Style Matters: Optimizing Your Craft Beer Experience

beer_glasses-600x309For centuries, wine lovers have known that their enjoyment of a particular varietal can be enhanced or hindered depending on the food it’s been paired with. Seemingly dozens of other factors can also affect a wine-tasting experience, from the temperature of the wine to the shape of the glass to the company you’re with.

Not surprisingly, food pairings and numerous other influences can make or break a beer, especially with today’s diverse craft beer styles and variations. I wouldn’t suggest turning down a brew because the food pairing isn’t ideal or it’s served in the wrong glass, but I’d like to offer a few suggestions to optimize your beer drinking experience.

Craft beer often brings hoppy or bold flavors. Alcohol strength, malty or caramel flavors, bitterness, sweetness and other characteristics drive beer flavor. The simplest rule, according to the Brewers Association, is to match strength with strength, so foods with strong flavors match better with bigger beers. Delicate dishes pair better with lighter beers.beer_food_guide_web1

Another hint is to look for specific interactions to either balance or intensify flavors. For example, a hoppy or bitter beer might balance well with food that is sweet or rich. A sweeter or malty brew figures to offset best with food that is spicy or acidic. Conversely, pairing a bitter beer with spicy food will actually boost the flavors. The best way to know what you like is to try a few different combinations for yourself.

Presentation also plays a role in beer taste, and that’s not just how the beer looks in your glass before it heads to your belly. How a beer is poured, its temperature and the type of glass it’s in all influence beer quality. Style really does impact substance.

Tempice+cold+beererature is another vital factor, not only with the beer, but the surrounding climate as well. The idea of having the “coldest beer in town” isn’t always good. Sure, it’s hard to beat a cold light lager served at 38 degrees at a ballgame on a hot summer day. But there are optimum temperatures for chilling different styles of beer. Cold serving temperatures help generate refreshing results from lighter styles, but darker and heavier beers often need time to warm up a bit. Most English ales and Belgian styles should be slightly warmer at around 45-50 degrees, and darker and heavier beers often need a little more time to warm up to around 55 degrees. Many bigger beers lose some of their full body and character when served straight out of the fridge or the tap.

The glass the beer is served in also matters. There is proper glassware for different beer styles, with each designed to best capture and present the beer’s aroma, bringing in the olfactory component to round out the experience. Tall Pilsner glasses are ideal for pale lagers and allow the head of tiny bubbles to maintain its perfect level without overflowing. But not even the glass can hide a careless pour. Take your time, angle the glass and let the brew flow slowly down the inside wall.

therightglassTulip glasses and smaller snifters are best for heavier and more intense “sipping” beers. Even with less carbonation in some of these brews, it’s still wise to pour carefully.

Stouts and porters using the nitrogenated method for carbonation are different. Nitro beers should be poured hard down the middle of an upright pint glass. Instead of rising from the bottom of the glass, the bubbles cascade and swirl, allowing for a more predictable head at the end of the pour and a silky mouth feel.

Perhaps the most popular beer vessel at craft breweries is the tapered “shaker pint” glass, despite the fact that its shape does little to enhance the beer’s flavor or aroma. They’re also great for collecting, and most local taprooms offer them for sale.
The rule about glass styles goes out the window when you’re sampling several brews at a single sitting. Order a flight of tasters at any craft brewery taproom and decide for yourself, starting with the lighter beers and moving toward the heavier or more flavorful brews. Let the cicerone be your guide.

 
Or head over to Pacific Wine Merchants in Upland for one of their Friday “tap takeover” events, Draft-Beer-web1where $15 gets you eight beer samples and a pint glass to take home. Not a bad way to make the most of a beer sampling opportunity.

Sid Robinson is managing partner of the strategic communications and public relations firm Robinson and Associates, LLC. (www.robinsonandassociates.us). His articles about craft beer, wine and spirits also appear in publications such as Foothills Reader and 909 Magazine.

The Educational Aspects of Alcohol

My interest in adult beverages goes back long before I was even legally able to drink alcohol. From collecting beer cans and beer signs in high school, to gaining exposure to great wines while working at the Los Angeles County Fair, to experimenting with various cocktails as a I got older, to now writing about beer, wine and spirits, it seems I’ve always had a passion for adult beverages. Moreover, I’ve always been fascinated – and curious.thumb_00409_s_15am63mzjj0409_1024

For example, my early beer tastings always included a wide variety of imported beers (and I added the bottles to my collection). And even though I hadn’t yet developed a taste for wine, I took a wine education course in college.

As I grew older and beer gave way to mixed drinks and my more advanced wine palate, I wanted to learn how to make a good cocktail. Unfortunately, the period during the 1980s into the 2000s was the “dark era” for quality mixed drinks. Pre-packaged mixers, sodas and canned juices were the norm, with little attention to quality fresh ingredients. As documented (sort of) in the 1988 movie “Cocktail,” there was more focus on flashy bartending skills than on superior drinks. The priority was on banging out as many drinks as quickly as possible.

thumb_00089_s_15am63mzjj0089_b_1024Because this is what I grew up with, the only exposure I had to complex cocktails was when I was too young to care. But over the past decade I remembered that early introduction that came from watching my dad wield creative concoctions at home, and I decided the time had come to learn how to make a good cocktail.

