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love at first sip, a how-to
open beer, drink beer, enjoy beer, repeat.
by erik lars myers (@TopFermented)
8.16.02
general


Beer. I love it.

Sit me down with an ale, stout, porter, lager, lambic, pilsner, kölsch, IPA, weissebier, bitter, or dunkel. I'll be happy. I don't care if it's got a lemon in it, or blueberries floating around, or a piece of watermelon wedged in the top. Put it all down in front of me. Make it a Paulaner, Fransiskaner, Erdinger, Warhephensteiner, Tucher, Pyramid, Red Hook, Sam Adams, Harpoon, Catamount, Saranac, Omegang, McEwans, Samuel Smith's, St. Provo Girl, Lindeman's, Flying Dog, Guinness, Murphy's, Sea Dog, Gritty McDuff's, Yuengling, Bass, Harp, Newcastle, Anchor, Killian's, Shipyard, Allagash, Rogue, Murphy's, Brooklyn, Magic Hat, Sierra Nevada, Pete's Wicked, Fuller's, Warsteiner - Die Königin der Biere, Pilsner Urquell, Hoegaarden, or a McSorley's (to mention a few). I'll drink 'em all, one by one.

Beer is one of the world's oldest beverages. In 1992, the University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed an organic residue from the inside of a piece of pottery dated circa 3500-3100 B.C. Their findings provide the earliest known chemical evidence of beer. The Egyptians were making beer before other civilizations had figured out how to make sticks with pointy ends to catch food.

While most of the world has been going about with their beery traditions ever since, we Americans had a stoppage in our beer consumption because of an unpleasant happenstance called Prohibition. There were 1300 breweries operating nationwide before Prohibition. Only 162 survived, and since Prohibition has been repealed, the number has only gone down -- until very recently. In 1985, there were 21 craft breweries in America, including microbreweries, contract breweries, and brewpubs. Today, finally, there are over 1,000 breweries in the U.S. and some analysts think that the number could double in the next few years.

I'm damn happy about it.

I'm no alcoholic. I'm not the kind of guy who drinks a 30-pack of Busch Light on a Friday night before going out to the bar (see my ex-roommate). No, I'm a biereisseur. I drink beer like most people drink wine. I don't swill it, slug it, or shotgun it. I appreciate it. Getting trashed is just a happy side effect.

There are a lot of people I know who used to tell me that they didn't like beer. This is usually because they'd only ever had a warm cup of Milwaukee's Best Light Ice at a frat party in college while some freshman was puking on their shoes. I've converted quite a few of my friends, and they thank me for it. It's a quick program. I can usually do it in three or four beers. So now I'm here to do it to you. It's good for anybody from the amateur Friday-night-only-wine-cooler-drinker up to the veteran I-can-drink-you-under-the-table-any-night-of-the-week-er.

It starts like this: Go get yourself a beer. Any beer.

An important tip on beer selection? Avoid most of the regular domestic American beers. Many of them are force carbonated and use rice or corn sugars instead of regular malts. They're okay, but they're not great.

Pick something that's either on tap or comes in a brown bottle. Clear bottles and green bottles can allow light to filter into your beer and cause an unpleasant chemical reaction with the hops, creating a flavor that smells and tastes much like you would imagine a skunk tasting (thus a skunked beer, aka Heineken or Corona). Sometimes it tastes like Band-Aids, but you usually only get that in homebrew. It's not nice.

Got your beer? Good. Pour it into a glass. Down the middle, not down the side. The effervescence rising through the beer releases a lot of nice flavors that are a little harder to detect when you drink straight from the bottle or pour to reduce head. You might have to take a break in the pour to let the head settle a little bit. Don't worry, you're just helping your beer enjoyment, not hindering it.

Now, hold the glass up to the light. Look at the color. Each beer has its own color. Everything from lagers so light that you'd think you were drinking ginger ale to stouts so dark that light can't pass through it at all. Most ales will have a nice amber color that warms the heart. Heffeweissen are bottled without removing the yeast from the beer, so they'll be cloudy, but just as colorful as their brethren.

Next, smell it. Hold the glass up underneath your nose and sniff lightly. Beer is like wine (in many, many ways); different yeasts and hops all contribute specific qualities to beer. The smell might be fruity, or hoppy, or even have overtones of coffee or molasses. Breathe it, enjoy it.

Finally, take a sip. Feel the carbonation in your mouth. Is it really bubbly, like a Belgian (made with candy sugars!), or smooth and rich like a stout (made with lots and lots and lots of malt)? What's it taste like? Does it match the aroma, or no? Many of the darker beers will have a coffee-ish or nutty flavor. Indian Pale Ales can be extremely hoppy and can be quite bitter -- if you like that sort of thing. There is no end to the different flavors you can experience through trying different types, and even just brands, of beer.

The last step is, perhaps, the most important. It runs like a flow chart. Question: Did you like the beer? If yes, go get another one, repeat until sauced. If no, get a different one, for Pete's (Wicked) sake, repeat until sauced. There is most definitely a beer out there that you will like, it's just a matter of finding it.

Of course, be smart. If you can't find one that you like within a few beers, don't torture yourself. Give me a call, ask for a recommendation. I'll be happy to help. And in return, you can just buy me a beer.


ABOUT ERIK LARS MYERS

Writer, beer drinker, brewer. Not necessarily in the order. For more, check Top Fermented and Mystery Brewing Company.

more about erik lars myers

IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...

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a question answered.
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topic: general
published: 8.5.02


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sorry occifer - this alcohol had more beer in it than i thought
by erik lars myers
topic: general
published: 9.19.05





COMMENTS

daniel castro
7.29.02 @ 5:38p

Oh yeah....beer rules! Anyone cares to share what their favorite brand is?

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 12:07a

It really depends on the style. I listed a few of my faves, there.

The only one on that list that makes absolutely no beer I like is Omegang (and I might have spelled it wrong, now that I think about it).

russ carr
8.16.02 @ 12:22a

My folks came by this evening and dropped off a copy of a Northwest regional beer newspaper, with circulation in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. I have wonderful parents who nuture their child by pointing him to good beer. This is a favor returned; they drank nothing but MGD (and often the Beast) before I did a semester in England.

I'm a big fan of bitters and hoppy ales. Of particular note is Bluebird Bitter, from theUK.We're also blessed with an outstanding brewpub here in St. Louis, which bottles some of its wares -- and offers the rest in one-gallon growlers to go.

But the best beer I've ever had -- Guinness stout, "fresh from the nipple" at the brewery, St. James' Gate, Dublin. If you're a Guinness fan from drinking it on draught here in the states, let me assure you -- what you get in Dublin is transcendant.

matt morin
8.16.02 @ 12:27a

My best friend lives in Portland and is a really great brewer. His stuff rocks.

Some faves:
Samuel Smith Oatmeal Stout
Anderson Valley Boont Amber
Guiness (of course)
Bass

juli mccarthy
8.16.02 @ 12:31a

My husband is a beer snob, i.e. if you've ever heard of it, it's far too common a product for him. (I exaggerate, but not by much.) I have sampled all the beers he has, and so far I don't like any of 'em. I did tell him that Guinness tastes like carbonated coffee, but the only effect this pronouncement had was to land me on the sofa for the night.

[edited]

robert melos
8.16.02 @ 12:53a

When I used to drink, it was either Corona (cause the nice bartender would stick a wedge of lime in it) or Miller. Then eventually Miller Lite (had to watch the weight). There is a microbrewery near me in this little stake house (J. J. