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
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.
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.
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? 😉