Choosing a Beer that’s right for you

There is such a wide range of beer available these days that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the choices on offer.

How do you find your way through this when you’re out drinking, dining or shopping? Here are some basic principles, which link to the sensory characteristics of beer, to help you on your way and guide you through the vast beer landscape:

1. Colour
– Like wine beer can be placed in 5 Colour or Beer Groups which bring beers of similar colour together in ranges of Blond, White, Amber, Dark or Flavoured beers. Granted the last group could be any colour including the main 4 others but it is determined by the added natural flavouring from fruit, vegetables, herbs & spices, chocolate .. In general the colour of a beer is determined by the roasting of the malt or the level of filtration and so is a directly linked with how the beer tastes (and not strength as many believe).

2. Beer Type
– Within each of the colour or beer groups there are 5 different types of beer determined by the way they have been fermented, which is reflected in the sensory characteristics of the beer especially the mouth feel of the beer. Cold/Bottom fermented Lager beers, Warm/Top fermented Ale beers, Spontaneous/Open fermented Wild beers or Mixed fermentation Hybrid beers and then Blended beers which are blended after the fermentation so actually more a cocktail of different beers

3. Beer Style
– The different beer types can be sub-divided into Beer Styles which group beers with similar fermentation together and then use the different sensory characteristics derived from the use and application of different brewing ingredients and/or different brewing methods to identify them, so we get classic styles such as

Pilsner Lager beers, Pale Ale beers, Stout Ale beers, White Wheat Ale beers… 

4. Beer Style Variety
– Based on their regional origin there will be varieties within a Beer Style because of the slight differences, often in terms of the intensity of the sensory characteristics, that reflect local climate, ingredients and tastes

Bohemian/Czech or German Pilsner Lager beers, English Pale Ale or American India Pale Ale beers, Irish Dry Stout or English Oatmeal Stout Ale beers, Belgian Witbier or German Hefe-Weiss Wheat Ale beers…

So when you are looking for a beer ask yourself the following questions: What colour of beer; What type of beer;  What style of beer; do I feel like?  and this should lead you to your beer of choice.

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Tasting Beer Like a Pro

I’m often asked if there is a correct way to do a beer tasting. There are lots of views out there but this tried and tested method will allow you to assess beers like a pro.

Always pour the beer into a big wine glass; the shape allows you to swirl the beer and pick up all the different characteristics. Make sure that the beer is the right temperature and not too cold because that affects its sensory character. Finally before you pour just check whether it should be served with the sediment (unfiltered) or first without (bottle conditioned).

POUR your beer with a generous foamy head to release the natural carbonation and aroma-flavour compounds, but leave space to be able to swirl the beer in the glass.

LOOK at the colour and the clarity of the beer by holding it up to the light. Beer colours range in intensity from Blond, White, Amber or Dark or can be colourful for flavoured beers where the natural flavoring like fruit, vegetables or herbs and spices often determine the colour of the beer. The clarity of the beer is created by the degree of filtration from cloudy, opaque and translucent to crystal clear. Colour is a direct reflection of the ingredients and brewing process.

SNIFF; putting your nose in the glass, to get the first sense of the beer, swirl and repeat the sniff. Place your hand on top of the glass to close it off before swirling it again. Now bring it to your nose and lift your hand to release all the aromatics from the beer. Beer has a wide variety of aromas so try and decide whether it is fruity, floral, herbal, roasted, smoked, zesty … Not all beers are made to smell nice so don’t be afraid if the smell is a bit funky, unless the beer is not right of course.

SIP the beer rolling it around your mouth and letting it rest on your tongue before swallowing it. This is all about the body, texture and carbonation of the beer so see how it feels on your tongue.

SLURP this time by sucking in air as you sip your beer to intensify the taste and flavour of the beer. Try to determine the flavour profile or in other words what flavours can you taste and which order. Beer has a beginning, a middle and an end so there’s no spitting out the beer as you would with wine. Beer has 5 different basic tastes: Sweet, Bitter, Sour, Spicy and Savoury with varying degrees of intensity and flavours.

SWALLOW because the aftertaste is an integral part of the flavour profile; consider the intensity and duration or linger of the after taste, but key is again the mouth feel.

ASSESS … the moment of truth, do you like it or not? You can judge beer on its own merits or its desired style characteristics which can be challenging and not your preferred taste, but at the end of the day it is your decision whether you want to drink it or not! HAPPY BEER TASTING…

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Bluepoint Brewing, Long Island

 

bluepoint logoMy first visit to Long Island, via the LIRR, was not only an enjoyable and pleasant surprise, but the discovery of a gem of a craft brewery in the little harbour town of Patchogue. Situated on a boat yard spread out in a variety of hangars and wooden constructions, Bluepoint is brewing up some great beers.

What seems to be an overgrown home brewing hobby class at first, is actually a group of dedicated and passionate people who understand what brewing great beer is all about. Take away the warm and friendly reception, sampling beers with the team and the master brewer in the tasting room, enjoying the late harvest sunshine and some great food truck dishes, together with locals who pop in for a beer when walking the dog, you are left with a great product that the beer drinking world should know about.

Bluepoint brews beers which are balanced, sessionable, full of flavor with a great taste of hops, but without the abrasive numbing effect now associated with so many American craft beers.

It was so refreshing to talk and share a beer with a brewer who knows and understands beer styles and is not trying to reinvent the wheel, just make it better from time to time. It is unheard-of that a craft brewer can create great Lager beers with equal expertise and consistency as the big boys. Their great Helles and Vienna-style amber lager beer,  took me back to Oktoberfest in Munich when we enjoyed some great German bar specials over lunch.

For the Hop Heads there are, to name a few I tasted, the Hoptical Illusion and Mosaic and they are working on a new project with Wet hop beers, which I can’t wait to taste. However this is again about balanced beers with hop flavors so if you’re after ‘the-destroy- my- pallet- with- silly IBU’s’ you might be disappointed, but if you understand the function of hops in beers a new world of enjoyment awaits you.Try the Pumpkin, Oatmeal Stout and the Belgian Strong Ale or Triple and whatever tickles your fancy in the candy store tasting room in the brewery.

I’m not going to list all the beers they make (but you can check it out on the brewery website). I want to come back and stay over as it will take me a few days to fully enjoy and appreciate what this brewery is offering. I am curious to taste more beers like the ones matured in the Bourbon cask or to take me back to European beers from their Firkin casks.

hello from bluepointWhen you’re nearby pop in or seek them out if you want to drink American Craft beers, without having to wonder whether you actually like what’s in your glass.

Bluepoint brewery people I salute you and thank you.

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