Sips, Sips, Away-How to properly taste craft beer.

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In my last article I talked about the seven categories of craft beer. Crisp, Hop, Malt, Roast, Smoke, Fruit & Spice, and Tart. In that article (Ale for One and Ale for All) I discussed with you all, the key starting points to introduce yourself to the culture of craft beer. I talked about two of the five key steps for tasting the flavors in your beverage. Now that you have a general understanding for beer selection and food pairing, it is time to push your experience to the next level. There are many components that go into brewing an amazing brew. It is only fitting that there would be steps to take to enjoy the full effect. I could write a novel on how to drink your brews, but to save on time, I plan to break it down for you with multiple articles. Now, with this said, I am not trying to turn you into a beer snob. I am simply trying to heighten your beer experience and if you become a beer snob well… I like to think that instead of a snob you are beer educated. {{more}}

Once you have chosen your style of craft beer, where do you begin? Do you just take a deep breath and gulp that brew down? Do you drink right from the can and chug? Do you want your beer freezing cold to the point of a potential brain freeze? Do you just go with the flow and drink it one sip at a time? Hmm… Drinking beer should not have so many questions, it’s beer, just drink it. That might be what you are thinking. Well, it is not that simple. There is a way to drink beer. There is such a thing as that perfect temperature. And NO!, don’t chug your beer like your at a college frat party. Beer is meant to be savored not chugged and turned into a tool for drunkenness. In fact since I am on the topic, please always drink responsibly! If you read my last article then you are aware that the ABV (alcohol by volume) changes depending on the way the brew was created. Your standard domestic brew is going to range from 3-6% ABV while your craft brews can range from 3% upwards towards 20% and even higher sometimes. No need for keg stands with this stuff. I am all about the art of the craft, not how to get a person drunk. When I run a brew tour that is always the first thing I explain. I want to educate you on beer. I want you to become immersed in the culture of craft beer and discover the wonderful world that awaits your arrival. My tours are designed to educate while having a good time. Now that I have explained the intention of what I am trying to do. Please allow me to continue.

There are several ways to consume craft beer. I am just going to say it. There is definitely nothing like drinking straight from the tap. Not everyone has a kegerator at home, and more than that; most of us are not homebrewers. So, how does one get that same crisp pour at home? Well let’s start with don’t drink out of the bottle or the can. I make jokes all the time about being high maintenance. I do not drink out of the vessel I bring my beer home in. Ever! I want you to take my beer challenge. I want you to pour half of your can or bottle into a glass. Then sip from the other half still in its original vessel. Then take a taste from what you poured into your glass. You will see why I do not drink from the vessel but rather a glass. You think I am crazy, I know. But I will explain to you why it is different. I promise it is not because I am high maintenance. It is purely because I want to taste all the flavors in the brew.

Beer should be drunk in a vessel made of natural materials such as glass. Never ever store your beer laying on its side. Temperature also plays a huge part in your beer experience. You do not want to store your beer somewhere hot or with a lot of light. The reason for most beer bottles being brown is to help keep light out of it. Beer also has a shelf life. You do not want your beer to sit too long. These things I have listed are how you end up with “skunked” beer. GROSS! I promise to include more on this at a later time. For now please just trust me.

Now in America we have been taught that ice-cold beer there is nothing better. I have breaking news for you. The colder the brew, the less flavorful it is going to be. So, you know that frosted mug that you are getting from your favorite sports bar… ever wonder why your brewery doesn’t provide frosted mugs. Well now you know. Cold is not better. Every beer has it’s own perfect temperature. On average you want your beer slightly above room temp. This will allow the aromas in your beer to be at their best. Aroma plays a huge part in how we taste. In Europe, they are not a fan of ice-cold beer for this reason. People are known for storing their brews out of the fridge and then placing them in the fridge about 10 minutes before they want to drink it depending on the style. There are styles of beer that are designed to be colder than others. All of this is for another time. For now we are talking about how to sip your brews.

Alright, so now I have explained the temperature and vessel to drink from. But I didn’t really explain what type of glass. And honestly does the glass matter? Yes, yes it does. Your glass actually plays a larger roll in your beer drinking than one might think. For now I am going to give you a short briefing on the topic. Much like your brews there are a number of styles of glasses. You have your pint, Belgian, mug and of course like the Country Brew Tours logo, there is your pilsner glass. Now a beer mug is going to have a wide mouth. These are great for large sips or gulps. They also allow for your nose to take in all the aromas of your beer. The wide mouth provides space for your nose to sniff the beer while you are drinking it. Whether that was your intent or not. If you do not have a pint, Belgian, pilsner or one of the other styles of glass, a mug will serve you just fine. Just reframe from chugging down your brew. (Despite what my glass might say)

The number one reason I do not drink from the vessel I take my beer home in is because I am not able to smell the aromas from the beer. I need those aromas to heighten my sense of taste. The other reason is that the carbon in my brew which also plays a big part in the aromas is not as awake inside the original vessel. The awakened carbon forms thousands of tiny bubbles foaming to the surface of your glass. Those tiny bubbles are what form the head of your beer. That head is where you are going to find most of the fragrance in your beer. Those tiny bubbles are made from proteins found in the ingredients of the brew. This is where most of the flavor can be found. You want the head of your beer to be a good size. At least an ¼ inch thick. Just as if your beer was fresh from the tap.

