Do you really know how to drink beer?
This question sounds silly, I know. Although it’s easy to drink something, drinking beer in the most effective, efficient, enjoyable, beneficial, and celebratory way possible takes some effort. Here are a few tips.
1. Buy a beer fridge
If you’re serious about drinking beer at home, your quest cannot be fully achieved without doing one of two things. Well, three. Okay, four.
My first beer fridge. I cellar barley wines, old ales and imperial stouts in one beer refrigerator and keep my every day drinking beers and Imperial IPAs and other short-term cellared ales in a second refrigerator.
1. Procure a beer fridge (capable of sustaining a temperature of around 55 degrees) for cellaring beers that you want to age for maturing, or just for keeping your beers handy for everyday consumption. That, or take over your kitchen’s fridge and keep your food in ice chests. Because we all know that you should never put good beer in an ice chest for any extended period of time. Refrigerators designated as “beer only” is a man’s refuge and is extremely important to maintain the health of a serious beer drinker. It’s the one, holy place where you keep all sacred things protected from temperature fluctuations and light. Your own private cave. Remember that only so many bottles can fit into a single refrigerator. Keep a thermometer in the fridge so you can monitor the temperature. Keep it as close to 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit as you can and whatever you do, don’t let it get anywhere near freezing.
2. Just turn your house’s thermostat down to 55 degrees and store your beer in closed boxes. Keeping your beer boxed allows you to protect your tasty treats from harmful light. If you can’t afford (or get away with) keeping your entire house at that temperature all summer, install a window unit in a small room. You can also keep your beer in your garage or other non-insulated room during the colder months or underground in a basement.
3. If you’re feeling adventurous enough, invest your time in digging a cave for your beer in or buy a house with a cave on the property. If you choose to dig your own cavern, be sure to contact your local utilities companies (electric, gas, and water) to make sure there aren’t any electric, water, gas, or sewage lines anywhere near where your cave will be. Temperatures remain cooler throughout the year underground, so this is a perfect solution… and you don’t have to pay to condition the air. Just don’t do anything to make your house collapse.
4. Live in a beer store. 🙂
Again, it’s best to keep the temperature as close to 55 degrees as you can while aging, then (depending on the suggested serving temperature of the beer), you may have to cool it down or warm it up prior to serving. Some people say a good rule of thumb is to cellar your beer at the temperature at which it should be served, but that would require multiple cellaring locations depending on how many styles of beer you’re cellaring.
Colder temperatures slow down the aging process. If you’re interested in aging beers, here’s a tip. Aging the maltier, higher-alcohol beers is usually your best bet. Hoppy beers lose their hop character over a long period of time, so there’s more of a chance that an imperial IPA, for example, could actually be worse after a couple years of storage than an imperial stout, which would improve after a couple years of storage. (Which is why I usually age an imperial IPA for no longer than a year, giving just enough time for the beer to mellow.) Aging a maltier beer usually results in a more balanced and classy experience when you finally pop the cap (or cork).
Which reminds me: always keep your bottles upright unless you’re storing a corked bottle and you don’t mind corky qualities in your beer. Corks can dry out and let oxygen in, ruining your beer, so it is allowable to set corked beers on their sides. Don’t lay down your capped bottles, however, so the beer stays away from the cap and the yeast living at the bottom of the bottle isn’t agitated when you tilt it over to drink it.
Your best candidates for cellaring are imperial stouts, old ales, barley wines, and heavily smoked beers/Rauchbiers. As I mentioned, imperial IPAs are cellarable, but I don’t suggest aging any longer than a year unless the beer has an extremely high alcohol content.
2. Order flights
If you ever go to a brewery or brewpub or restaurant that makes its own beer that offers sample flights, never pass up the opportunity to order one of these. Flights usually aren’t any more than the cost of two beers, but ordering one of these allows you to sample 5-6 (or more) beers for the same price. Sure, you may not get the same volume (or you may), but it’s so much more fun to experience more of the menu.
Sometimes the bartender may serve small samples for free if you want to sample before you buy a pint, but the bartender may get a little annoyed if you sit at the bar and sample everything they have on tap. You can get a better taste, and not piss off your server, if you order full 4-ounce samples and pay for them.
3. Buy more than just one
When I try a new beer, I prefer buying a six-pack (if it’s available) as opposed to an individual bottle, a sample, or a pint on draft because when you have a full six pack you have more opportunities to experience more of the characteristics/qualities of the beer because you’ll have more opportunities to drink the beer under different circumstances and conditions.
You can have it cold, straight out of the fridge, which may subdue some of the flavors (depending on the style). You could drink one while barbecuing, set it down on a table and forget about it, and then 20 minutes later you say, “oh shit, I forgot about my beer,” and after you pick it up you realize that it’s warm. It could taste like a totally different beer! (Something less likely to happen if you order a single pint from a pub… unless you’re distracted by a girl.) Over time, different flavors and aromas naturally present themselves. Enjoy the ride.
Also, once you get comfortable with drinking something over and over again, eventually you discover something new about it. Happens to me all the time. It’s alot like getting to know somebody. There’s the first impression and then there’s really getting to know them. You could spend an hour getting to know someone and think they’re a real ass, but if hang out with them for a week you may find that they’re really damn cool. Or conversely, they could seem really cool up front, but over time they can really get to be too much. Beer can be the same way.
If you have the opportunity and you want to experience all of the gobs of types of beers out there, then buy a full six-pack (or even a 12 if you’re fairly certain you’ll like it) because it makes a beer much more enjoyable than just having a bunch of first impressions or one night stands. Buy the cow… you can always get a divorce and move on to the next six-pack.
