Five years ago, when I fell for craft beer, I fell hard. After months of hitting beer festivals, meeting brewers and drinking plenty of new ales, I was ready to commit to my beer-lationship. I became a beer columnist, and later, a Certified Cicerone (aka beer sommelier). But forget the expert stuff—it was practicing six fundamentals that truly revolutionized my drinking experience.
So if you’re ready to take your love to the next level, here are my six Cicerone Tips to help you do beer better:
Warm it (a little)
Besides pale lagers and cream ales, most beer styles are not meant to be drunk straight out of the fridge. Cold temperatures dumb down your tongue’s taste receptors, and the beer’s scrumptious aromas. Try your favourite brew after at least five minutes out of the fridge and see how the flavour opens up.
How long you should take your beer out of the fridge before opening it:
COLD: Wheats and European lagers—5 minutes
COOL: Pale Ales, Ambers, Tripels, Stouts and Porters—10 minutes
CELLAR: IPA’s, Bitters, Brown Ales, Saisons, strong Stouts and Porters—15 minutes
You wouldn’t drink wine from the bottle, so why are you still treating your precious brewskie as a second-class citizen? Pouring your beer into a glass ups the enjoyment factor in two big ways. First, it releases carbonation, so you can say goodbye to bloat. Second it creates a foamy top that traps beer’s beautiful aromatics and protects it from beer-spoiling oxygen. My go-to for nearly every beer style is the tulip glass.
Head. Learn to dig it
As Canadians we like our beers poured right to the top of the pint glass—just scrape off the foamy waste, right? Wrong! A thick head (say 1.5 to 2 inches) is a thing of beauty: it traps aromatics and protects from ale-spoiling oxygen. Plus those bubbles make for some good mouth texture. Aw yeah, mouth texture. To create optimal head, pour beer at a 75-degree angle, tilting the bottle straight up once your glass is filled up about three-quarters of the way.
Once you’ve poured your beer into the glass, smell it. Immediately! Otherwise its delicate volatile aromas will disappear. Our tongues only pick up six different flavours, but our noses can discern over 10,000 aromas, so a couple of hound dog-like sniffs are guaranteed to deepen the beer’s deliciousness. The ale’s flavour changes as it warms, so remember to sniff it again later, too.
Find a few friends who appreciate beer (or food, or wine) as much as you do, then sit down and taste beer together. I love to invite a half-dozen friends over, and have them each bring a bottle of the same beer style—IPA’s for example. Wrap each bottles and pour each one “blind.” This will help you evaluate your brew in a neutral light, and get deeper into a style.
When finding the perfect dish for your beer, you’ll be halfway there is you can find a dish with equal intensity—for beer that means not just its alcohol level but the intensity of bitterness, roasty malts or spice. Then, get an idea of the flavours in your brew and match it to dishes with complimentary flavours. Beer’s bubbles are also a great dinner companion as they scrub the palate clean of fatty, creamy, rich fare.