Not Martha

A Highly Unscientific Blind Tasting of Pilsners

a can of Churchkey beer

Here in Seattle we have easy access to one of the most hipster-y beers out there. It’s called Churchkey and it’s made in steel cans with a seam and completely flat tops and you have to open it with, guess what, a churchkey. The box and cans are so very pretty. So very Don Draper putting the playhouse together. A while back Scott brought home a six pack of the beer and I remember liking it a lot. Last week he told me about somebody who found the beer just eh. And so we hatched a blind taste testing plan.

six different beers lined up

the contenders

We got six different beers for the test, three low brow and three middle-ish (?) brow: Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Rainier, Churchkey, Red Hook Pilsner and Laguinitas Pils.

the process

I labeled two sets of cups with numbers then we each poured a bit of each beer into the cups in a random order for the other person. I printed out forms where we could keep notes and guess which beer we thought each was. Then we sipped and evaluated.

paper showing the secret results

the unsurprising results

We could both tell which one was the Churchkey beer, it had a distinct metallic tang. Not bad, but very easy to pick out of the bunch. We both also identified the Budweiser as the least exciting beer in the bunch. I also got the PBR correct, probably due to some deep familiarity.

the surprising results

We both thought that Rainier was a more expensive beer. I guessed that Rainier was actually the Laguinitas, Scott though it was the Red Hook. Each of us also put one of the more expensive beers under the less expensive category.

the most important question

Which beers did we actually finish after the tasting was done? The PBR and the Rainier. I have no explanation for it. It’s like the opposite of that champagne blind tasting where everybody liked the less expensive bottles best but went back for more Cristal afterwards.

the Churchkey beer box with a churchkey opener

I like the Churchkey beer, it’s novel and good and just plain fun to hold and open. These days the box comes with a churchkey opener of it’s own, but we don’t remember that being included in the first box we got. It makes me wonder if so few people own churchkey openers that the beer company had to include them. I’d love to know for sure. We have enough beer left over to host a larger blind tasting, who wants in?

update: I hear from Justin, one of the creators of Churchkey beer, that the six packs have always included an opener, which settles the debate between Scott and I over whether we initially had a six pack or just a few cans. A beer loving friend gifted us a couple of cans to start with. I win, thanks Justin!

· comments [26] · 06-7-2012 · categories:food ·

26 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Meehan // Jun 7, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Sounds like you’re set for lots of summer afternoon shandys-when summer returns to Seattle, that is. And I’m sure you’re familiar with it, but I think Rogers from Georgetown is the tastiest pilsner in town.

  • 2 Sara McMurray // Jun 7, 2012 at 8:00 am

    I would totally taste test! I was just talking about Natural Bohemian (“Natty Boh,” affectionately) beer the other day–another pilsner that apparently isn’t sold out here in Seattle. (I’m a Virginia transplant.) It was originally brewed in Maryland, but now Pabst distributes it. It’s along the PBR lines, but I like it a little better. If I ever round up any, I’ll let you know!

  • 3 Amy in StL // Jun 7, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Makes me wonder how in the hell those people open evaporated milk or sweetened condensed milk or any kind of canned broth? Please don’t tell me that they just take the whole top off of the can or I might just lose any faith in humanity.

  • 4 regan // Jun 7, 2012 at 9:16 am

    I, um, hadn’t even heard of a churchkey until this post. I mean, we had them growing up but I had no idea what it was called other than “the opener”

    I’m also pretty sure I don’t own one. Broth comes in pop top boxes and, sorry Amy in StL, but I do just take the whole top off any other canned item.

    I’m coming over for a beer tasting and I’m bringing some Austin brewed pils that’s only sold in cans. No churchkey required.

  • 5 sprizee // Jun 7, 2012 at 11:22 am

    “So very Don Draper putting the playhouse together.”

    Megan, I love you. And I hate beer. But I love this packaging so much that I’m going to have to track a 6 pack of these down and try them out.

    (Although I’ll probably mix them half with Bubble Up as my Betty Draper twist.)

  • 6 Shawna Greenway // Jun 7, 2012 at 11:23 am

    My husband first introduced me to Rainier (and Oly!) back when I was a serious beer snob and I remember thinking how horrible they were. Now with two kids and a mortgage, we drink the heck out of some PBR so maybe it’s time to give Rainier another chance. When it’s on sale, my favorite beer is Deschutes Mirror Pond.

  • 7 Katherine // Jun 7, 2012 at 11:46 am

    The crazy thing? Rainier used to taste EVEN better when it was actually brewed in Seattle.

    These old local brew recipes were developed for local ingredients, the water, etc. and now I’m not even sure that they use the same recipes for the brands. :-(

  • 8 YC in Seattle // Jun 7, 2012 at 11:52 am

    That made me think of the bear who definitively chose Rainier beer over Busch!

  • 9 megan // Jun 7, 2012 at 12:47 pm

    Meehan – We will try it! Georgetown is my favoritest brewery, I want to marry Lucille.

    Sara – Interesting! I’ll keep an eye out for it when we get back home.

    Amy – I also usually take the whole top off, I feel like so much sweetened condensed milk gets stuck inside the container that I like to scrape it out.

    Regan – Yay! We should absolutely do a regional thing! I have in mind a pilsner brewed only in a small town in PA that I lived in for a short time.

    Sprizee – Even the wording on the box is amusing! And I’m in on the mixing with Bubble up.

