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How to Drink a Craft Beer for Noobs

So you’re new to the world of craft beer, and you’ve discovered that it’s actually a little complicated – some people really take this beer thing seriously!

There are different types of glassware for different types of beer, different serving temperatures for different styles of beer, and words like “nose” and “mouthfeel” are thrown around on all the message boards.  What’s a noob to do?

Relax!  That’s what you should do – it’s only beer!  As someone who discovered the wonders of craft beer on their own, I’ve been there before.  What follows is a quick and simple guide to exploring the world’s greatest beverage for yourself. 

Glassware: Get A Go-To Goblet

I have lots of glasses, but this one gives the best nose...

There’s a lot of talk about glassware in the beer world, but most of it is overblown.  There, I said it.  You don’t need a pilsner glass to get the most out of a Victory Prima Pils, and you don’t need a frosted mug to enjoy a lager.  All you really need to get started is one decent beer glass, and I’m not talking about a pint glass or a mug – I’m talking about a goblet baby!

The great thing about a goblet is that it allows you to fully explore the first part of the sensory cascade: aroma, which also affects taste.   The curved sides of a goblet intensify the aroma of the beer as it travels towards your nose, and the broad opening provides plenty of surface area to sniff.

I started my beer career with a Chimay-branded goblet, and it did wonders for my beer education. If you don’t have a goblet, go for a wine glass with the broadest opening you can find.  Same difference, really (except you can’t pretend you’re a king!).

Temperature: Start Cold And Let Flavor Blossom

The neatest moment I had early in my beer education is when I realized that the flavor of a beer, especially the darker ones, changes as it warms.  The flavor blossoms like a flower, as the beer goes from refrigerator temperature to room temperature.

Click to make the flavor bloom…

I found it highly educational to start drinking a beer when it’s chilly and experience how the flavors and aromas change as it warms.  It’s a great way to train your palate to pick up flavors and will also lead you to understand WHY certain beers should be served ice cold, or room temperature, or somewhere in-between.  It’ll also stop you from guzzling down a Belgian Quad at the speed of a Bud Light.

When I was a noob and figured out that warming changes a beer, I’d start with the beer cold and cup the curved sides of the goblet in my hands to accelerate the warming process.  It’s important not to drink a boozy beer too fast, but who has all night to drink one glass of beer?  Warming it with your hands can speed things up a bit.

Tasting Technique: Smell, Taste, Feel, Wait

I’m not a big fan of fancy beer talk, but it’s fun to break down the sensory pleasures of a good beer.

First, comes the “nose.”  You smell the beer, trying to pick out certain types of aroma.  Do you detect a hint of figs, or peaches, or grapefruit, or walnuts?  As you get more and more into beer, you’ll find that using your nose is a big part of enjoying a good brew.  This is where a goblet comes in handy.

Next step is to take a sip and think about three phases of taste; the beginning, the middle, and the end.  What tastes come on first, and how do they change over the span of a few seconds?  Does the beer start off with an intense citrus flavor and then transform into a sweet and caramelly delight?  What’s the finish like?  Does the flavor linger?  Is it boozy?  Is it neat and dry?  A little metallic? Thinking about these phases of tasting will help you appreciate the nuances between different styles of beer and different expressions of the same style.  Turns out not all IPA’s are the same!

Another part of the puzzle is mouthfeel, which is basically (duh) how the beer feels in your mouth.  Is it really effervescent?  Is it heavy and oily? Is it thin and watery?  Mouthfeel is an important part of the beer-drinking experience that many people don’t ever think about.

Google beer nerd and this is what you get. Yikes.

Also, you’ll want to wait a moment in-between sips to let your mouth and your mind process everything you’ve smelled, tasted and felt.  Once you’re ready, have another sip and compare it to the first. Is there anything new you taste this time?  Chances are there is, especially if you let your beer warm up as you’re drinking it.

So there you have it – everything you need to know to get started enjoying craft beer.   This is a simplified look at things for sure, but it’s enough info to get you on the right track to becoming a full-fledged beer nerd.   Congratulations?  😉

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Categories: Beer, Lifestyle

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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50 Comments on “How to Drink a Craft Beer for Noobs”

  1. October 4, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I like this, quick easy and to the point.

    • October 4, 2011 at 11:42 am #

      Thanks, that was the goal. It’s fun to make beer complicated, but that can make it intimidating, too. I say get a good glass, get some beers and start tasting!

  2. October 4, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    As far as glassware is concerned, I tend to favor glasses with a narrower opening, like a snifter, tulip, or a wine glass, since that dramatically concentrates the aroma. Extending my pinky finger while taking a sip also lends an air of distinction.

