatsoever. I don’t know what that beer is like, I don’t know what your tastes are, and you don’t know what my tastes are. That’s a really crappy way to find new beers.

  • If one of your first beers was Shiner Bock, it’s easy to understand why you’d be disappointed in other beers for a long time. Until recently it wasn’t available in IL, so I asked anyone I knew who was traveling anywhere it was sold to bring me some if they could. Since the book does blind tastings, I’m guessing they don’t talk about the taste difference between bottle and tap? I’ve had several examples of bottles that were just ok but were wonderful on tap, though I suspect that’s common.

  • Dan Brennan
    May 24, 2010 8:28 am


    You might check out the Beer Judge Certification Program style guidelines app for the iPhone. It is both free and informative, with coverage of all the major styles and commercial examples of each. The app name is “BJCP Styles.”

    Shiner Bock is mentioned under category 4A: Dark American Lager, Celebrator is under 5C: Doppelbock.

    As far as finding beers you like – find a liquor store that sells singles and get adventurous!

    -Dan B

    • Dan – sorry, but no, the answer to finding things you like isn’t “go spend money until you find one that sucks less than others.” This whole article was about avoiding that time-wasting, money-wasting approach. Sorry you didn’t read it more carefully.

  • Dan Brennan
    May 24, 2010 8:53 am


    Apology accepted!

    But, the point of my comment was the iPhone app, not my closing opinion. That said, I have re-read your post and still don’t see how it is concerned with saving money or time. I read that the point of your post was a desire to drink tasty beer. You aren’t going to find options like Ayinger and Dogfish Head at Walmart.

    -Dan B

    • The book saves me money and time because it rates beers that are similar to the ones I like. It groups them by category. If you like a beer, you look it up in the book, find other similar beers in that category that are rated higher, and try those. You avoid wasting time and money on beers that suck.

  • Brent, glad to see you’ve begun to venture out and try new beers. Particularly in the past 15 years the quality and quantity of excellent brews made available to the American consumer has increased quite substantially. The biggest thing for me is much like with wine the pairing of an appropriate beverage with food. To this end I’d recommend you check out “He Said Beer, She Said Wine” which was Co-authored by Sam Calagione (brewer/founder of dogfishhead who brewed the 90 minute you enjoyed so much.) Additionally, you may find the website helpful. Supposedly they have the largest number of ratings on the net with some mobile apps on the way as well. Also any writings by Lew Bryson, Garrett Oliver (brewmaster @ Brooklyn Brewery), and the late Michael Jackson (the beer hunter, not the entertainer) would be worthwhile reads as well.


  • I think Dan’s on the right track. Your example of why the book saved you money was comparing how good Ayinger’s Celebrator was to Dogfishhead’s 90 minute, which would be the wine snob equivalent of comparing a pinot noir with liebfraumilch — not to make any value judgement on either style, just to illustrate how different they are.
    I’m not a huge fan of the BJCP style guide, it has a tendency to be a bit pedantic and seems geared towards making beer consumption as fussy as wine consumption. However, it is all about grouping beers by style and would be useful in finding beers that you like.
    A better resource is, it contains a ton of style groupings, brewery listings, and user reviews. The rating system can be a bit hit or miss — really expensive brews consistently take in huge ratings and more modestly priced beers are incredibly underrated (shiner bock, for instance). In any event, since your best bet is to look within style groupings for beer you like, that resource is fairly good.

  • Andy Irving
    May 24, 2010 11:31 am

    Chris Date was full of praise for his local (LA) brewery –

    Here in the UK, CAMRA make it a bit easier by publishing good beer guides, having a champion beer of britain etc, but also by running campaigns about certain styles every now and again (e.g. “mild” month).

  • Brent,

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the book, especially the material in part 1 on why beer tastes the way it does. You’re absolutely right that the value of a recommendation lies in its relevance to your tastes.

    I agree with you that an iPhone/Android app would be excellent and I hope that in the near future we’ll be able to make you happy on that score. It’s on our minds.


