Hundreds of beer connoisseurs flock to Denver every year during the Great American Beer Festival armed with their apps, notebooks and refined taste buds.
For the average beer lover, the idea of being trapped in the city with America’s top tier of beer snobs and geeks could be intimidating, like talking to an oyster expert, coffee aficionado, oenophile or about your favorite moment in hip hop in front of an entire Jay Z concert.
But you can go from average to just a little above average in no time at all, with a little inside info.
Here are 10 tips from brewers and beer geeks for sounding and drinking like the cool kids:
1. Use a glass — If beer is stored properly it doesn’t really matter if it’s coming from a can, bar tap or bottle. But in every case it should be poured into a glass. This allows the drinker to get the full taste and aroma of the beer and take in less carbonation. Less carbonation means you fill up less quickly which means you can drink more beer.
2. Use discretion — Beer should be served and consumed when it’s cold. It should also be served in a clean glass (every time) and come from clean tap system. This is the way brewers and the beer gods intended you to drink beer.
3. Use your taste buds — While ordering beer based on the creativity of the tap handle or beer name doesn’t scream beer expert, a worse offense is ordering beer solely to get drunk. Brewers and bartenders typically know if you’re ordering craft beer based solely on the most ABV (alcohol by volume). And while drinking a brew with 32 percent ABV is an experience of its own, beer lovers should be more interested in getting a beer they’ll enjoy instead of one that’ll get them drunk.
4. Use the right terminology — At its core, all beer has four basic ingredients water, yeast, malt and hops. As America’s second-largest craft beer maker Boston Beer Co. reminds us “Too much hops and you’ve got a pint full of pine flavor. Too much malt and all you taste is caramel.” Once you understand the basics, do a little homework and ask what else brewers put in the beer (i.e. bacon, green chili, graham crackers etc.) and what kind of malt was used (i.e. barley, sorghum, wheat, rye etc.). That will impress your friends.
5. Know nitro — Have you been asked whether you want your stout or porter to be served on a nitro tap? If you want a smoother, creamier beer produced by the smaller nitrogen bubbles, the answer is yes. (Think Guinness.) If that’s not your thing, stick to the traditional carbon dioxide or CO2 carbonation found in most beers.
6. Know how to taste and pour — While pouring a beer, the glass should be at a 45 degree angle until it’s about half full. Then start to move the glass to the 90 degree angle as you finish the pour. And contrary to what some would have you believe, a little foam or “head” is good. That’s because it releases the beer’s aromatics. Once you’ve poured, look, agitate, smell and taste (slowly and throughly).
7. Know style vs. origin — Here’s an easy one: German beers don’t necessarily come from overseas. American brewers frequently make German, Belgian and other style of beers following recipes from those countries. If you’re looking for a truly German beer, look where your beer was made. To be really meta, look for an American-style beer made in Germany.
8. Be specific — There are 152 styles of beer recognized by the Brewers Association, so telling a brewer you want a light one or an ale really doesn’t narrow it down. “Light” could refer to color, alcohol content, taste or any number of qualities about the beer. A better bet is to describe the flavor of the beer you want to drink (i.e., something not super bitter, something not filling, etc.).
9. Be a geek — Don’t call yourself a beer snob. Snobs are isolated and critical. Be a beer geek instead — someone enthusiastic about learning more about beer and teaching others about the beverage.
10. Be confident — It really doesn’t matter what you say about the beer as long as you say it with confidence. Boldly tell people you’re picking up on some bacon or cereal flavors. Anything you say can be relevant if you say it with enough honesty and confidence.
The first, second , fifth, seventh and ninth tips came from Julia Herz, craft beer program director for Brewers Association. The third and eight tips came from Steve Kurowski, spokesman of the Colorado Brewers Guild. The fourth tip is from Denver Beer Co. co-owner Charlie Berger. Number six came from Beer Advocate. Number 10 came from Dry Dock Brewing Co. co-owner Kevin DeLange.
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