Ninety beers and as sober as a judge

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 September, 2011, 12:00am


Austria may make less than 2 per cent of the world's wines but it seems to have the fiercest reputation as a place to bash the liver.

'On a recent trip to Austria, I tasted over 200 wines in two and a half days ... I'm still recovering but you've got to do what you've got to do!' says Zachary Yu, sommelier at Langham Place hotel in Mong Kok.

I recently judged 90 beers in just three hours for upcoming trade show Restaurant and Bar (R&B). The panel tasted some 160 beers over two days.

A coy Italian wine importer told us of the 600-sample marathon of sweet wines he undertook over a weekend in Salzburg. Despite spitting the wines out, he had to go to bed for a week afterwards. I had to go to work the next day.

Andrew Caillard, Master of Wine, wine auctioneer and the creator of Langton's Classification of Australian Wine, says that in the early 1990s he tasted 250 to 300 wines in a day at the Sydney Wine Show, 'before the extension of tasting panels and a more realistic work rate'.

'I don't think it's possible to taste more than 60 to 80 wines effectively in a day,' he says. 'Palate fatigue is a problem. The whole body aches after tasting and concentrating so much,' Caillard adds.

Beers were categorised by style and origin - an English-style beer might not come from England. The tastings were blind although many panellists could identify individual beers by their aroma and flavour. Appearance was also considered.

The language used to describe beers can be as colourful as that used for wines, with balance being taken into account as much as individual flavours. Some of the language used to describe beers can also be far earthier.

Even after many samples the very good and the very bad beers leaped out; the difficulty was distinguishing between the mid-ranking beers. That was somewhat of an academic problem, however, as the prizes obviously go only to the best.

Hangover? I was a bit sluggish the next day, but as a few sips of 90 beers is like drinking two or three pints only, that 'mouth-like-the-bottom-of-a-bird-cage' factor was absent.

Yu thinks I was lucky.

'I once tasted 260 Spanish wines including cava, white flights, red flights, stickies and sherries over two days from 8.30am to 6pm,' he says. 'I took a short break after every 10 cava and whites. Between the reds, sweets and sherries, I had to break after every fifth glass. It took me almost a week to recover!'