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Even if you consider yourself an expert when it comes to drinking beer, you could probably learn a few things about the popular beverage. We asked some beer experts to fill us in on how to get the most when you’re having a cold one (or maybe a “room-temperature” one).

What should people ask their bartender if they want to explore different beers?

Let them know what flavors you like and what other beers you’ve tried and enjoyed. A qualified bartender will take that information and run with it.  –  Josh Ervine, head brewer, Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant Maple Shade

Start by saying, “I normally drink X, but I want to learn more and try something new.” If you see a new beer on tap, ask for a small sample. Any good bartender will provide – as long as you don’t keep asking for freebies without buying anything.  –  Gene Muller, founder and president, Flying Fish Brewing Co.

shutterstock_170237327If you’re trying to develop a palate for beer, go to a brewery – they’ll have a portfolio or a full lineup of beers, and they can walk you through all their profiles and help you pick better than a bartender might. You’ll get more of an education.
–  Jamie Queli, owner/CEO, Forgotten Boardwalk

For beginners, start with a lower, lighter alcohol by volume (ABV) beer such as a pilsner or lager, and work your way toward the stronger, higher ABV IPAs.  –  Alex Cadoux, beverage manager, Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar

Tell the bartender what beers you enjoy, then they can make a recommendation based on that. If someone says they like Miller Lite, I will start them on the lightest beer we make, Bridgetown Blonde, and go from there.  –  Vince Masciandaro, owner/brewer, Village Idiot Brewing Co.

If you only drank cocktails before, tell your bartender which liquor you preferred – did you like liquors that were sweeter, did you prefer scotch, bourbon or whiskey, or maybe something a little earthier like gin? Same goes if you’re a wine drinker – did you like sweet wines or dry wines? Start off with similar tastes in beer that you preferred in other cocktails or wines.  –  Amie Clark, founder, New Jersey Girls Pint Out

Does the shape of the glass matter?

It absolutely matters, but only for higher ABV beers. For anything else, a 16-ounce pint glass is acceptable. For any beer over 8 percent alcohol, we use a tulip glass, which is a smaller glass – and classy looking as well.  –  Alex Cadoux

Absolutely. The taste you get from a beer has to do with the aroma. For a Belgian-style beer, you want a Belgian-style tulip glass, so it can breathe up at you and your hand won’t be around the glass, warming up the beer.  –  Jamie Queli

Proper glassware definitely enhances the pleasure of drinking a delicious craft beer. Whether it be slim and tall for a pilsner or a tulip for a Belgian ale, style-specific glassware is designed to make the beer look, smell and taste its best.  –  Vince Masciandaro

The most important thing is that any glass is “beer clean.” If there are bubbles on the side of the glass, that’s a nucleation site, where microscopic dirt particles allow the carbon dioxide to break out of suspension. If all the beers you see have bubbles on the side like that, find another bar.  –  Gene Muller

Why is some beer served warm and some served cold?

Some English-style beers, especially cask beer, are served at cellar temperature (about 55 degrees Fahrenheit) and are often less carbonated as they are cask conditioned, or naturally carbonated in the keg. At warmer temperatures, the palate picks up subtle nuances in the flavors of the beers that it doesn’t at cold temperatures.  –  Josh Ervine

Traditional English ales were always served at cellar temperature, 55 degrees. Generally, beer is best around 45. Any colder and the flavors and aromas are dulled.  –  Gene Muller

Every style of beer has a specific temperature it should be served at. A general rule of thumb is the higher in alcohol percentage, the warmer it should be served. Higher alcohol beers are meant to be sipped and enjoyed slowly, while lower alcohol beers are meant to be refreshing and drank quickly. Have you ever had a warm Miller Lite before? It doesn’t taste very good, which is why you often see macro beers like Bud Light or Coors served in a frozen pint glass.  –  Amie Clark

For a stout, we suggest a serving temperature higher than the typical 45 degrees, because you’re going to get coffee and chocolate notes as that beer warms up. But most bars won’t be serving it to you at that temperature, because they have to store all their beers in the same cooler, and it’s hard to regulate each specific draft line’s temperature. For me, if a bartender poured me a deep, robust stout, I would order a second drink, an IPA, to drink immediately as I let my stout sit.  –  Jamie Queli

IronHill_032Is a lot of foam a good thing?

