In Defense of the Sample Paddle

Eno Sarris, August 11, 2016

I love Will Gordon! He's a fun writer, wether at Deadspin, or, in this case, Vinepair, where he's got five beer habits we should stop. He's right about most things, and beer pong (though sometimes the time is right, like a reunion or a bachelor party). 

But he went too far when he came out against the sample paddle. 

In keeping with the format, here are five reasons the sampler is great. 

1) I want to try all of the things.

Okay, I know that Gordon gets at the heart of the matter when he talks of 'giving yourself a quiz.' Yes, there is too much 'beer tourism' in craft beer, probably. Sometimes, when we have a choice between an old standard and a new beer, we should choose the old standard more often and reward excellence over novelty. I hope that my badge count on untappd has nothing to do with this, but I'm definitely into the thing I haven't tried yet, and maybe too much. 

But there's a corrolary that doesn't feel so dirty. When you're at a restaurant with a decently sized party, is it gauche to order the sampler paddle of food, the combo appetizer? Is it wrong to want the tower of seafood? Is it so terrible to desire all of the calamari, crostini, arancini, and caprese? I may be a glutton but I love all of the tastes. 

2) It's a great opening salvo. 

Maybe it's because of the kids, or maybe it's because ... no it's the kids. They wake up at six! It doesn't matter what I do, I can't push them past 6:30. Everyone once in a while the heavens open and I get to seven. Why is this relevant? Because I can't drink eight beers at a new brewery. I want to drink eight beers. I can't. Six am will come with the wrath of a thousand bees and the pain of a thousand lashes if I do.

Sometimes I do anyway, life must be lived. But the typical visit to a brewery is a story of tantalization. There are many more beers than I want to drink. So I pick four to six, and knock those out, and if one of them tickles my fancy, it wins. If not, the bartender and I will have a convo before I order my pint or two. Hey, that's their job! 

3) They're beautiful. 

Am I crazy? I mean look at that header image. It's the Russian River mega sampler. It's giving me a boner.

4) Four ounces is actually a decent amount to understand the taste.

I get that tastes change when a beer warms, particularly with stouts. And I get that many heavy-hopped beers mellow as your palate gets used to the bitterness. Ten, twelve ounces, I love it. 

But judges can get there with four to six ounces, so it's possible to get the full sense of a beer with a taster. Even if you're not a judge, you'll get most of the way there. Enough to know if you want to know more. That's the whole point! 

5) Breweries have their strengths. (And weaknesses.)

As much as I love the breweries that I love, sometimes I can't decide. There are breweries that make so many beers that I want to drink all of them, even though I know them. Those strengths are worth my love. 

But then there are breweries I don't know as well. They may be great at Saisons, or Ales, or Stouts, or Belgians, I don't know. And even when I do have a decent sense, I've been surprised by clunkers at places I have grown to love. I'd much rather that clunker came in a four ounce size. 

It might just come down to my first experience with a world-class sample paddle. Had I not ordered the sampler pictured above the first time I went to Russian River, I might not have ever figured out how awesome their sours are. They have a ton of great ales and stouts! Give me a Blind Pig, and then a Pliny the Elder, and then a Pliny the Younger and then another Younger and then a stout and you may have to peel me off the floor.

I fell in love with sours (Consecration please) at Russian River on a trip to get Pliny the Younger, and I did it on a sampler. For that, I will always love the paddle.