How do you get your brew to pour, while awakening all of it’s aromas? Well that is easy to learn. First take your glass of choice. Make sure it is clean. You do not want dust and other factors altering the flavors of our beer. Ever notice how brewers often rinse your glass before pouring you a glass. They have a special solution that is designed to remove any fatty substances from the glass. Think about when you pour yourself a glass of soda. You will end up with half foam and half soda before the bubbles settle. Ever been told to touch your nose and then the top of your glass? That is because the oils from your nose are heavy in fat and can break down the bubbles quickly. Well beer is similar. Only you probably didn’t know some soaps are fattier than others and prevent your beer from making a head. Some water depending on how it is treated can have trace amounts of fatty substance even, hence why breweries have their own special solution to break that down. The tiniest of fatty residue will alter your entire beer experience. So, Give your glass a quick rinse if you need to, to make sure there is no fatty residue in the glass. Open your beer vessel. Pour the beer in the center of the glass. You will see instantly as it hits the bottom of the glass it starts to foam. As you continue pouring your glass, tilt the glass at a 90-degree angle. Tilting the glass helps you control the size of the head. You do not want the beer to be all foam. As the glass becomes full tilt it back to a standing position. Of course, this might take you some practice. You do not want to pour too quickly or slowly. Soon it will just be natural to you.

Now that you have your perfect pour for your take home brews, it is sip, sips, away. BUT WAIT! I haven’t told you how to do this next step. In my last article, remember I told you that you do not have to Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Swish and Spit like you do with wine. Well I was trying to give you a basic starting point. Sniff and Sip I stand by as being the two most important steps to tasting a beer. However there are other steps that will aid in heightening the experience. And yes they all start with S. Wine you want to Swirl, Sniff, Swish, Sip and Spit. Beer you want to do the same with the expectation of spit, instead swallow. Also when you are swirling your beer you want a light swirl, not an aggressive one. Remember your beer is carbonated. A vigorous swirl is going to cause the beer to go flat. Do you really need to go through all of these motions to have the full experience of the beverage? Yep, all good things you have to work for.

Why do you swirl your beer? Same reason you want a head on top of your brew. When you swirl it, you are agitating the carbon it contains. Forcing bubbles to rise to the top, creating a fragrant brew. If your brew was poured with a head then you can negate this on the 1st sip and skip to step two. But as you continue to drink your beer and the head fades, give it another gentle swirl to get the same effect. If you are a domestic brew drinking this will really help with those, as domestic brews often lose their head quickly. As your taste for craft beer matures you will notice how a well-brewed craft beer will hold its foam a lot longer. This is a testament to not only the brewing process but the ingredients within the brew.

Sniffing, does that really matter? Yes, there is no if and or buts about it. Your sense of smell controls a significant portion of your taste buds. Smell is what tells you danger is near like fire. But it also tells you when happiness is in the air like a fresh cut lawn on a summer’s day. Smelling your beer is going to awaken and heighten your taste buds. If you have a roast category brew for example you are going to get hints of toffee. You should be able to smell this. Perhaps you are drinking a crisp brew. Smell those citrus fruits. Think about when grandma is baking her signature dessert. My Granny makes cherry crisp. As soon as I get a whiff of the crumble topping caramelizing my mouth starts to water. This is not a coincidence.

Sipping should have no questions. But there is a difference between a sip and gulp. You want to take small sips. Smaller sips allow for a more controlled flavor experience. When we gulp we are actually denying ourselves the flavors. When you gulp you are unable to breath at the same time. Sipping you actually take in a breath of air. Breweries select their glassware based on the style of brew to ensure that you are sipping their beverage the way it was meant to sipped. That again is for another time. But for now, at home, you have to work with what you have. So if all you have is a mug, take smaller sips.

Swish like it is is mouthwash. Why would you want to rinse your mouth with beer? Well… you swish mouthwash to make sure you are hitting every aspect of your tongue and gums. Beer is much more pleasurable than that burning mouthwash. Same concept though. When you swish you are coating your entire tongue with the beverage. You are able to feel all aspects of the brew. Take note, does it feel thin and watery? Perhaps it has a richer mouthfeel. These play a part. As your tongue feels the beverage the different taste buds are going to take notice to a world of flavors.

Now wine can be tasted without swallowing. That is why when drinking wine they recommend that you do the above steps and then finish by spitting out your 1st sip. You prepped the taste buds by doing all of these steps so that with your next sip swallowing will heighten the flavors in comparison. Beer is not wine. Don’t spit, swallow. The back section of your tongue is actually the best at detecting the bitter flavors within your brew. The only way to get at that is by swallowing. As the beer goes down your throat it will hit that secession of your tongue.

Alright we have covered glassware, temperature, and how to take your first sip. So now sips, sips, away and enjoy. Take notice of the flavor pallets within the category of brew you chose. Compare them with different styles of brews. As places start to open their outdoor space such as patios, try a flight and select the perfect take-home brews. I have now provided you with the steps to take to try this out. Remember to support your local brewery. If you are in a state like I am where heading to the beer garden is not a thing yet, make your home your very own beer garden. Stay safe and enjoy.

New Hampshire brewers with opening outdoor space are as follows: Frogg Brewery, Branch and Blade, Dublin Road Tap Room, Granite Roots, Elm City, West LA Beer Co., Modestman Brewing, and The Outlaw Beer Co. These are a list of those who announced the opening of their outdoor space during the next phase that New Hampshire has put into place.

Let’s not forget those in Vermont like Whetstone (Opening their outdoor space May 22nd reservations required) Hermit Thrush brewery, Madison Brewery, Harvest Brewing, Beer Naked and Trout River for some great take-home brews.

Till next time friends.


– Sarah E. Blair

Like what Sarah writes about? Check out her company, Country Brew Tours!

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