    Sorry, for a second there I thought I was commenting on the Wine and Cognac Brothers blog.

    • October 4, 2011 at 12:27 pm #

      I like tulips myself, but for a noob a goblet provides a broader surface area to smell and the ability to get your nose in closer without touching the glass. You still get a chimney effect from the glassware (although a less intense than a narrow tulip) while keeping the aromas more accessible.

      Try a tulip and goblet side by side and see which one produces the stronger aroma – you might be surprised.

      • October 4, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

        Do you fill your tulip near the top, Jim? If so, then yes, much smaller surface area. I generally fill to the widest part of my tulip glass which is actually a touch wider than my Chimay glass. This gives you the wide surface area, and then the smaller opening traps the bouquet for a more intense nose. That’s been my experience, anyway. Although, the newer, taller Chimay glasses like the one in your picture have more of a taper at the top than they used to and are great go-to glasses that would likely work for a wider variety of beers I would think.

        O.K., I’m getting far to beer geeky here. Must. Stop. Typing.

        • October 4, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

          Alex and BeerPoet are right. The tulip is far superior to the goblet. Although, beer noobs really get a kick out of goblets. I can always count on the noobiest noob to reach for one of my goblets when glassware is offered as I horde one of my many tulips. Snifters are also great.

        • October 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

          I’ve actually poured a stout into a goblet and a snifter side-by-side and found that the goblet’s aroma is much more “in your face” than the snifter. As an experienced geek, i tend to eschew the goblet because like you say it’s kind of a noob vessel, but damned if it doesn’t give off more scent and make the beer smell more “present.”

        • October 4, 2011 at 12:51 pm #

          I usually fill the tulips to the widest part of their hip, but the goblet still has some advantages, especially for someone who isn’t experienced in pulling aroma’s from a glass.

          The larger surface area of the goblet means there’s more “aroma” available, and the gently curved sides still provide limited amplification of the scent. The larger opening also allows the nose to get close to the surface and pull in the aroma.

          It’s the difference between smelling a bowl of soup and a cup of soup. The tulip is a good vessel and seems more “sophisticated,” but I’m always surprised when I go back to the goblet just how accessible the aromas of a beer are. You’d think it’s cruder (at least I do) but the goblet is actually a pretty wonderful vessel.

        • October 4, 2011 at 1:02 pm #

          Dammit, Jim! Now, I have to have two beers side-by-side in a goblet and tulip for my own comparison.

        • October 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

          Please do. I think you’ll be surprised – I certainly was.

          It was like discovering that you can bake better brownies in your old Easy Bake Oven.

        • October 4, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

          That I know is not true. Have you ever used the perfect brownie pan?

        • October 4, 2011 at 1:12 pm #

          No. It doesn’t work well with light bulbs…

        • October 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

          Good to know, Jim. Next time I pop open a bigger beer, I’ll give my chalice and my tulip a side-by-side comparison and see how it goes!

        • October 4, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

          I was actually a little shocked. But now when i have a special beer, I go for the Chimay goblet. It lets you almost put your head in the beer!

  3. October 4, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    Nice overview of how to enjoy beer, Jim! One thing I’d point out is why you smell first. There is a biological tendency of your brain to combine the sense of smell and taste when doing both. This is a great feature of your brain. The two together is how you experience flavor after all. But because of this, your sense of smell is never quite as keen after you start drinking your beer. It gets mashed up with your sense of taste. So, if you’re in the mood to get geeky and really experience the bouquet of your craft beer, it’s far easier to do before you start tasting your beer than after.

    • October 4, 2011 at 12:28 pm #

      I love those studies where they pinch someone’s nose shut and ask them to describe flavors. Over half of the “taste” information our brains receive are from our noses!

  4. October 4, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Great post – thanks for sharing. Lover of Craft Beers.

    • October 4, 2011 at 12:30 pm #

      Thanks!

  5. October 4, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    BTW, this is a great post. I may have to star it in the Google Reader for sharing with noobs I meet along the way.

    • October 4, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

      Star away, Zac!

  6. October 4, 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    I’d like to point out all the nerdy glass talk in the comments above to the noob beer geeks who are reading this. This is your future, boys and girls!

    • October 4, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

      And a bright future it is.

      • October 4, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

        Now you’re sounding like Yoda!

        A beer geek you will become. True, this much is.

  7. October 4, 2011 at 1:11 pm #

    Good advice. One thing I always have to remember to do when ordering a draft craftbeer is to tell the bartender to use a room-temp glass. If I don’t, I spend 5 minutes trying to warm it with my hands to the point that I can actually taste something. I remember getting my first craft Kölsch in a chilled stein. What a disappointment! But once it warmed up a bit I enjoyed it.

