Best Balm for your Beer: Keeping your lips in shape for winter imbibing

LipBalmsAs autumn sings her last chorus, the season is quickly shifting into those chilly months where many of us situated in the Northern Hemisphere have to deal with the reality of chapped lips (I suppose the same applies to the desert regions of the world). While women beer drinkers may suffer the conundrum of whether to drink wearing lipstick (The Bitch is soooo not gonna go there), the reality is that you want to protect your lips while still being able to drink a great craft beer.

So, in the honor of science, I have undertaken the very subjective task to testing leading lip balms with regards to how they hold up under the stress (and taste and aroma) of drinking beer. This is actually something I’ve wanted to explore for a couple years now, ever since I figured out that some of my random lip balms really interfered with my joy of drinking. I figured there are probably tangible differences between brands, so I set out to find the most popular brands and rank them accordingly.

The parameters:

  1. I only tested one beer against all five balms. The beer I chose was Raging Bitch Belgian Style IPA, which I purchased in bottles from my local bodega. I shop there pretty regularly, and I often get the Belgian IPA. I didn’t want to go with a beer that I didn’t know well; I also didn’t want to pick a wildly hoppy or malty brew. The Raging Bitch Belgian is strong enough to cut through mild flavors, but not so overpowering as to blow my palate out before I got to balm number five.
  2. I drank from a glass. I chose a standard goblet that I picked up (I didn’t steal it, I swear) from Lucky Pie in Denver when I was there earlier this month.
  3. Balms were chosen based on ubiquity: I picked major brands (with one notable exception, see below) and I tried to get as neutral a balm as possible (i.e. minimal scent, flavor). I deliberately avoided anything too “girly,” not because “girly” is a bad thing, but because healthy lips are not gender specific. I also didn’t want to choose some new age Brooklyn-based lip balm that sells for $400/ounce and can only be bought on Bedford Avenue. Think ChapStick, not PigLardLips (I made that up… I think).
  4. Balms were tested for four main characteristics: Scent (and how that scent affected the beer), Feel (greasy, smooth, sticky, etc.), Taste (both in terms of licking my lips and in terms of affecting the flavor of the beer), and how much of a Smear was left when my lip touched the goblet.

And the results follow (in the order I tried the balms; note: I was careful to remove all of the balm before trying a new one)…

Lip balm: White Labs 15 SPF

Okay, so White Labs is the outlier. They were giving these lip balms away at the Great American Beer Festival, so I figure they really should know better. Turns out, they do. This balm wasn’t half bad.

  • Scent: Smells of well-chewed Wrigley’s Spearmint; didn’t affect the nose of the beer
  • Feel: Glossy, a bit slippery
  • Taste: Very faux mint with a sweet aftertaste; didn’t seem to affect the beer unless I licked my lips
  • Smear: Slight lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 2nd Place. Honestly, there was one balm that was the definite winner, and one that was the definite loser (keep reading). The middle three were pretty interchangeable. I ranked White Labs lip balm as second for two reasons: one, they’re White Labs (come on!); and two, I would definitely do some serious kissing before, during or after drinking with this lip balm on. It’s a nice kissing lip balm, with little to interfere with the beer.

Lip balm: Blistex Medicated 15 SPF

Maybe there’s an unmedicated Blistex (I don’t believe there is). The medicinal quality of this (and the next) balm was not ideal for beer drinking. That said, there are times when you want more of a warming balm for your lips. So, how did it work with beer?

  • Scent: Slight wintergreen/camphor; definitely interfered with the nose of the beer: I felt like I was drinking on Vick’s Mentholatum
  • Feel: Almost none… for about 20 seconds; then my lips got so warm that I didn’t really want to drink at all; after about five minutes, the warmth died down and was no longer particularly noticeable
  • Taste: Negligible, but the beer seemed more bitter when drinking, as though a lingering sweetness in the balm was bringing out the hoppiness in the beer
  • Smear: Probably the least noticeable on the goblet

Final verdict: 3rd Place. If you wait for the burn to subside, this is a nice balm. Probably only for when you really need a medicinal edge (i.e. your lips are already chapped), but good to use in a pinch. The fact that it is only minimally greasy helps a lot.

Lip balm: Bert’s Bees with Vitamin E and Peppermint

Honestly, I think you either love Bert’s Bees or you hate them. They come in a variety of flavors; I don’t even know if this is the most neutral version available. The effect was very similar to the Blistex balm, the trade-off being that the Blistex balm seemed to have less of an effect on the actual process of drinking the beer (despite my sense that the hops were more pronounced with Blistex).

  • Scent: Slight mint; didn’t affect the nose of the beer
  • Feel: Instantly strongly warming; didn’t seem to wear off as quickly as the Blistex
  • Taste: Stale chewing gum; despite the lingering warmth, the flavor of the beer was unaffected
  • Smear: Minimal mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 4th Place. This really came down to that warmth, which is great if you’re walking outdoors during a blizzard but is rather distracting while drinking. I probably won’t give up using Bert’s Bees, because it’s my go-to balm, but I may reconsider if I’m doing a festival or drinking beers that are new to me.

Lip balm: ChapStick Original 8 SPF

When I was growing up (my age is showing), ChapStick was this nasty white clumpy stuff that we all were forced to don and we all universally hated. Well, this is not your mother’s ChapStick. Still white in color, the balm’s texture is light and protective without being messy.

  • Scent: Slightly herbal; I can’t quite place the aroma, but it’s very neutral; no effect on the nose
  • Feel: Pleasant gloss with no greasiness whatsoever
  • Taste: Very slight candy flavor, possibly vanilla; no effect on the taste of the beer
  • Smear: Slight lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 1st Place. This balm was a surprise. I bought it mostly because it’s ChapStick, and to do a comparison without it would be ridiculous. I didn’t expect it to be just what The Bitch ordered: It coats the lips without interfering with drinking at all.

Lip balm: Carmex Original

Uh… this was downright awful

  • Scent: Medicinal; totally got into the nose of the beer, too
  • Feel: Greasy; it felt like I’d kissed an otter that just survived the Valdez oil slick
  • Taste: NUMBING!!! Not a choice for any beer I can think of; totally leeched into the flavor of the beer
  • Smear: Noticeable lip mark on the goblet

Final verdict: 5th Place, but might as well be dead last. I knew this was a long shot going in, but I was disgusted by how this worked while drinking. Limit your Carmex to the ski slopes. Keep your ChapStick for your beers.

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