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Thursday, 31 December 2015 07:48

Tasting Your Way to Better Beer

Written by  Bryan J. Kolesar

The battle of tastes great, less filling was won by beers with great taste. Here’s how to find them.

Standard Reference Measure ChartDo you like the beer you’re drinking? Yes? Well then, good. You may not want to read more because there’s not much that’s better than enjoying what you’re sipping.

But, would you like to take your beer appreciation a step further? Do you want to know why you enjoy it? Dive deeper into the process of savoring great beer? If so, then read on ...

Serve It Up

Does glassware matter? I get asked this question quite a bit, and my answer—as with many things—is to not overthink it.

If nothing else, you’ve got to pour the beer into a glass to more fully appreciate it. So, you have to grab some type of glass. One of the best all-around designs is a snifter—it simultaneously allows for both the capture and the release of aromas as a result of the glass’s shape. Any glass with a wider bowl at the bottom and a slightly smaller opening at the top works as well.

Try this at home: Look for a brewery’s gift pack of beers that might include a piece of glassware. One of my favorites is an easy-to-hold 500 mL glass emblazoned with the brewery’s logo.

Don’t try this: Das Bier Boot. Might be fun for a college kid to drink from a boot-shaped glass but for an adult, better to display it on a shelf as a relic of your rowdy past.

Next level: Once you’ve begun your path to drinking a variety of beers, a common next step is collecting glassware specific to styles and breweries. Be forewarned—you’ll likely need a separate cabinet.

Check It Out

As you eagerly anticipate the first sip, first observe the beer. Is it pitch black? That could suggest a malt base producing dark chocolate flavors. Cloudy? That suggests an unfiltered beer and presenting a variety of yeast-driven fruit aromas and flavors. A foamy head? Excessive carbonation can interfere with the intended flavors in beer.

Try this at home: Pour several beers of the same style (e.g., Pale Ale) into separate glasses and observe how the use of different malts can affect the color of the same style of beer.

Don’t try this: Use a penlight at happy hour—unless you can handle the scorn of being labeled a beer snob.

Next level: Download an SRM chart (standard reference measure) as a handy reference to identify typical color intensity levels by beer style—from the pale straw of Pilsner to the rich dark brown hues of Imperial Stout.

Sniff It, But Don’t Scratch

Next, focus on the aroma. Sense of smell certainly plays into sense of taste, so this step is critical. By taking time to smell your beer before drinking it, you’ll encounter some variety of malt-driven aromas (roasted, smoke, chocolate), hop-derived aromas (citrus, floral, dank), and yeast-centric aromas (fruit, spice, and yes, even “funk”).

Try this at home: Pick up a few different Stouts and look for roasted aromas, notes of chocolate, or smoke. To compare and contrast, find some German Hefeweizens and try to detect yeast-driven aromas such as banana and clove.

Don’t try this: While moderate swirling is good, aggressive swirling to the point you spill the beer is unnecessary and looks sloppy. So, too, is dunking your nose in the beer.

Next level: Find beers advertised as single hop beers or single malt beers to sample. This will help you hone your senses to identify specific grains and hop varieties.

Time to Taste, Finally

As with aroma, the combination of malts, hops and yeast will affect the beer’s taste. The interplay of the type, amount, and duration of use of all three in the brewing process determines everything from the look to the aroma, flavor and alcohol level.

Barley, typically the dominant malted grain in beer, often showcases itself with a variety of hallmark flavors such as toasted, nutty, sweet and chocolate. Rye can bring a spicier character to the glass, while oats can help soften the texture—or “mouthfeel”—of a beer.

Hops, when added early in the brewing process, bring forth a harsher bitterness in contrast to hops added very late in the process, which contribute more to the aroma than flavor. And yeast, with its magical fermentation by-products, offers up a seemingly never-ending set of flavors such as bananas, strawberries or pineapple.

Try this at home: Grab some German or Czech Lagers and contrast the clean German malts with the spicy Czech hops. Or, go bigger and find some Imperial IPAs that pack a big wallop of hops sporting both pine and grapefruit flavors.

Don’t try this: Spit. Unless you’re a professional conducting a five-hour judging, you shouldn’t need to worry about inebriation from a small sampling of beers. Enjoy the full experience of the tasting from sight, to smell, to taste, to, yes, even the aftertaste.

Next level: Do a blind test. Find a trusted friend to purchase a variety of beers, pour them into opaque glassware, and allow you to sample without the prejudice of seeing the bottle labeling or colors that can taint your overall assessment.

Bryan J. KolesarHave Fun

Above all, have fun with your beer tasting. Don’t let setting expectations or stressing about the process of tasting beer interfere with your pleasure. I’ve conducted tastings where I simply ask a binary question such as: Do you like Beer A? or Do you like Beer A or Beer B better?

Enjoy the experience and the journey, for another beer awaits you at the end of each hard earned day. Cheers!

Bryan J. Kolesar, local to Chester County, has been writing about beer for over ten years and maintains a blog, The summer of 2015 brought his first published book—Beer Lover’s Mid-Atlantic: Best Breweries, Brewpubs & Beer Bars—to both online and physical bookstores. It’s a complete 416-page guide to beer-lover’s destinations of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware.