What do you like about that beer?
I used to hate that question. I never knew what to say because I couldn’t tell you about hops or malt or yeast or anything specific about beer. All I knew is that I liked certain beers more than others.
We all start with our first beer, probably in college (or earlier for some of us), and if you were like me you hated it. It tasted bitter to me (and this was some sort of light macro beer) and foamy and all sorts of gross. This didn’t stop me; I kept on drinking, even the crappy macros, and was actually starting to like them. Then senior year of college my roommate introduced me some beer with flavor. It was a Magic Hat #9, not a great beer but not a bad beer either. I knew I liked this beer more than the crap I was drinking at parties, but I still couldn’t put my finger on what made it better.
I continued trying different micro and macro beers just enjoying them and leaving it at that. This continued up until Tonzi and I started going to beer bars and just trying different beers, no matter if it was a stout, wheat, pilsner, or whatever. We would get a beer and say, “this is great you have to try it” and we would share the beer (I know I know – how cute, but sometimes one of us could taste something the other wouldn’t). When we liked a beer we would ask a bartender (those bartenders can be quite knowledgeable) for something similar or what that beer is known for exemplifying and try to compare and contrast until we could start to distinguish what we liked about different beers. An example of this would be: “I like this Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA because of the hop flavor, what do you have that is similarly hoppy?” A knowledgeable bartender would then (hopefully) give you one of the many other great IPAs out there and you can start to see the difference between the types of hops. Some are sweet, some are bitter, others have a more apparent aroma, etc.; but you won’t know until you try different beer.
This is the best part about trying to learn about beers… an excuse to drink! “Hey honey I’m going to the bar to train my taste buds, be back later.” Disclaimer: do not blame me if you try this with your significant other and get in trouble. While drinking by itself is a great way to learn about beer a little light reading is also useful. bjcp.org has a ton of information about every different style of beer; in my opinion they have almost too much information because they will tell you what characteristics every style of beer should have. This is done by examining the aroma, appearance, flavor, and mouth feel. These are all great metrics for comparing and contrasting beers, but my light reading starts (and usually ends) with reading a bottle to see if the brewers gave a description of the beer. Many bottles will describe many of the characteristics the brewer was attempting to accomplish with the beer and it is a great starting place to look for the flavors they describe while tasting the beer.
Now that I’ve learned about different beers (I still feel like I have a lot more to learn, and my nose always seems to take a while to figure out what it is I’m smelling – damn you nose!) I don’t mind this question and actually enjoy explaining what I like about a certain beer. The best part about beer is that there is one for everyone. So drink up and when someone asks, do your best to explain what you like about it!