Tilting a glass, watching the liquid swirl. Hovering your nose over the glass, inhaling the interplay of aromas- sharp, earthy, fruity, floral. Sipping and concentrating on the multilayered flavors. Does the taste open up as it warms? How does it pair with the taste of food?
And did you know we were talking about beer, not wine?
If you love a good glass of wine, you know that pairing wine with the right food can transform your experience of both. Beer can work the same way. And the fun part is, the varied taste profiles of beer open up so many playful flavor possibilities.
Just as with wine, people can get pretty serious about enjoying and discussing the taste of craft beer. Some of the discussion will be familiar to you: color, aroma, talking about flavors of citrus, earthiness or spice. But you and your palate are in for some new ways of thinking.
Some words and tastes that are unique to beer are hoppy and malty.
Different varieties of beer are made by combining ingredients like grain, yeast, malts and hops. A hoppy flavor can be crisp and refreshing, bitter, tangy, dry, peppery. Although there are some exceptions, pale ales, and India Pale Ales tend to taste bitter and hoppy. Try a Victory Hop Devil or a Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA if you want a really intense, bitter hop experience. Pilsner, a style of beer that originated in Germany, has a crisp flavor that is not so bitter. If you love a dry, flinty Chablis, chances are you’ll have fun at this end of the beer spectrum.
At the other end of the spectrum, are beers that are malty. Malty is talking about the roasting of grains, like barley, that gives beer the sugar it needs to ferment. Beers like stouts, porters, and dark ales, can be dark brown or opaque in color. Guinness, an Irish stout, will probably be a familiar example. Earthy, coffee-like flavors can permeate stouts and porters, based on how long the malt is roasted. Some people say that the experience of drinking stout feels heavy. Whether you like strong coffee is often a better predictor than your wine taste of whether you like stout. If you like a full-bodied, rich red, you might also enjoy darker beers.
These are just the very basic outlines of a craft beer spectrum that contains an almost baffling array of possibilities. We’re not even getting into seasonal beers, or beers that include ingredients like spice, or coffee, to complement the main flavors of the beer.
A beer tasting, whether at a class, or a tasting at a local brewery, is a great way to help you get started. Here’s a review of a class I went to. And here’s a description of a tasting. Or ask a beer-loving friend for a few pointers. People who go to tasting events and craft beer bars, tend to be gregarious and friendly, and above all, they love to talk about beer.
Elizabeth Willse is the New York Beer Pairing Examiner and Manhattan Beer Bars Examiner for Examiner.com. She is a freelance journalist who also writes features, blog content and book reviews. See more of her writing at www.elizabethwillse.com
Read more about beer:
Beer and Dinner on a Budget: Czech Beer and Noodle Casserole
Beer Tasting Notes from the Defiant Brewery
The Lager, Lime and Fajita New York Staycation