I’d like to start with an apology folks. The past few months have been so packed full of commitments, work trips, and unforeseen issues that required my urgent attention that I didn’t end up with enough time to give this post the attention it deserved. I’m sorry for keeping so many of you waiting for weeks beyond my initial deadline! This is part one of a two part write up – part two will look at how the experiences have shaped our outlook into next year and beyond. Let’s get started.
Why So Different?
I’ve had the pleasure of travelling to the USA on many occasions these past fourteen months for some wonderful festivals and events: Festival of Dankness 2016; Shelton’s The Festival 2016 (with a road trip round Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine off the back of it); Rate Beer Best; Craft Brewers Conference (with a stop at Other Half and The Veil beforehand); Forever Summer Festival (with stops at Fonta Flora, Blackberry Farm, Creature Comforts); Shelton’s The Festival 2017; Festival of Dankness 2017; Copenhagen Beer Celebration Boston 2017. Without exception, each trip has presented me with examples of hoppy beer that stopped me in my tracks – not just because of how enjoyable they were, nor because of how fresh they were (more on this in another post no doubt), but because of how impactful they were with lower hopping rates than we use at Cloudwater. How on earth could that be?!
One of the great pleasures of having friends in some of the world’s best and most loved hoppy beer breweries is that I get to catch up with them, hang out, brew collaborations, and all the while talk about everything from water profiles to their thoughts about the queues out their doors. On many occasions we have mutually scratched our heads as to why hopping rates as low as 4lb/bbl (15.12g/L) in US DIPAs often seem to be as impactful as the 25g/L (6.61lb/bbl) that’s become our norm in double IPAs. If we weren’t as close to many breweries out in the US we might have put it down to a combination of water treatment, yeast choice and handling, or dry hopping technique and timing, but as far as we can tell, and with as much as I have experienced, we often produce beer in near identical ways.
Our good friend Matt Tarpey, head brewer at The Veil, suggested that he send over some of his US sourced hops for us to check out, and before we knew it we were lined up to brew a split batch beer, identical in every way we could possibly control, with the only guaranteed difference being the distribution channel the hops had passed through before being used in the beer.
Despite all our hopes and efforts, both Taco and Cat were not canned in time for my early morning departure for a mid September trip that would finish in Yakima valley for hop selection, but our operation manager Mark stepped in, and single handedly ran our canning machine at 6am on the morning of my flight to Boston (to brew with Trillium, and attend Boston’s Copenhagen Beer Celebration). What a legend! I was thrilled to be afforded the chance to present cans of both beers to the supplier of both hop batches at source.
The last morning in Yakima was my chance to present both Taco and Cat to the group of brewers also attending hop selection as hosts of one of our suppliers, and to have some of the leading people in sensory and development at the hop supplier weigh in their preferences too. It was a privilege to gain immediate feedback from a room full of experts! Consistent with the feedback we received from our customers, there were a full range of preferences, from solid preferences for one or the other, to somewhere undecided in between.
The team at the brewery here were both pleased and a little disappointed to taste what we felt like was a substantial difference between Taco and Cat. One was rounder, more fruity, and more nuanced at the same time, and the other a little edgy, pretty damn fruity, but with a hint of hop off flavours.
So which beer had US sourced hops, and which UK sourced hops?!
Taco was dry hopped with US sourced hops that The Veil air freighted over, and Cat with UK sourced hops, both sourced from the same parent company. Of course the differences between the two beers could be simply down to variations between the two batches as far back as soil conditions, micro climate, harvest time, drying and processing methods at the respective farms, any minor storage differences at the pellet plant (such as hop bale arrival temperature), or indeed any differences in transportation environments as the pellets made their way over land to Richmond, Virginia to sit in The Veil’s cold store, or over land, and sea, for the UK sourced pellets to be warehoused in the UK before we took delivery of them into our hop store.
Taking part in hop selection this year was the most eye opening experience I’ve had regarding hop quality variation. Adjacent farms with seemingly minor differences in growing, picking, and processing preferences scored anywhere between class leading and poor, so I’m far from being able to draw any reliable conclusions this year. However, my sights are firmly set on making sure I achieve a way to secure only the most impactful and flavourful hops available.
The chart above shows our customers preferences for both beers.
