What is the Palate Deck?
The Palate Deck is a game that allows the conversation about beer to flow fairly naturally, while also helping players understand more about where flavours and aromas come from.
Have you ever tried to describe beer to someone – a friend, a colleague, a family member – and been uncertain what words to use? The Palate Deck is a fun way to have a conversation about beer with your friends. While you’re at it, players will learn a little something too.
Local Cicerone and BJCP judge Dave Shea is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to produce this interesting and fun way to enjoy and learn about beer. With the campaign almost at an end and the full amount of money not yet raised you may be asking yourself whether backing this project is a good idea.
After playing a couple of rounds of the Palate Deck with Dave I can say that it is.
The game is pretty cool to start. There’s no other similar product out there that I can think of that is as enjoyable, fun, while also being a great way to start a conversation at a brewery or pub.
The biggest reason to get your hands on the Palate Deck is that it helps Increase your understanding of the beer you already love to drink. Okay, not everyone wants to know the ins-and-outs of beer and that’s just fine. But I know there are plenty of people like me that find greater enjoyment of something when we know more about it. My enjoyment of beer has increased greatly since I started writing about beer, learning about beer, tasting, reviewing, and judging. The more I learned, the more I enjoyed everything from IPAs to lagers to stouts.
How is the game played?
The Palate Deck allows up to four people to play at one time. The cards are dealt out in a manner where you have an intensity scale along the vertical axis and cards for Appearance, Aroma, Taste, and Mouthfeel along the horizontal axis. Next, everyone is dealt cards that they use to describe the beer in those categories and everyone takes turns playing cards in their hand that they feel best describe what they experience.
The concept is definitely straightforward, even if my description leaves you a bit confused. What is particularly cool about the Palate Deck is that the cards you play start simple and increase in complexity as the game progresses.
Dave and I met at Brassneck Brewery for our first game where we each got a glass of the Twinkle Toes Dry Hopped Pale Ale. As we played, we both agreed that there was a fruitiness to the beer. I thought it was mostly in the aroma, but Dave was picking up some in the flavour too. We moved our Fruity card to straddle both aroma and flavour, and put it at a high intensity.
Once we started getting into the more complex cards though, we started to break down that fruitiness into it’s more specific components: tropical fruit, and citrus. After some deliberation we decided that the fruity flavours resembled notes of banana, so Dave played that card. We even further specified that the citrus flavour was closer to grapefruit than lemon or orange. There were other hop notes that we identified and were able to quantify some incredibly subtle flavours, simply because we had the words to describe the sensations that were literally on the tips of our tongues.
As someone who reviews beer and has led novice beer tastings, the Palate Deck was still a huge help for me in identifying flavours and aromas in the beer I was drinking. The game helped me understand some of those more subtle flavours that are present and how they are derived since the complex cards also offer some extra depth of information if you really want to geek out.
So is the Palate Deck a game for every beer drinker to play? Perhaps not, but it’s certainly a fun thing to bring with you when you next hang out with your beer loving friends. That said, this is not simply a game for beer geeks. At even the simplest level the game is a fun way begin a conversation about beer with people that may otherwise feel uncomfortable talking about it.
There was a time for all of us, beer geeks and beginners alike, when we hear someone waxing poetic about their beer and we think “what on earth are they on about?” Well, the Palate Deck offers a way to understand even if you don’t have the vocabulary; there’s enough information on the cards to make everyone at the table feel like an expert.
I can see this game being really fun if you have a bottle share with friends, for example. Not everyone is going to be on the same level of understanding so the Palate Deck is a great way to help include those of your friends that may not be as well-versed on beer or beer tasting. It can be a lot of fun as well as helping you and your friends know about beer in a more friendly and accessible way.
Check out the Kickstarter campaign for the Palate Deck. Maybe it’s something that you or someone you know would be interested in. I’ve gone ahead and backed it and I’m hoping that the project goes through.
But if the Kickstarter doesn’t get fully funded, don’t fret. Dave has a contingency plan so you’re still very likely to see the Palate Deck in your favourite brewery in the near future, just not as quickly as he initially hoped. Kickstarter or no, the Palate Deck is a game that I expect to be playing with friends some time very soon.