    Katherine – Oh, I wish I had gotten to try it back when.

    YC – Ha haha! That is awesome.

  • 10 Courtney // Jun 7, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    haha- this is great! I bought Churchkey to out-hipster my snobby hipster friends in Seattle. We didnt do a taste test, but I am forwarding this on to everyone who had an opinion about it (and being Seattle, you know they had opinions!).

  • 11 Jen // Jun 7, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    I didn’t know it was called a churchkey, either. We had one for opening apple juice cans when I was growing up. the other end was a bottle cap opener and the body was rubberized with a wedge shape so your could reseal a beer with it, but I did not learn that till I was much older since nobody ever used it for that. It was also used for evaporated milk (isn’t sweetened condensed milk way too thick for a small openings?) until we got a lid with integrated spikes that punched into the can to open it and could also be used to cover it.

  • 12 CitricSugar // Jun 7, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Sounds like an afternoon well spent! I’d be really interested in trying such a throwback. Mind you, as a Canadian, I would also like to see stubby beer bottles come back into vogue.

  • 13 brianne // Jun 7, 2012 at 11:31 pm

    This is interesting! Churchkey is a new phenomenon to me, just heard about it a couple weeks ago. I’ve always thought Rainier didn’t get the attention it deserved, so I’m not surprised you deemed it worthy. Lagunitas has never been my fave. This has me thinking – what else can we blind test??

  • 14 savorysaltysweet // Jun 8, 2012 at 9:26 am

    This beer is brewed by two good friends of mine! They are absolutely top notch fellows, and one of them, Sean, is a brewer at The Commons Brewery in SE Portland. Sean’s beer at The Commons is a world away from the beer he and Lucas dreamed up for Churchkey, but the man knows his way around beer, I tell you. I am going to direct both fellows over here. They’ll be thrilled that you liked Churchkey.

  • 15 Shelley // Jun 8, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Cool looking beer! All we ever used a churchkey for when I was growing up was opening the can of Hershey’s chocolate syrup! Punching 2 holes is vital for smooth chocolatey pourability…

  • 16 Joe // Jun 8, 2012 at 10:09 pm

    Suddenly feeling very thirsty… o_O

  • 17 Karen // Jun 9, 2012 at 6:52 am

    left-over beer…? what’s that? ;)

  • 18 Drew (IFG's husband) // Jun 11, 2012 at 10:46 am

    I’m in. I’m sure Melanie would be in, too, but she would probably just take photos and talk Mad Men with you so I’ll have her samples, too.

    I can’t imagine Milwaukee’s Best (aka the Beast) or Natty Light would be worth taste-testing too, or do we care about nasty hangovers?

  • 19 shawn // Jun 11, 2012 at 12:20 pm

    that churchkey beer makes me very happy that beer cans have evolved. what a pain in the ass.

  • 20 Justin Hawkins // Jun 11, 2012 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks for the great post! Just wanted to clarify that every 6 pack has come with an opener. We knew we would have to repopulate them, don’t want to leave anyone hang’n. It’s actually ends up being a lot of fun to try to figure out other ways to open the can though.

    Oh and I would love to join you for a taste test, I can bring up some of my favorite pilsners and get the freshest Chruchkey from the brewery.
    -JH (Churchkey co-founder)

  • 21 megan // Jun 11, 2012 at 3:52 pm

    Justin – Thank you for the confirmation! I honestly think that Scott (aka husband) brought home a few cans instead of a box and thus the absence of the memory of a churchkey opener. And just for reasons of posterity I’ve had this lizard-chruchkey opener since, oh gosh, 1998:

    As for a larger taste test you are on!

  • 22 megan // Jun 11, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    Shawn – I’d like to respectfully disagree with your opinion. One of the first things I bought when I moved into my first apartment was a pointed churchkey openener (granted, it is in the style of a melancholy little green lizard) and unlike various pop-top cans my opener has never broken a nail (a vain concern, I admit) or ever accidentally broken leaving no access to the contents (which has happened to me twice).

  • 23 Alex // Jun 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm

    I agree with the “churchkey” (hmm I never knew it was called that either!). I had a wonderful wood-handled one that my roommates broke (trying to… open a mini-keg with it… I just don’t even…), and it took me ages to find a similar replacement. The lot I found had two! They’re gloriously retro styled. I also have a standard bev opener that has churchkey, bottle opener, and corkscrew.

    I was just wishing the other day that there was some indie beer that came in a standard can! For now I gotta say evaporated milk is the primary recipient of the piercing.

  • 24 Steph (@crushgear) // Jun 12, 2012 at 7:55 am

    I’ve never heard of Churchkey beer but your blog post is making me want to give it a try. To be honest though, I also have some pretty deep rooted familiarity with PBR :)

  • 25 jamieofalltrades // Jun 15, 2012 at 11:29 am

    I gave my Dad some Churchkey for his birthday and he loved it. He said the cans reminded him of trying to sneak beers from his dad as a teenager. Ha!

  • 26 jen // Jun 25, 2012 at 7:49 am

    i don’t know if we get churchkey beer out here (east coast), but i think the design is awesome, and the churchkey style of opening fun and old-timey. i’d love to try it. i used to have a churchkey for opening juice cans but i doubt i still have it. i didn’t know it was called a churchkey! boy have i learned a lot today, and it’s not even noon! ;p

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