Most craft beer should be served with an index finger’s width of foam – what’s usually referred to as “good head” – and you typically see this in beers that are served colder. Higher alcohol beers served warmer usually have very little head, as their aroma and flavors are already prominent and don’t need the additional head for aroma.  –  Amie Clark

A big no-no is if you see the bartender stick the tap into the glass so that your beer is touching the spigot as it’s filling. That’s not only gross, it’s a health violation.  –  Gene Muller

Foam is the best sign that the beer is pouring correctly and that it did not sit in a service bar window for a long time. Some styles have smaller foam than others, but all should contain some. This is due to the amount of carbon dioxide that is being pumped into the beer. No foam could mean unclean and unsanitary draft lines.   –   Alex Cadoux

Is there a common misconception about beer?

“The darker the beer the heavier and higher in alcohol the beer is.” That’s wrong – the Belgians have made it an art form to create golden beers that are high in alcohol and full-bodied. Guinness has made the perfect session ale with their stout. It’s low in alcohol and calories, and it’s got an amazingly light body.  –  Josh Ervine

The biggest misconception I hear is when someone tells me they don’t like beer, usually because they’ve only been exposed to macro beer and think all beer tastes like Bud Light. Seeing the surprise on their face when they try a beer they weren’t expecting to enjoy is like an angel getting its wings in the craft beer world.  –  Amie Clark

That beer is very filling and loaded with calories. Flavored vodkas and other types of liquors have way more calories than beer. While it may seem heavy in your stomach, it is easier for your body to break down the alcohol of beer as opposed to liquor or wine.  –  Alex Cadoux

That beer isn’t as sophisticated as wine. The diversity of beer these days is equal to and in some ways exceeds that of wine.  –  Gene Muller

Bonus Web Q&A

Do different foods pair best with different beers?

It’s a good rule of thumb that hoppy beers go great with spicy food. The slight bitterness of the beer cuts through the heat of the dish. Oh, and a good Saison goes with just about anything.  –  Josh Ervine

Lighter beers go with lighter flavors, for example Farmhouse Summer Ale with seafood or salad, Abbey Dubbel with richer meats or chocolate.  –  Gene Muller

IPAs really cut through spicy foods. We recommend a lighter, more refreshing, crisper beer, such as a Saison or a Belgian-style Witbier, for fish dishes. If you swap the two, if you put the IPA with the fish, you’re really going to start overpowering something that’s very delicate.  –  Jamie Queli

I can pair almost any food, dessert and even ice cream with beer. The only food group I really struggle with is pasta because it’s such a filling food that it doesn’t leave much room to enjoy a beer with. I love a good hoppy American IPA with pizza or wings and pairing different stouts with chocolate or cookies.  –  Amie Clark

Just like wine, lighter beers pair well with lighter foods, and heavier ABV beers and darker styles like porters and stouts should be paired with heartier meals. For example, we have a great spring salad, that is very light, with a guava vinaigrette. I would recommend a lighter ABV beer, such as a pilsner or a Saison, to go with this. For those ordering filet or short ribs, which are heavier menu items, a darker beer is acceptable. This will hold up to the bolder flavors.  –  Alex Cadoux

What’s a big beer no-no?

Dirty glassware is one of the biggest no-nos. If it has soap residue, that changes the effect of the beer.  –  Jamie Queli

Letting other people tell you what’s good. The best way to judge a beer is if you like it. If you order a second round of the same beer, that’s a great beer. Being scarce or the hoppiest beer in the world doesn’t automatically make it good.  –  Gene Muller

For me, the only big no-no is don’t be a snob about beer. The beer culture is a fun culture, so enjoy.  –  Josh Ervine

Don’t drink out of frozen glassware. The glass is usually colder than the beer, causing the beer to foam excessively when poured into a frozen glass. Sanitizer may have frozen on the glass if the glass was put into the chiller wet, and this will result in an off-taste. Ice on the inside of a frozen glass will melt off the sides and eventually rise to sit on the top of the beer, and this will dilute the flavor of the beer.  –  Vince Masciandaro

September 2016
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