    Seamus Campbell
    Author, The Beer Trials

  • Hey! Thanks for the mention! I’ll have to check out the Ayinger Celebrator; not sure if it’s available in TX. Another really nice IPA that’s new on the market that you may enjoy is New Belgium Brewery’s Ranger IPA. One of my favorite IPAs I can’t get in TX is Weyerbacher Simcoe IPA, named after the type of hops used. It adds a nice estery type of mouthfeel and fruity taste to IPAs that counter balances the floral and pine notes, while keeping the beer bright, clean and hoppy. Much to my delight, the Ranger uses Simcoe in its brew, in addition to Chinook and Cascade hops. I think you should definitely give it a try if you like 60 minute Dogfish Head, for example. Other IPAs along this same vein are Great Divide’s Hercules Double IPA (90+ on beer advocate IIRC), Avery’s Maharaja (HUGE hops!!), aforementioned Weyerbacher, and others I can’t remember right now. West Coast Green Flash is a little more on the fruit and less on the hops if you like something that fits that description. I enjoy some good stouts as well from time to time, and even though summer’s practically here, you may want to try Dogfish Head’s Chicory Stout (another beer I can’t get in TX) – in my opinion the best stout on the planet (I know those are tall words).

    If I think of anything else to contribute, I’ll post it here. I’ll have to check out the book!

    Stay thirsty my friends. 🙂

  • Steve Jones
    May 24, 2010 12:57 pm

    Dogfish Head is one of my favorite breweries. I agree with Sean’s suggestions but here are a couple more to cross reference in the book.

    Stone IPA
    St. Arnold’s Elissa IPA
    Dogfish Head 120 (hard to find)
    Lagunitas Hop Stoopid

    Not IPA’s but similar:
    Dale’s Pale Ale (comes in cans but don’t let that stop you)
    Stone Pale Ale

    A little off-topic but if you have Netflix, check out Beer Wars. It is pretty informative, even if sometimes biased.

  • If you like the good IPA’s, Bell’s Hopslam is up there (not too far away from you, although seasonal and quick to sellout). If you come to the Twin Cities you can procure a Surly Furious (and they have a new double IPA too). These are probably the two best IPAs that I know of, and I may have tried a “couple”. If you get really local, Rush River makes a beer called Double Bubble that is fantastic. But that is really hard to find.

    Funny though, as one reader liked Ranger from New Belgium, I thought it was mediocre.

  • Glad to hear some shiner bock praise.

    I grew up in Michigan so was drinking mostly Labatt (canadian beer). When I moved to Texas I found Shiner Bock and have been very happy, great beer.

    This year Shiner has a 101st anniversary beer that is very good too, it is a Czech pilsner. Makes for an interesting variation from the Bock, higher bitterness, lighter color and a bit higher alcohol content.

    Next time you are in DFW (or I believe they have some distribution in Houston now too) check out Rahr & Sons Although the brewery is only about 5 years old, the Rahr family up in Minnesota has been in the business since before prohibition and are one of the largest suppliers of malt in the country. They have a good selection of IPA, Bock, Dark Lager, etc. They are still repairing damages to the brewery from the winter storm, but hopefully will be back open for the Saturday tour/party soon, $7 for 3 beers and keep the glass, can’t beat that.

  • I did not know you were a beer-lover. I will try to work up my own list for you. FWIW, the 90 minute IPA is also one of my faves.

  • As promised –

    Beer #1, if you like the 90 minute IPA
    Sam Adams, Imperial Series, Double Bock

    Easy to find, 1pt bonus.

    Keep your eyes open for anything from the Russian Rivery Brewery (Pliny the Elder & Younger esp), and Stone Brewing Co, Double Arrogant Bastard Ale is my favorite.

  • I love Kirin Ichiban too with my Sushi, but since I come from Germany (currently in the UK), Sapporo beer is probably my favourite with Sushi. That probably has to do with the carbonation and texture…

    In the supermarkets here, they only stock a few decent Hefe-weissbier, Erdinger Hefe-weissbier and Weihenstephaner (they claim it’s been brewing for over 1000 years…)

    Incidentally, my flat came with a wine cooler, which is used exclusively for beer cooling, although it never reaches the ideal temperature for beer (3 degrees C or 37.4 degrees Fahrenheit).


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