Feature written by Brian Trivitt
What typically comes to your mind when you are shopping for beer? Or, how about before you crack open a cold one after work? Are analysis and looking back over past notes two things that came to mind? Probably not.
Believe it or not, being a beer connoisseur is actually quite challenging, especially when you have a very analytical personality. Before I get into what I analyze while sipping a beer, my analysis begins while I’m shopping all the way to ensuring the beer gets to my beer fridge or a cooler ASAP to ensure I’m not doing anything to compromise the quality. By the way, if you are wondering if I only pursue this analysis for “beer geek” styles, on the contrary, I’m much more of a traditional, go-to style of beer type of enthusiast. If you read some of my previous posts, you know I’m a lover of good, basic, reasonable ABV lagers (and some ales) and while I do enjoy obscure offerings from time to time, I don’t often seek them out nearly as much as other beer lovers. All of that being said below is a synopsis of my thought process from purchasing to actually drinking a beer:
Do you bother looking for the packaged on and/or best by date? If the date you find one the package indicates it’s less fresh than the six-pack of the same beer you bought last week, do you start checking the dates of the other six-packs on the shelf, and if they are the same or staler, move onto a different beer? When you do find a beer you want to buy that is very fresh on an end cap, do you go and try to find one in the cooler with the same, or fresher date?
Because the flavor and aroma of beer are negatively impacted by heat, especially in the summer, I make efforts to get it home into my fridge ASAP or put it into a cooler. For bottles, I try to keep it out of any light to avoid skunking.
I’ll ask myself, last time I had this beer, did I pour into a glass and if so, what kind, or did I just drink it straight from the bottle or can? As I alluded to above, I will often go back and reference notes I may have written down and certainly think about what my overall impression was the last time I had the same offering.
Believe it or not, I do sometimes just enjoy a beer straight from the serving vessel, as, for some beers, the carbonation, staying cold and overall experience lends itself better if not poured into a glass. The science of this warrants its own post, but I’m far from the only one who holds this view, as one of the most sought after beers on the planet, Heady Topper, brewed by Alchemist in Vermont literally has “Drink from the Can” in a big font at the very top of the can. That said, one thing I like to do is a comparison between drinking from the can/bottle vs pouring, so it’s fairly common for me to first drink one straight from the vessel followed by another poured into a glass, followed by another from a different glass type. Regardless of what I am drinking the beer from, I’m constantly evaluating the appearance, along with the aroma, flavor, and mouthfeel, sip after sip.
After I have finished the beers, if something seems a bit off, I’ll ask myself if it’s me, and if so, usually give my wife a taste. If something is a bit off, I will usually drink the same one the following evening to see if perhaps it was something I ate beforehand or perhaps another obscure factor affecting my taste perception. In the event something is a severe off-flavor, especially for a beer I’m familiar with, I’ll contact the brewery to let them know. On the flip side, if the beer seems to be spot on, I may cleanse my palate, wait for a while, and then try a different beer usually from a different, with the thought in mind that I want to save the remaining beers for a clean palate at a different time.
If you are the average Joe/Jane beer drinker, it’s likely you just completed a long day of work and are looking forward to something cold and refreshing that will help you relax, and what I described above probably sounds like I take the fun and relaxation out of enjoying a few beers. Admittedly, my constant analysis is not easy, but the advantage it does have is that the appreciation I have for beer of each of every style necessitates that I slow down and process each sip. On the other hand, I understand my analytical approach is certainly not for everybody, and more importantly, it’s probably for the best that not everybody is out there asking themselves numerous questions before, during, and after enjoying a few brews. I’m not even a certified Cicerone, but the number of times I’ve been asked something to the effect of “Brian, how about you just enjoy a beer and not overthink it.” If I had a dollar for every time someone insinuated I can be a bit over-analytical, I would be writing this post overlooking the ocean in Southern California rather than my modest home in northwest Austin.
The good news is that once you find some go-to offerings from quality breweries, it’s highly likely you will get a quality beer to enjoy. You don’t have to overanalyze it (leave that to me) but just remember to slow down, and appreciate what you are drinking. On that note, I am going to cut this post a bit short, as I have some light lagers to compare.