If you’re out for beer at a pub, you know you’re going to be there long enough for a couple drinks, and there’s a beer on tap that you really like, order a pitcher of it for yourself. Don’t bother to ask for a glass. Drink it straight out of the pitcher… it’s tons of fun and you look way cool doing it. It’s the next best thing to drinking out of one of those huge German beer steins since pubs don’t usually have glasses any larger than a pint in size.
4. Buy a growler
If a brewery or brewpub won’t let you bring home a bottle of their beer, sometimes they’ll sell and fill and/or straight up fill growlers and let you take those home. Growlers are half-gallon size bottles that you can buy at homebrew supply shops or often breweries or brewpubs, the latter being a much cheaper option if you wish to purchase one.
Some breweries are snobby and will only fill a growler if it has logo on it, but others don’t care. Usually a brewery or brewpub will only sell you a growler filled with their own brew… for reasons not known to me. Purchasing a filled growler is a great option for taking a local brewery’s beer home with you. Just be sure to sample the beer before you purchase an entire half-gallon of it. On average, beer in growlers keeps for about a week, so start drinking it right away.
5. Beer makes for a great souvenir
Next time you go out of town, bring an empty suitcase or pack lightly with shock-absorbent clothing. Make sure the suitcase has strong sides and won’t cave in if something heavy ends up on top of it. Doing so allows you to bring home lots of yummy bottled goodness. As long as you do a good job of packing your bottles in socks and bubble wrap and anything else soft and shock absorbent enough to suppress airline baggage handler abuse, this is a great way to bring beers home that you can only find local to where you’re traveling to.
Before I go out of town, I look up beer retailers in the city that I’m traveling to. Then, I pack bubble wrap in my bag and leave plenty of space for future stowaways. Once I arrive at my destination, I go beer shopping. Bombers are easiest to pack and bring home because you don’t have to commit to packing an entire 6 pack of beer in your suitcase, and that allows you to bring home more selections. Once you and your beer make it home, give the beer overnight to unwind. The tossing and jarring and bumping and such can potentially make for a violent bottle opening experience.
You can also purchase Styrofoam travel cases designed specifically for this purpose. If you subscribe to a beer of the month club, the kind in which some company you’ve never before heard of sends you a box of beer that you most likely have never before heard of every month, save a few of the boxes for this purpose.
6. Start a beer glass collection
It’s important to have the right glass for the right beer if you want to fully experience the better qualities of a beer. Some beer bars or pubs have special “buy the beer, keep the glass (while supplies last)” specials. This is, of course, the best way to get your hands on glassware, especially when some beer stem/glassware can be pretty pricey if purchased separately. More information on beer glasses can be found in the following chapter, “Beer Glasses”.
7. Use clean glasses
Oils, dirt, dust, detergent, or other foreign particles stuck to a glass can have a negative effect on the appearance of the beer, the flavor, and potentially even the aroma. Don’t sacrifice the well-being of a good glass of beer to a dirty glass. You wouldn’t eat a well-prepared meal on dirty dishes, would you?
8. Drink water
Whether you’re at home or out on the town (especially the latter), it’s important to drink water while drinking beer. Drinking a cup or glass of water in-between beers keeps you hydrated, preventing hangovers or general dehydration troubles. Dehydration can ruin a good night of extended drinking. Water can also help cleanse the palate in-between beers and, from my experience, appears to increase sobriety. It doesn’t remove the alcohol from your bloodstream or water it down (the alcohol isn’t going anywhere), but if you remove dehydration from the equation, you’ll be much happier.
9. Keep a beer log
If you plan on continuing an exploration of beers, it’ll help having a log of all the beers you’ve had. Trust me, after a while it’s impossible to remember what you’ve had and haven’t had. You can even go one step further and take notes on the beers you drink. Rate them similar to the way the beers in this book are rated so you know whether a beer is worth drinking again. Use a spreadsheet or blog or register for an account at websites like RateBeer.com or BeerAdvocate.com, which allow you to review beers and view lists of your conquests.
10. Participate in local events and take brewery tours
The only thing better than enjoying your favorite beer at home after a long day of work is enjoying your favorite beer at your favorite brewery after a long week of work.
Google local breweries, brewpubs, beer bars, beer stores, and homebrew supply stores and look or events calendars. Get social, meet other beer drinkers, discover local beer gems and start a ritual. Subscribe to brewery, pub, or store e-mail blasts to stay current of upcoming events and local beer news. And if you’re lucky, your local brewery will probably have recurring open houses at which you can not only check out their operations and meet the staff, but also drink free beer. How can you turn down free beer? Get out there and be active!
Not a party person? No problem, you can just join a beer club. Sometimes there’s only so much you can learn, so much you can experience, before having to search someone out for assistance. Joining a beer club is a great way to not only experience new beers and learn things you didn’t already know about beer, but it also allows you to share what knowledge and experience you have with members less experienced. There’s nothing like being a mentor, even if just for a moment, to an open-minded and willing junior drinker. As they say, sometimes you don’t truly understand something until you are able to teach it.
The most common type of beer club meets on a regular basis at a private location (a member’s residence, common area, secret hideout, the shed behind the house), where each attending member brings a six-pack or bomber to share with other attending members. This simple, yet effective method allows you to try a number of different beers, each of which may have been difficult to locate, for the low cost of the six-pack or bomber that you brought along. It’s way cheaper than if you were to try this at a pub… unless the pub sells flights, and even in that case you’ll be getting much less volume for about the same price.
Depending on how active the club is, beer clubs can also help introduce you to local pubs and breweries, can provide a group of friends to meet up with if you ever want to get out and have a pint, and can give you opportunities to attend local events that you may not have known about otherwise. Oh, and don’t forget: beer snob friends can be a wealth of information (once you learn how to identify what’s opinion and what’s fact) and are incredibly useful in upping your knowledge of styles, breweries, developments, brewing techniques, home brewing, and beer-related events.