    • October 4, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

      Cold glasses suck. My favorite is having a chilled stout or porter and pouring it into a glass that’s hot out of the dishwasher. Wait a few minutes and homeostasis (and a decent drinking temp) is achieved!

  8. FatCatKC
    October 4, 2011 at 1:36 pm #

    My go to glass for “regular” beers is my trustee Sam Adams sensory glass. It is the best of both worlds, tulip and flared lip for aroma dispersion. When I read about their new fangled glass and all of the engineering I scoffed the idea. I collect beer glasses so I purchased one anyway. I’ve used it so much the printing is wearing off. Goblets are cool looking but seem kind of wonky to handle.

    • October 4, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

      Agreed on that Sam Adams glass, especially for IPA’s.

      • October 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

        I have to get one of these. I’ve been curious about how they’d affect beers I know well.

    • October 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

      I’ve tried one of those while at a bar, and thought it showed promise. Unfortunately it was filled with flat Sam Adams Boston Lager, which is a decent beer, but this one was from an unloved tap. I should have nicked it so I could see what it does for a good beer!

    • October 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

      Oh yeah, the Sam Adams glass is awesome.

      • October 4, 2011 at 4:23 pm #

        My only complaint about the Sam Adams glass is how narrow the base is compared to the top of the glass. I feel like a slight nudge of the glass is going to topple it over.

        • October 4, 2011 at 4:26 pm #

          That’s also how you feel after draining it a few times… 😉

        • October 4, 2011 at 4:27 pm #

          I wondered the same thing, but it’s incredibly well-balanced. The base is pretty solid.

  9. October 4, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    Well done Jim! Damn good advice.

    • October 4, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

      Thanks, G-LO. Noobs are people too.

      Mostly.

  10. ScottG
    October 4, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    I actually liked the new(ish) Sam Adams glasses. They worked well for different types of beer (with the exception of the Belgian beers I refuse to pour into it). But for a starter glass, it is similar in what it offers to the goblet (I also have the Chimay goblet).

    • October 4, 2011 at 2:25 pm #

      I need to get me one of those. They were giving them away with cases last winter, but I was too lazy to clip and mail and…ugh…just typing it makes me tired!

      • October 4, 2011 at 2:40 pm #

        You bought a case of Sam Adams? I didn’t think anyone bought cases of anything these days. You know, with those ten commandments telling us we shouldn’t have a go-to beer.

        • Don
          October 4, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

          Zac, do as Jim says…not as he does!

        • October 4, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

          A-ha! I actually bought a bunch of fancy craft beers, which were placed into a Sam Adams box so I could carry my enormous purchase to the car!

        • October 4, 2011 at 3:17 pm #

          Touché, Jim. Or should I say Douché?

        • October 4, 2011 at 3:23 pm #

          I think one says the other, Zac. 🙂

        • October 4, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

          LULZ. I have got so little work done today.

  11. October 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    Very nice post! Its funny as I was reading this I was having a Leffe Brune in my own Chimay glass! Its a little flashy, but you’re right about it being a pretty good go-to beer glass. (Plus, it makes lesser beers appear more classy in it!)

    • October 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

      Yes, a Bud Light Lime truly sparkles in a fancy goblet! 🙂

    • October 4, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

      And good to see you enjoying a beer after your odyssey!

  12. October 4, 2011 at 5:00 pm #

    Yes and YES!!!

  13. Jeff
    October 4, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    Sweet post…though I won’t touch a beer straight from the fridge…I give 12oz. bottles like 15-20 minutes to come up to temp…unless we’re talking something really special…then it’s half an hour…minimum…bombers and 750s need more time…obviously…still not quite sure how to approach the whole bomber thing…I have one…but have yet to get a fill.

    My favorite glass is my Dogfish Head signature glass…but I have many others.

    • October 4, 2011 at 7:33 pm #

      I like the DFH glasses, too, but I don’t have one.

      And most beers except IPA’s, pilsners and the like never see the inside of my fridge.

      • October 4, 2011 at 9:51 pm #

        Interesting you bring up DfH while discussing glassware. I remembered something I read Sam Caligione say once: “The majority of what we think we are tasting we are actually smelling, so a balloon-shaped glass, whether it’s a sniffer or red wine glass, is best for almost all beers, as it captures more of the aromatics.”

        I’m not sure this ends the debate, but he does suggest a snifter and not a goblet. Maybe with your connections you can get Sam to comment on this.

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