A big ‘hello’ to you in 2014. Now that’s taken care of, let’s talk about beer.
Yesterday, DRAFT’s Beer Runner tackled some great resolutions for 2014 that will expand your beer palate and reduce your pant size. I thought I’d piggyback on that with some very simple ways to become a better beer drinker this year. Not a “I’m 10 IPAs in and still standing” beer drinker, but a more informed enthusiast. It’s really quite easy and extremely casual (not to mention, fun). The key: education through conscious exploration.
1. Download the BJCP Style Guideline app for your smart-phone.
I’ve mentioned this one a bunch of times over the years. It’s hands-down the easiest, simplest way to understand the very structured world of traditional beer styles. The pocket-guide provides all the appearance, aroma, flavor and technical outlines of roughly 80 beer styles. In other words: When you taste an American pale ale, imperial IPA, biere de garde, northern English brown ale, or whatever, while reading the guidelines, you’ll understand exactly what the brewer was trying to achieve, and what characteristics your palate should look for.
2. Sample single-hopped beers.
New hop varieties are transforming styles like the American IPA. Suddenly, we have flavors like strawberry, gooseberry, passionfruit and cedar in our beer. It’s time to learn about these new varieties. The most efficient way is sampling single-hop beers (typically pale ales or IPAs that feature only a single hop variety). Mikkeller has an epic series covering a wide range of hop varieties, from the familiar like Columbus to the foreign like Nelson Sauvin. Spend a bit of cash and devote a night to sampling them all (and write down tasting notes). That way, the next time you taste New Belgium Rampant, you’ll know which hop from the Centennial-Calypso-Mosaic blend creates the tropical, melon-like flavor.
3. Style a month
This isn’t college, so there’s no need to cram. To better know beer, simply devote one night a month to learning a particular style, or genre of style. For instance: This month, pick up a range of bottles that fit into the umbrella category English pale ale. Sample with your handy BJCP app (or if you’re in front of a computer, our own beer style guide) and you’ll learn the difference between a Special/Best/Premium bitter and an Extra/Special/Strong bitter (aka ESB). Next month, tackle the range of Scottish ales, and then move onto something different, like saisons. Invite your friends.
4. Make a flavor list
Keep a list of your favorite flavors (like dark chocolate, toasted bread, lemon, grapefruit, etc.) and in which beers you found them. It sounds silly, but it’s a simple way to work out your preferences. You may just discover that you love IPAs with tropical, citrusy notes, but don’t care much for the piney, catty variety. Learning is power.
5. Take a test
You’ll be shocked at how much you actually learn when studying for the entry-level online BJCP or Cicerone exams. These tests aren’t impossible (you can do it!), and they give you a structured excuse to hit the books (and beers) a few nights a week.
6. Buy a spice rack
Or, whenever you’re navigating your collection of spices and herbs, take a moment to sample them. Breathe them in. Give them a quick taste. Think about the aroma and flavor for a second. You can’t identify chamomile in beer if you’re unfamiliar with it.
7. Buy some beer books
No need to start a library. Pick a topic that interests you (beer and cheese, homebrewing, global beer guides, etc.) and explore. My favorite topic is beer history. I find that a style’s origin (both time and place) often explains its flavor and aroma profile. Randy Mosher’s “Tasting Beer” is the book I always turn to first.
8. Break the habit
We all have our favorite go-to beer, but let’s shake it up a bit in 2014. Try swapping out your favorite porter for another one made by a brewery you’ve never tried. Do this a few times a month and there’s a good chance you’ll have three favorite porters in rotation.