I’d like to thank all those of you that both supported this public experiment, and present your individual written responses below:
“Both great and a good excuse to drink twice as many beers while watching the footie. Seriously though, 🌮 Coming over a lot smoother.”
“I’m not a genius when it comes to the in's and out's of beer but I feel like taco was more heavier on the oat malt than cat which possibly gave it more of a thicker and smoother mouthfeel. Cat had more carbonation and a little more dryness. Both were incredible beers.”
“Once again Cloudwater deliver the hype and the FOMO! 👍🍻😂😺🌮 cheers everyone!”
“It was pretty much just the harsher hop burn on the finish of Cat that swung it in Taco’s favour.
"I started out a Taco man, but came around to Cat by the end of the taste. Both are great in their own ways.”
“Taco is more distinct in terms of aroma (pineapple), but Cat is a far more balanced and enjoyable drinking experience showcasing more discernible flavours (citrus fruits, especially grapefruit). Due to the differences in appearance and aroma I'd guess the major difference between the two is the level of dry hopping dry-hopping. I've really enjoyed the recent DDH IPA releases, but unfortunately I wasn't keen on Taco. I may however be completely wrong :) Great project guys. Good luck expanding on it!”
“I felt Taco was definitely juicier but with a thinner mouthfeel, and Cat had a thicker mouthfeel with more pronounced bitterness. Taco's taste with Cat's mouthfeel would've been my preference, but both fantastic!”
“Taco seemed a bit sweeter at first, Cat seemed a bit greener but after a few swigs of both I couldn’t tell the difference between either. 2 fantastic beers.”
“Is it CO2 vs N2?”
“Cat was deffo's more bitter. Taco seemed sweeter.”
“Thought they were both great. Found the cat a bit more savoury/bitter, so have drunk the taco a bit faster, but I'm sure different day, different mood the cat would win.”
“My wife preferred Taco! Both were great.”
“Both beers had ready identical aromas and flavour profile. Nice mix of tropical fruits, peach, and melon. The balance was really good with a nice sweetness upfront and bitter kick at the end. The mouthfeel was incredible, as good as the best US DIPAs I've tried. The difference for me comes in the bitterness, I found cat a lot more bitter and actually quite green. Taco was more mellow and rounded with very little green feel. Cat was a bit harsh and really feeling that green hop burn. Otherwise, outstanding IPAs, especially for the ABV.”
“It was very close to call. Side by side taco edged it for me. But last night I had just cat and it was amazing.”
“More dark beers, lower the ABV on the taps in the barrel store. A Pale wouldn’t go amiss. More Lees yeast”
“Cat was only marginally less tasty. I enjoyed the juiciness of taco whereas cat felt thinner and more carbonated.”
“Cat had a strange aftertaste but the hops tasted great. Taco was the overall winner for me.”
“Bitterness on taco was huge!”
“Keep on doing what you're doing. Don't get distracted by haters.”
“Really liked both. Preferred Taco for the fuller mouthfeel. Great beers. My wife did look at me like I was a bit mad when she noticed I was sitting with two beers.”
“Cat vs. Taco = Passionfruit vs Mango.”
“Both very similar. But Taco seems slightly sweeter and marginally less bitter. Mouthfeel almost identical. Taco a little more pungent (in a good way) on the nose.”
“Taco tasted slightly more like grapefruit pith.”
“Love both, cat has bigger mouthful”
“Cat was odd, I just kept thinking cucumber. Taco much better and the mosaic aroma really shine through more.”
“They were clearly both the same beer in almost every respect. As a homebrewer my guess would be a change to the water treatment was the tweak but who knows, I'm probably wrong as fuck. I'd say Taco tasted "softer", while Cat was sharper with a lingering bitterness that was just a little too harsh when the option of Taco was in the next door glass!”
“Both were noticeably more bitter than the DDH Nelson/Galaxy IPA and Chubbles that I had to follow. Aroma of Taco much more apparent, which followed through in the taste. Both had the distinctive syrupy melon vibe present in Chubbles. The only thing I've had that's comparable to Chubbles and Tacocat is Tesseract by Grimm. Considering you've experimented with dry hopping during fermentation before, I think you've done it again, only it's blind to us this time to avoid any confirmation bias. I think Taco was dry hopped after fermentation, and Cat during.”
“Although similar in taste the Cat version was way more astringent. It did mellowe the longer it sat. I ended up blending them as well, the blend was quite pleasant but still not as good as Taco."
