BARLEY MOWAT: On How To Properly Enjoy The Bejesus Out Of High Quality Craft Beer

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by Chuck Hallett | Alright, you’ve gone out and bought yourself a bottle of hard core craft beer, let’s say Powell Street Brewery’s “Beer of the Year” – award winning Old Jalopy Pale Ale. You cram that puppy in the fridge until it’s ice cold, crack it, take a pull from the bottle and…nothing. None of this “subtle grain” or “balanced hops” that everyone’s talking about. It just tastes like…beer.

What’s up? Is it you or is it the beer? Surely it can’t be you, since you’re awesome. Clearly, this craft beer craze just isn’t what it’s cut up to be. Well, I’ve got some bad news for you sunshine: it’s you. You just committed two rank rookie mistakes when it comes to drinking beer, but don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone. It turns out that most people have no idea how to serve beer.

First off, you’re drinking it too cold. Despite what those clever mountains on the sides of crappy beer want to tell you, beer is not served ice cold. It’s not served warm either (incorrect myths about British pubs aside). It’s served anywhere from “quite cold” (40-45F for most lagers) through “cold” (45-50F for reds, porters, IPAs) all the way up to “chilled” (50-55F for imperial stouts and barley wines).

While we’re on the topic, by using the fridge-and-room-temperature approach, you’re also serving your white wines too cold (45-50F vs 35-38F) and your red wines waaay too warm (55-60F vs 72-80F).

By serving your beer straight from the fridge (35-38F) you’re killing the flavour. Colder temperatures remove much of the balance and nuanced flavours that went into making the beer in the first place. The colder the temperature, the less you can taste. Okay, then, problem solved! Let’s crack that “appropriately chilled” bottle and party on!

Whoa, cowboy! You gotta get that bad boy into a glass first. Pouring your beer into glassware accomplishes two important things: it aerates the beer, releasing volatile compounds into the air, and it allows your nose to pick up those same compounds, an act that is known in layman’s terms as “smelling”. Yes, smell is a very important factor in the enjoyment of pretty much all food and drink, yet somehow we turn a blind eye to beer in this regard.

What kind of glass you decide to pour your beer into is an advanced maneuver, just as getting it out of the bottle in the first place is the most important step. If you’re really keen, find yourself a beer tulip, but to be totally honest a mason jar is 90% as good.

Homework: grab two bottles of Hoyne Pilsner and put those puppies in the fridge. After they’re both ice cold, take one out and wait seven minutes. Open both and compare. You just made Sean Hoyne smile, which admittedly is not that hard to do.

Glassware: get a fresh growler of Powell Street Old Jalopy (be sure to congratulate David and Nicole on their recent award while you’re there–it’s a big deal). Stick in fridge. Pull out and wait 20-25 minutes. Pour some into a tulip, wine glass or mason jar. Take a pull straight from the growler and compare with the glass. Sure, the glass is less hardcore-awesome as drinking from a giant jug o’ alcohol, but you’ll find it’s much better.

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Chuck Hallett lives and works in downtown Vancouver. His passionate obsession with craft beer borders on insanity. When not attempting to single-handedly financially support the local brewing industry through personal consumption, he spouts off on his award-winning beer-themed blog: BarleyMowat.com. If you’re in a good beer bar reading this, odds are he’s sitting next to you. Be polite and say hi.

  • Mathew

    Thanks for the comments and useful reminders on the effect of temperature on taste.

    One practical point worth remembering: however perfectly chilled any beverage may or may not be at the time it is poured – a hot summer afternoon on the patio is quickly going to turn that perfect temperature into something more akin to dog piss…. (yes THAT yummmy dog piss) just as it might make your bottle of malbec taste like syrupy coolaid.

    The point being that f you are not into using white wine type coolers or cheezy senior frogs beer sleeves and don’t like the idea of pouring baby-sized drinks all the while running back and forth to your semi-refrigerated fridge you might view a “super chilled beer” as the lesser evil over drinking warm urine and the only viable option for “getting your drink on” on a hot day…… Or alternatively you might just need to drink faster :)

    Regardless, thanks for the great tips on drinking – may the patio/beach season begin!!!