How to drink beer

People have been drinking beer for millennia, why do I think I need to explain how to drink beer?! This post is necessary because, sadly, advertising of the mass brands has led people down a fatally wrong path.


The difference with real beer

Real beer is meant to be sipped and savoured from a glass, not slammed down in quantity or swigged straight from the bottle. Ales are meant to be served at cellar temperatures – that’s 55F to 65F, or 13C to 19C. A good lager or Pilsner (that’s another post, but they are one and the same) should be served at 45F / 7C, not straight out of the fridge or from a bucket of ice water.


Why is serving temperature so critical?

Ales have a lot of potent aromatic compounds that you will never smell unless it is served at the correct temperature. Without these aromatic compounds you may as well be holding your nose, because you will lose up to 60% of the flavour. And without these wonderful aromatics, your food pairings will never achieve the heights of awesomeness that is possible.


So I can’t drink it from the bottle?

Glassware is as important as serving temperature.  You wouldn’t serve an expensive wine from a pint or shot glass, so allow your beer to benefit from the right glass.

There have been entire volumes written about glassware, but as a rough rule of thumb: standard strength beers are fine when served in a Shaker pint. Higher alcohol beers like Imperial Stouts, Baltic Porters, Barleywines, or any other beer with Imperial, Double, Triple, or Quadruple in its name, should be served in a snifter (brandy glass).  A red wine glass will do.  Belgian beers are an entirely different category, but if you can buy a gift pack with the glass for that beer, go for it, otherwise go for a snifter.


It’s in the glass. Now what?

Hold the beer up to the light to see the colour and carbonation, swirl it in the glass, have a good smell to lock in the aromatics, take a long sip and swirl the beer around in your mouth.  Swallow, then draw in some air through your mouth. Take your time, let the beer warm up in your hands – a good beer will still taste good at room temperature, just different from when it is cold.


Why all this fuss over drinking beer?

This way you will know the colour, the smell, the first,  mid-, and after-flavours. The intake of breath after swallowing will allow those wonderful aromatics to enhance the taste.  (And yes, I said swallow the beer, not spit it out as you would in a wine tasting. Spitting it out is a horrible waste of a great drink, after all!)


Anything else?

Share with friends!  Real beer is an experience, and everyone experiences a beer differently, so tasting something new with friends is a great way to really tease out all of the nuances. You’ll also find many excellent beers served in 22 oz or 750 ml bottles – these sizes are definitely for sharing as they don’t keep well once opened, so invite a friend round or share with someone special.


Final guidelines

So, here is my summary on how to drink real beer:

  • serve ales at 55F to 65F
  • use a glass appropriate for the style
  • drink it like you would a fine wine.


Glassware links

If you are interested in learning more about which glasses to use while trying out some real beer, you may find these articles useful.
An excellent article at the Free the Hops website.
Wikipedia’s take on beer glassware

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