"I found taco more bitter which I preferred.”
“Very slight differences but both amazing beers.”
“Taco was creamy and full bodied with a dank bitterness. Cat is much juicier and fruity.”
“Taco was dry hopping, maybe my kind Sir?”
“Cat seemed slightly more bitter but couldn’t tell you what the difference was, both superb.”
“Both were great it was a hard choice!”
“Not much in it but to me Taco was smoother & rounder with less bitterness.”
“I think Cat had more bitterness to it. I think maybe the experiment was based around how the beer was bittered, maybe one used extract, and one used bittering hops in the boil? Great beers none the less, lots of melon on the aftertaste.”
“I think that the difference between the two beers is that Cat has been brewed with hops as the bittering element where as Taco uses the Cloudwater standard bittering extract. Absolutely both beers are undeniably great and I'd quite happily drink both any day. Great work guys, I enjoyed them!”
“Both have over ripe guava and passion fruit in both flavour and aroma. Bitterness is fractionally higher in Taco while Cat has significantly more fruit in the flavour. Also Cat seems to have little more body and a slightly creamy mouthfeel.”
“Cat held its nose on a savoury note for a long time. Taco had an initial hit and then moved to more fruit based (pineapple).”
“Drink wise not as noticeable difference but similar in Taco had more sides to it.”
“Slightly better nose on cat although the mouthfeel and cleaner taste of taco swung it for me
"Awesome nose on Cat - lovely & fruity, turning into clear pineapple scent. Was sure I was going to prefer this. Thinner mouthfeel than Taco and more forwardly bitter. Found Taco less bitter, coming through later on than it does in Cat. Personally I prefer lower IBU so Taco is an automatic winner BUT there's also WAY more going on in the mouth with Taco. Thicker mouthfeel. Clear favourite for me.”
“Tried both of these brews side by side twice and feel Cat was better both times. While they were equally good I think Cat tasted less bitter and was overall a better experience. I had 3 others do the same taste test and each mentioned Cat being better than Taco for the same reason.”
“Taco seemed to have a more rounded and pronounced hop flavour. Cat had a slight acrid taste. My guess is the difference is when you added the first addition hops.”
“Both very nice. To drink, Taco was more rounded, a bit sweeter and fuller with a longer finish, whereas Cat was comparatively fleeting. I did prefer the aroma on Cat – I didn't get a huge amount off Taco – and on the flavour side I felt the fruit profile was a little more distinctive than Taco's general 'sweet and tropical' vibe. Plus extra bitterness.”
“But yeah, Taco wins for what I would call uncomplicated deliciousness.”
“Taco - comes across 'sulphate'/bright. Taco had more perceived bitterness and acidity (ph4.73) . Cat comes across 'chloride' pillowy . Cat was softer and creamy, smoother (ph4.75). Hop aroma was clearer on Taco , but Cat was the one I kept going back to even if aroma was more muted.
"Cat - more aroma, slightly softer on the tongue, more of a classic mosaic taste.”
“Taco - immediate bitter taste”
“Cat was weaker on both aromatics and flavour, while having a much more pronounced bitterness. Taco had fuller, more juicy flavour. Both had medium mouthfeel, medium plus haze and pale golden colour.”
“Cat seemed more balanced/less “green”."
“Both great as usual, and really looking forward to knowing the difference between them."
"Taco seemed better in both aroma and flavour. Mouth feel the same in both. Cat had slightly more bitterness. Taco was just the better version!”
“The Cat seems more harsh, bitter, spicy.”
“I got a very strong hoppiness (which could be called oniony!?!), but melon was the first pleasant flavour for me on them both and also grapefruit was there too. I found that taco was just flatter, certainly more smooth, but I preferred cat, as it had a more citrus nose and the hoppiness (which I wasn't too keen on) seemed to be masked by the more livelier cat. To close, I didn't enjoy either of them though and that's the first time I've considered putting a Cloudwater beer down the sink and pour myself a better one.”
“Cat: less aroma. Better mouth feel. More bitterness. Longer lasting finish.”
“Taco: Amazing aroma. No bitterness. No finish. Taste is almost too clean.”
“Several explanations as to what the difference here was, possibly the length or amount of 'DDH' or perhaps on Taco you went for a 'TDH'. One could have been exposed to unideal conditions once made hence the difference. We even suggested one could have been made by Veil and one by you guys, or even one IN Veil and one in Manchester... Either way they tasted better when mixed.”
