It’s International Beer Day, a perfect occasion to indulge in one of the many delightful creations from the rapidly growing craft beer scene.
So why not step up your beer drinking game?
Instead of just swigging from the bottle or can, do what beer experts recommend and pour your beer into the perfect tasting vessel to savour all the hoppy and malty goodness in each brew.
Beer flavour is incredibly complex — beers actually incorporate more ingredients, styles, and flavours than wines do.
There are more than 100 different styles and sub-categories of beer, with flavours that range from smoky to salty to sour and everywhere else imaginable. People who study to become a “Certified Cicerone,” the beer industry’s version of a sommelier, learn to distinguish not only these varieties and the different types of hops and malts used to make them, they learn the proper way to serve and describe the unique factors of each.
And while not everyone needs that level of knowledge, once you realise there’s that much to know about beer out there, don’t you want to learn as much it as possible?
If you’re drinking good beer (craft, preferably local) in the first place, you’re already doing it right, but here’s how to take your beer game to the next level.
How to serve it
Science tells us that much of what we taste is due to what we smell, and that’s the key fact to keep in mind when serving and tasting beer.
It’s hard to catch a whiff of what’s inside a bottle or can while you drink it. A nice wide top on a glass will help you get a big whiff of the beer before you imbibe.
The head on your beer — that inch or so of foam at the top of your glass is very important. It helps enhance the flavour of your beer by capturing many of the compounds in beer that create its aroma, and through that, its flavour. For that reason, different styles of beer work best with different glasses.
As this Cicerone-recommended Beer Advocate article explains, most styles of beer are best drank from one (or more) of ten basic styles of glassware. This infographic details this full line of glassware, and the beers that go with them, but we’ll include a few basic choices here.
1. The classic pint glass
This glass usually comes in either a 16 (standard US) or 20 ounce (imperial or “nonic”) size and is the most versatile of glasses. It’s a great option for dozens of beer styles, including American lagers and pale ales, saisons, and most stouts. It’s a great glass for beers you’re going to drink in large quantities and for beers that need a large head on top.
2. The stemmed tulip glass
This one you might frequently see in your local craft beer bar. It’s a great option for rich, flavorful beers like double IPAs, Belgian strong ales, some saisons, and lambics. The stem makes it easy for a drinker to hold without warming the beer too much. The wide mouth creates a thick foamy head that enhances those already rich aromas.
3. The snifter
Originally designed for brandy, turns out to be a great vessel for some other strong ales like barleywines, tripels, and imperial stouts. It’s a smaller volume glass, which is great for beers that will knock you out with their alcohol levels often being in the 10% range, and its shape makes it easy to swirl and agitate the aroma enhancing particles known as “volatiles” in those brews.
Even if you don’t have these exact glasses in your home, re-think the glassware you have available — a lot of things that work in a snifter also would fit well in a big wine glass.
How to pour it
Once you’ve got your brew and your glassware, you want to pour it to create the perfect head on that beverage.
When pouring from a bottle hold your glass at a 45 degree angle until it’s about half full. At that point, gently tilting it upright and pouring into the center should create the perfect inch of head (certain beers, like weizens and Belgian ales, usually get a bigger head, from two to four inches).
Many interesting unfiltered beers will have a small amount of yeast in the bottom of the bottle. Whether you drink this or not is up to you — it will generally make the beer a bit cloudier and can add some good flavour. If you don’t want any extra yeast, watch carefully and don’t pour out the dregs of the bottle.
If you are pouring from a tap, hold the glass at a 45 degree angle about an inch away from the spigot. Open the tap fully and fill to about halfway, making sure the tap never touches the glass or the beer. At the halfway point, tilt the glass upright and continue letting beer flow into the center, moving the glass down to make sure there’s a little space between the tap and the brew.
How to taste it
As Beer Advocate explains, “When analysing a beer, you can’t just swill it down, burp and say ‘it’s great’ or ‘it’s crap.'” Or, you can, but we’re trying to drink like a pro now, remember? This way you’ll be able to describe your beer better than any wine snob.
Take a look at the beer itself. Notice the colour, the head, the bubbles.
If it’s in a glass that won’t overflow like a snifter, swirl it lightly, like you would a nice whiskey. This pulls out the aroma.
Take a whiff. Do if first through your nose, then through your nose with your mouth open, and then through your mouth. The way your nose and mouth are connected mean that you’ll catch slightly different variations depending on how you smell something.
Take a decent sized sip and hold it in your mouth for a moment. See how your tastebuds react, what flavours come to mind. Notice the consistency and mouthfeel of the beverage. Afterwards, see if you notice any new flavours as you breathe out.
Continue, and enjoy.
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