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How to Taste Beer

Maximize Your Craft Beer Tasting Experience

What's been your antidote to the heat waves sweeping the country? My solution has been a cold, frosty beer — in particular, highly perfumed craft brewed pale ales, like Russian River's Pliny the Elder, or Speakeasy's Big Daddy IPA. In light of all the bottles I've been throwing back, I turned to Matt Rutkowski, beer sommelier for glassmaker Spiegelau, to provide some tips on how to choose and enjoy craft brews. Keep reading to see his tips for tasting craft beer.

  • Try some of the leading styles of craft beer on the scene today. Matt recommends India Pale Ales (IPAs): "They are highly attractive and delicious, with a generally piney, citrusy aroma," he explained.
  • Be prepared to taste. Aside from a bottle opener and a nicely chilled bottle of beer, you'll also want good glassware (he recommends Spiegelau's Beer Connoisseur set). A great food pairing doesn't hurt, either: "Craft beers can be far more complex and versatile than wines when it comes to food pairings," he told me. One of his favorite pairings is a goat cheese salad with a Belgian-style wheat beer.
  • Study the beer's appearance. Is the beer clear, or cloudy? How dense is the "head," or the foam on top? Most beers, according to Matt, should be what he calls "bright" — not murky or pallid. "They should look intuitively correct to you," he said.
  • Note the beer's aroma. Appreciate what you smell. For instance, do you detect coffee, chocolate, or citrus? Here, the shape of a glass matters greatly, according to Matt: "You can pour the most fragrant beers in the world into a standard shake pint glass, and literally get nothing for aroma."
  • Give it a taste. At the beginning of your first sip, are you getting a sweetness, a bitterness, or a sour quality? Does it last throughout your sip, or change at the finish? Notice the texture of the beer, and how it feels when it hits your palate. "Taste is the payoff of appearance and aroma!" Matt exclaimed.

Do you, like Matt, take a cerebral approach to tasting a brew? What's your favorite style of craft beer?

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