“Cat was slightly fruitier and seemed a little ‘fizzier’ whereas Taco was more savoury and sour (perhaps closer to an archetypal ‘Cloudwater’ taste - could such a thing exist!) I’d love to say you had chilli in the Taco but I am pretty sure there was none - will be fascinated to see what the difference actually was (I expected it to be something like 1 degree temperature difference)... both were great beers and had Taco not existed I would have been thrilled drinking Cat (and Cat is a good drink and we have a few cans of both to ‘repeat the experiment’)”
“Both seemed a bit green and felt like they'd be better in a week or two. Cat was quite astringent throughout which I personally didn't enjoy, Taco felt better balanced with good sweetness upfront but the bitter aftertaste was still a bit too aggressive for me, which I put down to its freshness. As a reference, chubbles was a 10/10 for me, while these were a 6 for cat and a 7 for taco.”
“Taco edged it on juiciness at different stages as they warmed, but it developed that weird Unique Friendshipz sulphuric note for a while around 2/3 through.”
“Cat felt muted compared to taco.”
“Taco had a softer mouthfeel and was lighter & sweeter.”
“Cat had a softer/cleaner hop aroma, whereas the taco was a bit more savoury. In terms of palate weight, both seem similar. Cat has a smoother and more integrated hop flavour, although taco seemed to have a touch more pineapple character during this tasting. The perceived bitterness of taco is definitely higher and "coarser"/less refined than cat. On the whole Cat is superior in terms of balance and smoothness. Dry hop temperature? Was cat done colder?”
“Both great beers, found I preferred the aroma and fruitiness of taco. I found Cat drier. Taco just edges it for me.”
“Taco did seem to have more aroma initially but similar taste, cat edged it overall. Would guess hops used are from a different supplier of of different age.”
“Both amazing beers with slightly different flavour profiles. Taco just edged it for me, but both very drinkable.”
“I didn’t dislike Taco - just that Cat seemed less like a departure from what I’ve enjoyed from Cloudwater in the past. Despite hating the word mouthfeel, it definitely had a better mouthfeel.”
“We drank them in Japan.”
“3 of us went back and forth between the beers a couple times. Then we blind tasted several times to see if we could identify them from our previous experiences of each. We all consistently came back saying we enjoyed whichever beer was placed first in the tasting MORE than the second beer...and we kept identifying that beer with the first beer we tried.”
“I think both beers are the same and it's a testament that order of beers, environment, and preconceptions (freshness, rarity, brewery, trend-following, etc.) has more effect on our experience of the beer than the beer itself. Beer is delicious, let's drink them all together and enjoy our friends and the moment without being so fucking critical. Maybe?”
“Cat was more savoury. more onion/cabbage. still some in taco but taco was more fruity and overly better and fruitier flavour.”
“Taco seemed a bit fuller tasting, only slight difference though.”
"I got to try both on tap at the barrel store Sat 23rd and planned to buy at least 1 pair of cans to take back to my friends in London to share the experience, I didn't rate either of them enough to buy cans or want to drink them again, pretty much everything else on tap was better and i ended up buying a selection of ipa cans to take back instead. Still that said I applaud your experimentation and involving your customers in the process like this so I hope you do more A/B projects in future.”
“To me, Taco was juicier and Cat had more grassy, hop burn flavour. Both good, but Taco clear winner.”
“I enjoyed both but, to me, Taco felt smoother and more rounded. The flavours were beautifully soft, with a delicate sweetness that reminded me of tinned peaches or apricots. Really enjoyable."
They were extremely close. Taco by a Nudge.”
“Cat feels thicker.”
“Taco tasted more sour and grapefruity than cat which was fuller in mouthfeel and a bit sweeter
"I'm not good at picking out details in beer but I definitely preferred the aromas in Taco. But I definitely preferred the flavour of Cat. Seemed a little softer. Less bitterness. Both bangers to be fair. Keep up the great work!”
“Taco seemed to have more aroma, but Cat seemed to take it on the overall flavour stakes. That said, Taco seemed a bit softer. Cat also seemed slightly more carbonated. I'm b*ggered if I can pick out what the tweak was, but it was a fun experiment to be part of. There's definitely a discernible difference between the pair, but it must be said that they are a cracking pair of brews! Nice work 👏🏼”
“Taco was better cold, Cat improved as it reached room temp. Mixed together 50/50 was lovely.”