I subscribed to Imbibe magazine and found the BarSmarts online bartending program. Still, I’ve never worked behind a bar in my life (except with family and friends). That program opened my eyes to a wealth of valuable intelligence, beginning with the history of fermented liquor to advanced bartending practices. Fortunately, my discovery coincided with the somewhat recent resurgence of the craft cocktail. It expanded my taste for certain spirits and helped me to better understand, appreciate and mix a well-made cocktail. It’s the kind of education that shouldn’t be limited to bartenders.

My most recent bit of schooling takes me back to beer. Of course, beer today is a completely different product than it was 20, 15 and even 10 years ago. The world of craft beer grabbed me hard and has my attention. I’m not yet brewing, but I want to know how and perhaps try.

My latest plunge is an extended university course at Cal Poly Pomona that covered the inner workings of the craft brew world. The four-week “Culture of Micro-Brewery and Handcraft Beers” class explored the history of beer back some 7,000 years, to the European development of ales and lagers, to Prohibition in the United States to today’s craft beer explosion.thumb_IMG_3295_1024

Michael “Porter” Barichere, who admittedly is not a brewer but a major craft beer enthusiast, teaches the class. He also works at BevMo in Chino Hills and leads the Friday night in-store sampling sessions. Porter formed the Chino Valley Beer and Friends group to help publicize local beer-related events.

Located in a classroom adjacent to the university’s own craft brewery, Innovation Brew Works, the class is remarkably interesting; you won’t find students nodding off watching the clock waiting for the bell to ring. Almost everyone in the course I took already had a decent knowledge about craft beers, but that certainly wasn’t a prerequisite.

Talking and sampling great beer is not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. But perhaps the best aspect is the interaction between Barichere and the students, who all have the chance to talk about their favorite brews. I routinely left each class session with notes about beers I need to find and sample, and breweries I need to visit.

Another session featured a guest appearance by Koby Harris, the chief brewer at Innovation Brew Works, who shared several of the brewery’s beers and led a tour of the brewery. Nothing like watching the beer-making process in action.

Yet another session focused on the science of beer making, with a Cal Poly microbiology graduate student explaining the role that yeast plays in creating different beer styles. Different types of yeast yield different flavors and styles.

As he should, Barichere opened every class with a reminder about drinking responsibly, designating a driver and knowing the higher alcohol content that comes with craft beer. Our instructor gave rightful attention to the dangers that can come with alcohol consumption.

As far as I know, you can’t find this kind of education anywhere else locally. Check the Cal Poly Pomona Extended University website for future class offerings. Cheers.

Sid Robinson is managing partner of the strategic communications and public relations firm Robinson and Associates, LLC. (www.robinsonandassociates.us). His articles about craft beer, wine and spirits also appear in publications such as Foothills Reader and 909 Magazine.

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Dale Bros. Celebrates Lucky 13

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Dale Bros. Brewery will celebrate its 13th anniversary, but it’s the local craft beer lovers who will be lucky.

The Upland brewery will once again host “Brews and Bros.,” the region’s biggest craft beer festival for an afternoon of craft beer, food, entertainment and fun on Saturday, Jan. 23, at Cable Airport in Upland. The event will run from 1-5 p.m., rain or shine, and an early rare beer hour will begin at noon for those with VIP admission.

Beer aficionados and novice craft beer drinkers will have the opportunity to choose samples from some 100 different craft brews, wines, ciders and craft sodas. More than 40 local and regional craft breweries will be pouring their popular and specialty brews, and an assortment of food trucks, on-site haircuts, henna art and live reggae music by Upstream will also be featured.

Dale Bros. will introduce a new specially crafted anniversary beer as part of the celebration.

Local breweries Rök House Brewing Co., No Clue Brew, Hamilton Family Brewery, I&I Brewing Co., Claremont Craft Ales, La Verne Brewing Co., Sanctum Brewing Co. and Old Stump Brewery are scheduled to participate. Major regional and national craft brands will also be represented, including Stone Brewing Co., Deschutes Brewery, Ballast Point, Lagunitas Brewing, Karl Strauss, Maui Brewing Co. and Sierra Nevada, among many others.

The event will also feature wine from Galleano Winery and Joseph Filippi Winery and cider from four different cider makers.

The event has grown considerably in the two years that Dale Bros. has held its anniversary festival at Cable Airport. More than 2,000 attended last year, up from the previous year’s estimate of 1,300 people.

Proceeds from the festival benefit Claremont schools through the Claremont Educational Foundation. Last year’s event raised about $18,000 to benefit the educational foundation.

Tickets priced at $45 include a souvenir glass and unlimited tastings. VIP admission at noon, which also includes the rare beer hour, preferred parking and a souvenir bottle opener, is priced at $60. Food is available for purchase from at least eight food truck vendors.

Attendees are encouraged to make transportation arrangements or designate a sober driver.

For more information, a complete listing of participating breweries and to purchase tickets online, visit www.brewsandbrosfest.org.

Sid Robinson is managing partner of the strategic communications and public relations firm Robinson and Associates, LLC. (www.robinsonandassociates.us). His articles about craft beer, wine and spirits also appear in publications such as Foothills Reader and 909 Magazine.