Shapes to Describe Beer

In November of 2009, I had a wild hair while attending a design gathering here in Portland. Based on some trouble I’d had keeping legible notes at beer festivals, and some inspiration in the form of a custom publishing platform called Scout Books, I came up with 33 Bottles of Beer. You know, the beer-tasting notebook that’s taking over my life?

My main requirement (other than the device being pocket-sized and battery-free) was speed. I wanted to be able to take notes quickly, so I could spend more time drinking, er … sampling. Here’s what I came up with.

Beer Review Page from 33 Beers

So I incorporated some quick graphic devices that made taking notes as quick as I could. Think checkboxes. Doesn’t take but half a second to make a tick.

But flavor threw me for a loop. Flavor is inherently fuzzy. Not binary, as in “checked” or “un-checked.” There are shades of flavor. Gradients. Spectrums. So, my graphic design brain started firing. How could you quickly describe varying levels of flavor, and do so visually?

I ended up with what’s called a “radar chart,” which I call a “flavor wheel.” Some people also call it a spider graph. I think it’s what makes 33 books special (yep, there are wine, cheese, coffee, cigar and whiskey versions, too), and it’s usually the thing people remark on when they look at the books for the first time.

But I wondered the other day (I was drinking some 9.4% abv Black Boss Porter) – if I were creating a new beer review book – what might some other tasting notation options be?

One option might be “Harvey Balls,” which are used by Consumer Reports for comparative data. Equally quick, but “flavor balls” doesn’t exude … well, it sounds gross. Sorry, Mr. Harvey. And frankly, it doesn’t look as cool.

How about a simple bar chart? Elegant, and that might allow for even more gradation. The flavor wheel is kind of limiting, with just five points. This option, which I’ve dubbed “the Flavor Grid,” while a bit longer vertically, allows for quite a bit more nuance – score beers from 1 to 7! That’s … huh … 20% more. Or so.

No, way too much ink to fill that thing up. I got tired after just two of the 16 descriptors! And eco-friendly is important to me. Plus, space is at a premium since the books are designed to be pocket-sized. Maybe if I had a little more space to work with, I could come up with something better. Or not.

Is this thing on?

Yeah, yeah, another “I just realized I haven’t posted to this blog in a long time …” post. Thinking about firing BS Brewing back up again, though. It might be a “one night only” thing, since Bruce and I are joining Ezra on what is sure to be a story-filled beer bus adventure in a few weeks, or maybe not.

Anyway, is anyone out there still reading us?

Hair of the dog brewing opening soon!

hotd The nice lady at Hair of the Dog Brewing tells us they’ll be opening inside of two weeks! The tables look ready, the bar has a good sheen and they’ll have free wi-fi.

In case you missed the last FredFest event, the new location is 61 Southeast Yamhill Street. It’s just a stones throw from the river bank on Portland’s Southeast side. Lot’s of growth going on over here; Bunk is opening up a new bar/bakery thing next to Water Avenue Coffee too. Busy busy!

The story is that Hair of the Dog Brewing will be open 2pm to 8pm, Wednesday through Sunday for starters, and expand hours as time goes on.

My best guess is they’ll be open Wednesday, August 11th, but that’s just a guess. I’ll update this post when I get better info.

UPDATE on 8/16/2010:

Hair of the Dog Brewing opened last Friday, August 13th! They say they’ll have free wifi next week and a full kitchen the week after that! Here’s some photos from our stroll today:

Doors are Open!

Doors are open!

Plenty of Room for Everyone


Don’t spill your beer in the moat!

Mind the moat!

You Have Fine Taste


– Enjoy!