Your Beer Primer: by an Official Non-Expert

Howdy everyone–

So my beautiful wife has been wanting me to post on here for a while, but since she does most (all) of the cooking and picture-taking I don’t have much to add to her posts.  However, one thing I love that she doesn’t is beer– good beer.  And as Holly is gluten intolerant and hates beer, I’ve finally found a way to contribute to our blog without repeating everything she already said.

I’m no expert on beer, but my homebrewing ex-roommates have turned me into a moderately enthusiastic beer connoisseur.   I’ll share a little of what I know, review exciting new brews that I’ve sampled,  and probably do some research on the finer points of beer culture to share with you.

Some basics:

First off, tasting beer is a four or five-step process, depending on who you talk to.  There are typically five things you want to look for when experiencing a beer (in the following order):  Appearance, Aroma, Taste, Mouthfeel, and Finish.

  1. Appearance is an obvious step. What does your beer look like?  What color is it– amber, black, copper, red, opaque/transparent/translucent?  When the beer is poured (whether from a bottle or draught) what type of head appears on top of the beer?  As your drink the beer, does the foam stick to your glass or recede with the level of liquid?  Does the beer have a thick or thin consistency?
  2. Since much of our experience with flavors and taste is linked to our sense of smell, it is important to examine the
    The nose knows.

    Aroma that the beer brings to the table.  Much like wine, aroma varies greatly from one brew to another and people can think of all kinds of ridiculous words to use when describing it.  I usually take a couple swirls and sniffs. The first time around, I just notice what jumps out at me.  Stouts and porters often give off scents of chocolate or coffee, while IPA’s normally hit you in the face with strong hops aromas.                 The second sniff, I try to examine the odors more deeply and try to pick up on the less distinct notes in the brew.   These might include cherries, oats, cardamom, orange peel, etc.  **It is important to note that many factors will change the aroma as you drink the beer, including the temperature, the type of glass used, etc.  Try to take a whiff every now and then as you’re working through the beer and notice different characteristics that pop out.

  3. Sweet nectar of the gods: a.k.a. hops.
    Hops are one of my all-time favorite smells and tastes.

    Now comes the best step, Taste.  If your beer has a really big head on it, let it get down to a manageable level and then give it a sip.  Don’t swallow immediately.  Let the beer work around your mouth and notice where the flavors are hitting your palette.  This is when you’ll be able to begin describing the flavor and intensity of the beer– there might be roasted, tart, woodsy, or bready characteristics and the intensity might be muted, harsh, medicinal, or balanced (among many hundreds of other descriptors).  And in case you were wondering, yes, you are allowed to dislike a beer.  If you’re just beginning to get into beer, you’ll probably dislike many of the harsher beers, but I’d encourage you to revisit them after a while because your tastes will most definitely evolve.  Many of the beers I hated at first have become some of my favorites.

  4. Okay, almost done.  One should also pay attention to the Mouthfeel of a beer if they want to fully experience it.  Beers have varying degrees of carbonation, viscosity, alcohol, foam, and body, all of which can influence a beer’s attributes.  One might say it feels velvety, tingly, or warming and could describe the body as thick, dense, full, or light.
  5. You’ll notice that steps 3-5 really kind of piggy-back on each other as you’re sipping and swallowing the beer, but each is step distinct and important.  Finally, we come to the Finish (no pun intended).  After you’ve swallowed a sip of beer, certain unique tastes and sensations will linger that weren’t readily apparent while your mouth was full of liquid.  If the alcohol level is high, your throat and chest may feel warm and you’ll likely notice that boozy finish in the back of your mouth.  With lower alcohol levels, such as with some lambics (a type of fruity beer), one could easily mistake the drink for some bubbly juice.  You’ll notice new flavors staying in your mouth and throat between sips– sometimes they’re good and sometimes they’re bad.  I’ve been initially impressed by a few beers only to be ultimately turned off to them based on certain lingering flavors that didn’t jive with me.
Congrats, you’re ready to begin delving into the deep dark world of craft beers.  Again, I encourage you to revisit the above steps as your beer warms and changes; don’t just do it on the first sip.  Many beers are actually better when a little warm.  There are plenty of places to get some good brews for those in the Lexington area, most notably The Beer Trappe.  They can be expensive, but they carry many obscure and foreign beers– plus the atmosphere is awesome and their bar always has something good on tap.  If you want a lot of variety and flexibility, Liquor Barn is the place to go.  They’ll let you mix and match beers so you don’t have to commit to a full sixer of one brew, and you’ll be able to broaden your horizons more easily and economically.  Just keep your eyes open and don’t be afraid to take risks.  Good luck!
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Your Beer Primer: by an Official Non-Expert

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