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8 ways to become a better beer drinker in 2014

CATEGORIES: Beer Editor  

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.


Chris Staten is DRAFT’s beer editor. Follow him on Twitter at @DRAFTbeereditor and email him at chris.staten@draftmag.com.


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  • Aaron C. says:

    “Sofia, don not touch my spices. They are NOT for cooking. They are for me to better myself as a beer drinker you IDIOT!”

  • Aaron C. says:

    *do not

  • stalin says:

    point number 3. Are you telling me, I am to only drink one night of the month (“devote one night a month”)… or that I can remain a drunken mess and devote just one night a month to learning a particular style. Or, further, does the title “Style a month” mean that I should just drink one style of beer the entire month, with one night devoted to an extensive analysis?

    Sincerely yours,

    William Shakespeare (aka Stalin)

  • Martyn Cornell says:

    “Download the BJCP Style Guideline app for your smart-phone” – that would be the single stupidest thing you could do to ruin your beer drinking. The BJCP guidelines are for amateur brewers’ competitions. They are NOT something to judge commercial brewers by, and to try to do so is utterly ignorant.

  • DW says:

    Martyn Cornell,
    Please inform all the ignoramuses of the important differences between BJCP amateur style guidelines and the gold standard commercial guidelines you seem to have access to.
    I also need this information because I’ve judged many commercial competitions with many BJCP judges and I need to be able to tell them how stupid and wrong they are so they stop ruining beer for everyone.
    Oooooor you could just shut up.

  • Fitz says:

    Some good ideas! I’m downloading the BJCP app for iPhone right now. That’s going to come in handy with the podcast!

  • rebo gourmet says:

    Thank you for sharing such relevant topic with us. I really love all the great stuff you provide. Thanks again and keep it coming

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