The other day I was reading an article in GQ called “The New Rules of Wine,” which essentially intended to make wine more accessible and less pretentious to the average consumer. Well, why couldn’t the same thing be done for beer? But as beer doesn’t have the built up cultural stigmas (for better or worse), it seemed more important to codify the most basic elements that the average beer drinker should know when they are ordering a pint at a bar or drinking from the bottle at home. Five rules, for lack of a better word, will be revealed each day this week. Though presented in a numerical list, they are not ranked.
25. Bottles vs. draught vs. cask. Neither is inherently better than any other. It all depends on the style of beer. Americans IPAs work best on draught because the extra carbonation brings out the hops, while British IPAs become ethereal on cask. Belgian ales that have yeast added to the bottle will usually be more complex than on tap. That doesn’t mean to avoid certain styles unless they are served one way, just realize that the method can dramatically alter the beer.
24. Cans no longer reside in the beer ghetto. Two of my favourite beers in Ontario stores this year have been the Great Lakes Crazy Canuck and Central City Red Racer, both of which were canned. Cans used to be associated with inferior beers (industrial lagers, either from North America or Europe), but a lot of craft brewers are using them now. They are lighter to ship and contain less oxygen than bottles, which helps keep the beer fresh. There is no reason your camping or softball beer has to be swill.
23. Stay clear of green or clear bottles. Beer, or rather the hops inside beer, is very sensitive to light. Extended duration causes a reaction that creates a skunky character in beer. Brown bottles offer a better means of protection against this reaction than bottles with green or clear glass. That six-pack of Pilsner Urquell may look tempting, but you’re better off grabbing a couple of cans. It still amazes me that so many people love Innis & Gunn when the beers are so often lightstruck. Smarter breweries have at least started packaging their clear bottles with boxes that filter light (eg. Sleeman, Mill Street Organic), but do you really want to drink those beers regardless of bottle?
22. Check the bottling date when buying beer. Shelf life often changes the character of a beer. Just like products you find on the supermarket shelf, beer has an expiry date. While drinking expired beer may not be hazardous to your health, it can be quite painful for the tastebuds. Hops fade over time, diminishing the intended taste of a bottle. Oxygen inside a bottle can make beer go stale. For the average beer in the 4-6% ABV range, it should be consumed as close as possible to the bottling date (which can normally be found on the bottle or packaging). My general rule is to only buy beer that has been bottled in the past three months (exceptions include Belgian ales and imperial stouts).
21. Cleanliness is not just important in the brewery. Bars can severely alter the taste experience of a beer. Dirty tap lines or soapy glasses can ruin a beer just as much as a brewery that does not take sanitation seriously. Tap lines that aren’t cleaned regularly can make a beer sour, buttery or oxidized. Not only does this create bad beer, but will give a negative impression of craft beer to anyone trying an improperly served beer. Same goes for soapy glasses. As consumers, it is important to voice any complaints at establishments that are doing a poor job of serving beer. And stop from patronizing them if they don’t clean up their act.
Tomorrow: women and beer!