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Blind taste test changes perspective 

In defense of tried and true

You never know how much preconceived notions can color your judgement, and you don't know how much you'll miss something until it's gone. I could be talking about my past married life, but I'll focus on beer instead.

All this introspection started with a simple, blind beer tasting hosted by Unknown Brewing. The premise was simple: participants were given four flights, each containing four beers, grouped by beer style. The first flight was serious business, with my peers and me hyper­focused on judging the samples on a one-­to­-five scale in categories such as appearance, aroma and flavor.

Sounds like real work, right? This isn't mindlessly drinking beer with friends, this was analyzing each presented sample with all senses at my disposal working in conjunction. By the second flight, however, it really hit me: how free I felt.

Don't take the easy way out and pawn this elation off on the alcohol. Do me a favor instead: have someone else pour your next beer, but don't let them tell you the brand or even the brewery. Take a few sips, get to know it based on what it is and not on any assumption of what it could or should be.

See what I mean? Something so small as a name carries a lot more weight than it should. If these flights were identifiable as they were poured, I regrettably would have instinctively rated several of these beers differently.

You may not be as guilty of this behavior with beers as some, but I'm sure it won't take me long to find your Achilles' heel.

Quick, car brands: Toyota, Honda, Lamborghini. One of those made your engine rev slightly more, admit it.

Alright jaded beer geeks, it's your turn again: Miller Lite, Event Horizon, Budweiser.

I'm sure several of you just wondered, "Event Horizon, is that the best sexy brand you can come up with?" Maybe you rolled your eyes before rolling off a few alternate "whale" suggestions under your breath that you wish I had gone with instead.

Do me a favor? Knock it off. That's the problem with much of today's beer culture: so many of us are chasing the next new thing that we forget what brought us to the dance. Yesterday's new hotness becomes today's old and busted, and it's only going to get worse. Daily, we're setting the high­water mark for U.S. breweries, and countless beer brands debut on shelves and taps. It's exhausting to try and keep up, if not downright impossible.

This isn't me standing on my soapbox and pointing fingers at some bad apples, because I'm as guilty as anybody. This is a challenge to everybody, from the novice to the jaded: remember where you came from.

Recently, Colorado­based Ska Brewing pulled out of the North Carolina market after a dozen-year presence here. The main reason provided for the pullback was that they were having a hard time keeping up with regional demand closer to home, and it made more business sense to manage a smaller, growing territory.

My first thought when I read their press release? Well, that certainly makes sense and I agree with their rationale. However, it was immediately followed by a quiet guilt: I loved many of their beers, but I couldn't remember the last time I bothered to buy one. I felt like this contraction was my fault, that maybe they would've stayed if I'd made it more worthwhile. My focus was just elsewhere.

I was asked a simple yet horrifyingly loaded question over dinner recently: what's your favorite beer? After struggling with an answer, I finally piped up. "Rogue's Hazelnut Brown."

Suddenly, my face felt warm, as all eyes were on me for the unexpected nature of my answer, but my next words just came effortlessly. "It was the first craft beer I fell in love with. If it wasn't for that, I don't know if I'd be at this table right now." I didn't mention that it had been entirely too long since I remembered why I fell in love with it in the first place.

I admit it, there are many brand labels I skim over when I visit the beer store. Instinctively dismissing them with a flippant "been there, done that," I forget how formative many of these options are. It's time I change my habits and start doing better.

It's not that your first beer style option is the best option and you need to rediscover why you fell in love with that brand all those years past. Just try your best to shed your beverage baggage at the door, evaluate the glass for what it is rather than what you imagined it would be. Maybe you'll see an old standby with new eyes, or perhaps you'll realize you're better off in the Just Arrived section.

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