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The Bluffer’s Guide To Beer

You’ve met them. The wine buffs, the folk who speak sagely on the subject of grape varietals, vineyards and whether the best grapes are grown on the North side of the slope; whether one clone of the grape is better than another. They compare New World and Old World wines, they talk in terms of a wine’s legginess and struggle to find new ways of describing the fruitiness of a wine. They can be grassy, herbal, have overtones (or undertones) of avery fruit from apples through blackcurrant to peaches and plums. Jilly Goolden once described one wine as “composty”. Goodness, Jilly, is that supposed to turn me on or off this wine?

Of course, the world of beer is catching up with this manner of speech, but instead of grapes, we talk about the balance of hop and malt, dark vs. light beers, bottom-fermented vs. top-fermented. So herewith, a brief guide to bluffing your way through the world of beer.

Beerdrinkers Evidence

Evidence of beer experience

First of all, you need to establish some basic credentials. You will need to be able to talk about the basic types of beers, when and where they originated, how they were brewed. Have in your mind a hierarchy of these, divided into basic types, for example dark and light, malty and hoppy. Know which are maltiest, which are hoppiest.  Have in mind that there are different types of malt; dark malts, which tend to have been roasted longer, or at higher temperatures; and light malts, which are less well roasted. Then there are the many varieties of hops, some of which are considered noble, some not.

It also helps to compare an exapmple brew with their classic types. A good example of this is a stout. What is the number one stout that people will be able to identify? Guinness, that’s what.  Once you know this, you can compare any stout beer to Guinness. For instance, you could say that a particular beer has a similar body, but that it lacks the sweetness, or head, or nuttiness, of the “original”. Because Guinness is, to many people the archetype, everything can be compared and contrasted with it.

Of course you’ll need to talk a lot of rubbish to do this properly. When you’re talking about the malt in a beer, you will need to describe it. It’s not enough to say that a brew is “malty”, you have to come about and be less direct. “Sweet and toasty” works, provided there is evidence of both sweetness and, um, toast. Hops likewise have a descriptive language attached to them. “Floral” is one good descriptor when you’re describing the nose, then you need to talk about the bitterness and astringency in the taste.

Of course you can get all scientific if you want to.  Feel free to talk about IBUs (International Bitterness Units) when you discuss beers. Especially when you’re talking to the IPA-lovers, they just live to hear about brews over 60. If you brew your own beers, you’ll soon learn about the Diastatic power of a malt, too.

Then there’s presentation. The first lesson in being a successful bluffer is that you never, ever admit to drinking out of the bottle (or God forbid, a can). It’s important that you establish early on that you drink your beers from a glass. Not just any glass, either. You have to make it clear that you know the correct glass to select – drinking a pint of bitter from a standard “straight” pint glass is fine, but if you’re sampling a weißbier, you should know there’s a special glass for that. The Belgian beers frequently have “custom” glasses, and where possible, you should collect them. Myself, I have four basic types of glass – straight-sided pint, tall and curvy weissbeer, pilsner types and a couple of goblets. In addition, I occasionally select an oversized red wine globe or a large highball glass. There’s a lovely article at Wikipedia should you desire to know more about this simple, yet important element of beer drinking.

One other thing to remember is the serving temperature (a big issue for me, of course). As a general rule, light beers such as lagers should be served cold. British beers benefit from a temperature closer to 45°F, and remember to mention that many beers change character as they warm up. Be sure to criticise Americans for serving all their beers cold, in a frosted glass – you’ll win a lot of points this way (but only with a winning wink). Of course the reverse is true. Feel free ti gently poke fun at the British tendency to serve their beers too warm (extra points for mentioning that they are also flat!)

You should learn to describe colour well. Amber, copper, auburn – all are good words for the mid-range beers, and doubtless you’ll come up with suitable adjectives for the lights and darks. The head is also important. Is it dense, frothy, light? Does it hold up as you drink, or vanish like a desert dew in the morning?

Now, of course, you must learn the most important lesson of all. It’s not necessary to do all of this – the only really vital thing you should do is learn to appreciate beers from all types, and above all, enjoy your drinking safely.

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  1. 5 November, 2009 at 17:04

    Another classic from Jilly…

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