Thursday, September 27, 2012

Mistakes Beer Drinkers Make

One of my most popular blog posts was a list that I published last September  - 30 things to add to your to-do list.  So this year I though I would take another shot at a list.  This time I'm going to outline some of the "mistakes" that beer drinkers make when they partake.  Though the term mistake may actually be a bit harsh.  It is hard to make a major blunder while you're drinking beer, isn't it?  Have I done any of the things on this list?  Of course not!  Well, actually, now that I think about it, yes, I've done them all.

Here is my list of some common beer drinker errors:

1) Drink a beer too cold. There is nothing wrong with an ice cold refreshing lawnmower beer now and then, but most craft beers are not intended to be consumed that way.  Coldness numbs the taste buds and masks the complexities we are after in most beers.  In central Europe most people drink their lagers chilled, but not ice cold.  And most ales are intended to be consumed at a cellar temperature.  (high 40s through the 50s)  The warmer temperature really lets the yeast and hops shine.  The Belgians are resolute about this, and as they say in England, "warm and flat is where it's at."

2) Order what everyone else is having.  I hear this all the time, "I'll have a Fat Tire."  People know New Belgium and are comfortable with their Amber Ale.  And it is a great beer.  But don't be afraid to take the time to read the beer menu and select something that may better suite your taste, or the weather, or what you are eating, etc.  Don't be afraid to experiment or defy the crowd.

3) Like a beer because of a flaw.  I'm guilty of this one.  Back in high school we used to seek out Mooshead because it was skunked!  What were we thinking?  This happens especially to drinkers of light beers.  Any flavor (any flavor) is construed as something new and good.  My first homebrewed beer was not particularly good, but my Miller drinking buddies raved about it because it had flavor.

I often detect diacetyl (buttery flavor) in lagers for example.  This is a flaw.  Not to something be appreciated, rather something to be pointed out to the brewer.

4) Drink a beer out of the wrong glass.  Not to be a snob here, but drinking glasses have evolved over the centuries to suite specific styles of beer.  Their specific shape, style and even weight are designed to enhance aromas, accommodate highly or lightly carbonated beers, or simply be aesthetically pleasing.  The tall vase shape of a Weißbier glass shows off the streaming bubbles of the highly carbonated wheat beer, and a snifter works well to corral the complex yeast and malt aromas of an English Barleywine.  What about the sturdy Maß used to serve beers at Munich's Oktoberfest?  They are designed not to break during the frequent Prosts!  No Belgian pub would be caught serving a beer in the wrong glass.  Even if they have 100 beers on tap or in the bottle, they will stock the proper glassware.  Not that these beers would not taste good out of a simple tumbler, but the proper glass can enhance the experience.  There is often a reason for tradition.

5) Under appreciate subtle beers.  In this day of extreme, highly-hopped, barrel aged, 60 proof beers, I feel sometimes people get too obsessed with palate over-stimulation.  There is nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned session Bitter, for example.  These "light" beer possess lots of character.  And lagers are seldom called "complex" (the yeast gets out of the way for the malt and hops) but some of the greatest beers in the world are clean, subtle, drinkable lagers like Helles, Pils, and Dunkles.

6) Be afraid to send a beer back.  If what you've been served is not good (flawed), send it back.  This is done more with wine than beer, but beer should be treated no differently.  Unfortunately, with restaurants and bars carrying a greater selection of beers (which is a good thing) quality can suffer.  It is difficult to keep 20, 30 or 50 beers in stock without having some that are past their prime.  Not to mention the enormous task of maintaining all of the lines and faucets to dispense that many beers.

Years ago I was in a brewery in Boulder and ordered their cask offering.  It had a strong flavor of formaldehyde.  When I sent it back the bartender noted that I simply just must not be a fan of cask ale.  I suggested that he take the beer off tap and notify the brewer.

7) Drink canned beer.  I still have this phobia, and for some reason I still prefer bottles.  With that said, more and more US craft breweries are canning their beer.  Cans are lighter, cheaper to ship, don't break, and best of all they protect the beer from light.  The Germans have been doing this for years.  Over a decade ago on a trip to Germany I saw Paulaner Hefeweizen in 1/2 liter cans - I knew the tide had turned.  Of course, bottle or can, it is still recommended to use the proper glass.  (see #4 above)

8) "Dis" the big guys.  I've never liked the derogatory term "fizzy yellow stuff."  Mass produced beers are not to my taste, but many beer-lovers still enjoy High Life and PBR.  Light lagers are by far the most difficult beers to brew, and the quality and consistency of the big brands has to be admired.  So I don't drink those beers, but I don't talk down about them either.  (Full disclosure:  Up in Montana my father grows 2-row barley for Coors, and my cousin grows 6-row for Bud.) 

9) Be afraid to pour a beer out.  During wine tastings in the Napa Valley, connoisseurs frequently pour out wine after a sip.  If you are sampling beers, don't be afraid to discard some if don't like it.  In 2009 Joycelyn and I hosted a number of local beer legends in our basement - one of which was Charlie Papazian.  I had several beers on tap, most of which he thoroughly enjoyed.  But after a few sips of the cask Brown Ale I brewed specifically for the occasion, he poured it out.  Right in front of me.  And then he poured himself another glass of my Pilsner.

10) Neglect to take good notes when brewing.  (OK, this one is specifically for homebrewers.)  A brewer should always sample their raw ingredients during the brewing process and take good notes every step along the way.  The combination of these two things can help he or she improve on their product after it is done, sampled and analyzed.  If the beer is perfect, these notes help to recreate that special beer again.  If not, they help in the refining process to zero in on that perfect home made beer.

I'm sure I've missed several "mistakes."  Please let me know if you have any that should be added to this list.