Monday, February 1, 2010

How To Sample Beer

So, you've managed to score an invite to a beer tasting; or you are going to a beer class (at 7 Saints, Thursday nights, 9:30pm, $10); or you are going to the Champaign Urbana Beer Club monthly meeting (third Wednesday of each month, 6:30, Crane Alley), and you are going to try some beers; good for you. How do you sample those beers? How do you ensure that you get invited back?

Let's say (for example) it's a Beer Club meeting at Crane Alley (doesn't matter the month), all the beers are lined up, and the bottles are being opened. You brought your share of beer (24-36 ounces) and now you are ready to start tasting.

The first thing you should do is get a sampler glass. Do not drink out of a pint glass. Do not drink out of a tulip. Do not drink out of any glass other than the sampler glasses. If there are no sampler glasses around, get the smallest glass you can find, preferably larger than a shot glass, rocks glasses work well too. You will want to drink from a glass that only holds about 2-5 ounces.

A regular small beer bottle holds about 12 oz. A bomber holds 22. Growlers can vary, as can flip-top (grolsch style) bottles. Figure out how many people are going to be at the tasting. If there is only one bottle (12oz) of a particular beer, that beer should be able to make it around so everyone gets a taste. If there are more than 12 people at the tasting, you get less than an ounce. Larger bottles and multiples of the same can allow for a more generous pour, regardless, you will only want to pour about an ounce of beer. If you take more than your share of a beer, people will start to not like you. If you routinely do it, you will probably be asked to not return.

In addition to the "more than your share" reason for taking less than an ounce, there are other reasons why you shouldn't take ... more than your share. If it's a beer you've never had before, there is a chance you won't like it. If you don't like it, and you took a "heavy" pour, then you have taken that beer from someone else. That person may like it.

At the last beer club in January, someone brought New Glarus Unplugged Old English Porter. This beer didn't taste like an American porter, it was slightly tart. There were people at the tasting who didn't like this beer. It came in a 12 ounce bottle, there was only 1 bottle, there were more than a dozen people there. If you took more than an ounce, then someone probably didn't get to try it. If you took more than an ounce, and didn't like it, then most of that was wasted, AND you didn't let someone else try it, who might have liked it.

So, that covers the selfish reasons for only taking an ounce. Don't be selfish, we beer drinkers are a happy community, lets keep it that way.

There are other important reasons why you should use a sampler, or smaller glass.

There are five things that people look for when reviewing beer:

1. Appearance, what does it look like. You don't need a lot of beer in a glass to determine what it looks like.

2. Aroma/smell, what does it smell like. You will often see beer "snobs" with their nose in a glass. This is a reason you will want to use a smaller glass. If you only have an ounce of beer in a 16 ounce glass, the aromas will be diluted with the other 15 ounces (volume) of air. A smaller glass will hold the aromas better, 1 ounce of beer, 2-4 ounces (volume) of air.

3. Mouthfeel. How does the beer feel? Is it thick, thin, chalky, drying? You don't need a lot of beer to get the feel. A tiny sip will tell you all you need.

4. Taste. What does it taste like? Again, you don't need a lot to tell you the flavors. If you want to taste a piece of steak, you don't shove a piece as big as you can chew into your mouth, you take a small amount.

5. Overall impression. (Beer Advocate says Drinkability) Did you like it? Would you have it again? Was it all that you hoped for? A beer can be great, outstanding, truly spectacular, and not live up to your expectations. Conversely, a beer can be utterly horrible, and be better than you expected.

None of the five criteria for reviewing beer requires a lot of beer. There is no standard amount of beer that you have to consume to prove that you've had a beer. I used to think I had to have 4 ounces of a beer to claim that I "had the beer". But if a beer is truly terrible, I don't need more than a sip or two to confirm it. I want to share that misery with as many people as possible.

Remember the small glass? There are other reasons why you should use a small glass. If you are using a pint glass, it is not obvious how much beer you are putting into your glass. It takes more beer to cover the bottom of the glass. An inch of beer in the bottom a glass like the one to the right, will give about an ounce. An ounce of beer in a normal pint glass will barely cover the bottom.

As you drink more and more beer, there is a chance you will start to get tipsy. As you are filling up a small glass, you can see that it fills up quickly, so you stop. If you do a "heavy" pour on a small glass, you are only taking an extra ounce, and you know that you took a "heavy" pour. If you put an inch of beer in the bottom of a pint glass, you have taken more than twice your share. You also probably didn't even realize you were taking more.

At DarkLord Day last year, I had a buddy who took a glass with him. The week before, he had lunch at Fat Sandwich, and they gave him a plastic mug. I believe the mug held a liter. He took that mug with him to DarkLord Day. He took that mug into the sampling tent. He doesn't know why he got drunk so quick, when all he did was pour beer into it until it covered the bottom of the glass. Each time he tasted a beer, he got about 5 ounces of beer. He was very rude that day. Not only did he get really drunk, but he also took more than his share of sampling beer. The drunker he got, the more he poured into the glass to a point where he could see that he had beer in it. He didn't start out his day intending to take more than his share, but he ended it that way.

Additionally, you are not entitled to more than your share of any one beer. Even if you brought the beer, you brought it for everyone, not so that everyone could watch you drink it. If you wanted it all to yourself, you should have left it at home. The uniqueness of your beer doesn't entitle you to more of another beer.

If everyone tastes the beer sparingly at first, then after everyone has had a taste, it's time to kill off those soldiers. Just because everyone has tried the beer, doesn't mean you now get to fill a pint glass though. You can refill your small glass, and enjoy the beer some more. Don't chug the beer for the sake of killing the bottle, someone else will spend the time savoring it.

Some other points to note.

Don't dump a beer out that you don't like before asking if someone else would like it.

If you dump a beer, rinse your glass. You want to remove as much of the taste you didn't like as possible. Don't ruin your next beer by having it taste like the previous one.

If you dump a beer, rinse your mouth. After you rinse your glass, drink some water. You will still have some of the previous beer in your mouth, water will help get rid of it. Don't ruin your next beer by having it taste like the previous one.

Don't feel bad about rinsing your glass often. It is acceptable to rinse it after every sample. Don't feel bad about drinking water.

I think that about covers it, to sum up:

1. Use a sampler glass, don't use a full size glass.

2. Don't take more than your share.

3. Don't dump without seeing if someone else wants it. (The more you wash your glass, the less likely someone will be to refuse taking your leftovers)

4. Rinse your glass often.

5. Drink water, rinse your mouth.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the bit about how much has to go around for everyone to taste. Something I don't think newbies think about.