by Eric Ginsburg
Sometimes, you do it for the story. And it helps if the evening ends with some bragging rights.
It was hard to know what to expect from the Geeks-N-Taps event at Foothills on Monday, an event pairing local scientists with beer in a sort of grownup science-fair free-for-all. But it was easy to tell from the description that this would be nothing like your average beer event.
Dozens of people packed the narrow balcony area overlooking Foothills restaurant in downtown Winston-Salem, crowding around tables for entry-level science tests that provided a range of insights about their senses of taste and smell.
Even at $15 a head, people poured into the event, sloshing into each other at times like sudsy beer. Behind each station, a sciency local walked us through a relatively quick process, occasionally topping it off with a sample of Foothills beer. At one, a man who experiments on mice and rats by day and homebrews by night administered a smell test for beta ionine, which struck me like hotel shampoo even at the low level. At another, guests were invited to make beer-themed Valentines.
Best beer of the night: An imperial smoked-cherry porter from Foothills’ Footmen series, where brewers are allowed to make up their own beers. The smokiness of the porter and the casual sweetness of the cherry mixed to create a baconesque flavor.
Best science experiment: Figuring out how well you can taste bitterness by putting strips of paper on your tongue, one with something called PROP and another with PTC, and trying a small cup of quinine (which is in tonic water). Result: It appears I have one dominant and one recessive gene for picking up on bitterness, but would that mean I’d naturally gravitate towards or away from bitter beers? The guy behind the booth said it’s still a toss-up.
The bragging rights: After dyeing my tongue blue with a dum-dum and taking a picture of it, the guy behind the table informed me I have many more taste buds than the average person. The only downside is that this dude now has a picture of my tongue and countless others on his phone.
Weirdest experience: Trying “miracle fruit,” a berry from the West Indies with a chemical protein that binds to human’s sweet taste-receptors, turning sour tastes sweet, or at least neutral. Pickles and sour cream never tasted so good.
“It’s not ecstasy?” someone asked when handed the pill-like berry. Close enough.
Geekiest moment: Seeing the gooey DNA of a strawberry after mashing it, mixing it with soap and salt, filtering it and adding rubbing alcohol.
I walked away with all sorts of random pieces of trivia — I thought a small dose of ethanol tasted sweet while others find it metallic or bitter; I can’t smell boar taint, something exactly as gross as it sounds; I don’t really care for Foothills’ Pilot Mountain Pale Ale; and this was only Geeks-N-Taps’ second event, something they plan to repeat with a series including one where people experiment with types of hops. And they’re working out details for an event in Greensboro.
The evening, which ran from 6 to 9 p.m. but would only hypothetically take about an hour, would benefit from being split into staggered groups to prevent lines at different stations, something that a Geeks-N-Taps rep said they plan to implement.
I expected to leave with a stronger sense of how my genetics predetermined some of my beer preferences — that was part of the event’s billing. But I walked away with two things that are arguably more important: a story, and some bragging rights. Oh, and I scored a bottle of Foothills’ February IPA of the Month, with the adorable image of Charlie the Corgi on the front, before introducing Anthony Harrison (of Triad City Beat fame) to Hoots and Small Batch. So the night, and the event, definitely falls in the win column.