“Taco - sweet, juicy, soft. Solid mouthfeel. Stays level throughout.”
“Cat - savoury, herby, sharp, dry. Mellows in flavour as you drink. Slightly more carbonated.”
“Both top notch beers, but taco was a tiny bit better.”
“To me, Taco was slightly more vegetal with a fuller body and less pronounced aroma. Cat had a fruitier aroma and a lighter (though not too light) body. Slightly closer to my preference in IPAs (I didn't get on with Chubbles for example but loved V13 etc.).”
“Taco gave a smoother mouthfeel and was slightly less bitter and grassy.”
“Differences were minimal, Taco was the winner by a whisker.”
“Preferred Taco because it was little bit lighter and felt more carbonated and less “oniony”."
“The difference is very notable. We spend a lot of time discussing what’s the diff, which part of brewing is diff. It is fun!”
“Thicker, more bitter”
“Taco was softer in mouthfeel. Hops seemed to be more fruity.”
“Taco tastes sharper, like fresh pineapple.”
“Cat has more bouquet and is sweeter, like preserved fruit.”
“Cat was more thick and juicy, taco had a more bitter aftertaste but was thinner and easier to drink.”
“Difference was very slight but thought taco was slightly smoother.”
“Much more defined taste in Taco. More Citrus on the nose with Cat, but less on the palate."
"I think both beer were classy, but my personal favourite was Taco, as it was more rounded and complex than Cat. Second of them was more sharp and "edgy", bitterness was more presented. It was closer to an West coast IPA, far more traditional. Taco was a fruit bomb.”
“Both beers were very similar although taco was little smoother, with a fuller, more creamy mouthfeel.”
“For me Cat was more bitter and Taco brought the juice! Oddly when I tried them at the Barre Store Cat had a much bigger head.”
“I tasted a bit only since I am feeding my baby but I thought cat🐱 was more like Cloudwaterish than Taco 🌮 although there was no big/clear difference between for me🍺”
“Cat didn't have as much flavour as Taco for me. The differences weren't massively obvious however. Both great beers.”
“Smoother and fruitier than Cat.”
“This was very difficult for me as they were both very good. I found when I first tried them the Cat stood out most for me as I loved the juiciness combined with the bitterness, it was a sensational taste, even though the Taco also tasted lovely. But as the two warmed it was actually Taco which I started to prefer because I felt the bitterness of the Cat (and it was the bitterness that initially drew me to it) started to overwhelm the taste of the beer whereas with the Taco it remained flavourful throughout. So I had to decide if I preferred a beer which consistently tastes good throughout its lifecycle with me but didn't really knock me back or one which knocked my socks off when I first got my laughing gear around it but loses that charm the longer I know it. It's almost like choosing a relationship. So I went for the absolute tastiest.”
“Taco had sharper, more pronounced cirtus/fruit flavours.”
“Cat had the same taste profile (same hops, different grower/supplier perhaps?) but was more muted, smoother throughout. I preferred the clearer, distinct taste of taco. My Mrs (a cask lover) much preferred the 'softness' of Cat.”
“Both great beers, I'm keen to learn of the differences in the brew.”
“Big love x”
“I did prefer Cat ultimately, but both had plenty to recommend them. Cat was sweeter by far, much more orangey in flavour and easier drinking. Taco had a real pleasant sharpness from a more lemony citrus character. It was great fun trying the two like this side by side.”
“You can find my beer ratings here https://www.ratebeer.com/user/108099/ I'm a huge fan of Cloudwater. Keep up the excellent work.”
“I went one after the other, probably not so helpful for tasting but loved the test idea.”
“I felt like the cat was forced, too much dry hopping and a bit too sweet.”
Wow! Thanks so much folks!
I hope you all enjoyed this experiment, and the beers, despite being kept waiting for far too long for this post and the reveal.
We have many experiments planned for next year, to give you all the chance to know more about how small tweaks in the brewery can lead to impressive differences in the finished beer.
Thanks again to all of you that tasted these beers side by side, and took time out to communicate your experiences. It’s incredible to be so well supported, and to know there’s so many of you out there that are happy to give us clear, honest, constructive feedback.