Getting acquainted with beer

Alcohol had always been glorified throughout high school and college. Plans for the weekend quickly default to the question, “Are you 21 yet?” or “Who’s party are you going to tonight?” Quickly you find yourself at someone’s house or at a bar… and you’re offered a beer for first time, either straight up or in the form of a game. Generally even if you have your reserves of trying it, you’ll get peer pressured into drinking it somehow.

Well here goes nothing… you take a sip… and you think to yourself, “Meh.” or “Bleh.” And that first impression usually sits with you for a very long time.

The thing is we quickly associate beer with less-than-glamorous frat parties and sleezy bars. Names such as Bud Light, Keystone, and Miller come to mind… and we drink these beers really quickly and in mass quantities as a inexpensive way of getting drunk.

What if beer was more than a cheap thrill?

So there I was in my dorm room during my Freshman year with 2 bottles of Shiner that I snagged from a house party earlier in the week. Shiner is quite a popular brewery in Texas, if you bring a 6 pack of Shiner bock to a party it’s sort of like bringing a pizza from a local pizzeria rather than the usual chain. In my quiet room and took a couple sips – unrushed, and not distracted by anything else. I thought to myself… hmm this actually isn’t that bad.

(Now I think Shiner bock is a bit on the watery side, but it does have it’s place.)

You can think of beer sort of like a contemporary art exhibit. You can either go up to one, take a quick glance and say “I don’t get it.” or you could linger for a while… view it from different angles, get up close to it and take in the detail, and then make your final decision of whether you like it or not.

Often times when we’re exposed to something new, such as a food, area, or activity, we won’t be totally blown away. We often look for small details that we can appreciate… So same goes to beer… I’m sure the first time you have a “better brew” you will not be blown away. Just take it slow, and be open to a second or third sip. If you don’t like it, then don’t force it… there’s no shame or harm.

Once you find that little thing you like in a stronger brew, feel free to revisit a Bud light or Miller… and notice how great the difference is.

So where should you start?

In my limited knowledge, I believe you should first start with a hefeweizen, or wheat beer. Fransiskaner or Hoegaarden have popular hefeweizens that you can find at your local grocery store. These beers are notably sweeter, and contain very familiar flavors and aromas such as orange or lemon. And perhaps to give you an idea of how wide the range of flavors can be, at the same time get a porter, stout, pale ale, or IPA. I can guarantee that you can at least taste a difference between the 2 drinks. Try to get beyond the bitterness to flavors such as fruit.

Brands to look out for:

  • Dogfish head
  • Ommegang
  • New Belgium
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Rogue
  • Paulaner
  • Anything local, ask your bartender!
  • Live Oak(Texas)
  • 512 (Texas)

Is there a proper way of drinking a beer?

Hum, I don’t know. But here’s how I go about it:

Get a proper glass. Pour it in at a 45 degree angle or else you’ll just end up with a lot of head.

First look at the beer, notice the color of it in the available light, and also the bubbles that form at the top of the glass. Tilt the glass a bit and notice how the head moves about, it varies a lot from beer to beer.

Take a normal sip of it, get your initial impressions. Do you like it? Yes, no, meh? That is all.

Then smell the beer for a second or two, put it right up to your nose, then take another sip. Did the taste change any after taking a whiff? Twirling the beer in your glass might help get the aroma out, similar to wine. Also the type of glass plays a roll in channelling the aroma to your nose. I really like drinking beer out of tulip shaped glasses =).

Then I’d take a third mouthful, swish it around to both taste it more and to evaluate the carbonation of the beer. Are the bubbles harsh, or is the beer more mild and frothy?

When you swallow there’s this moment where the back of your tongue touches the roof of your mouth. Typically with soda, you wouldn’t taste anything else at this point, but with beer… you could notice a different flavor. It could be anything from grapefruit to coffee depending on the beer.

Also take note of the after taste as well…  and just enjoy it from this point.

Checkout the yelp/wikipedia of beer!

If you have a computer or smart phone handy, go to beeradvocate and see what people think of your brew while you’re at the bar.

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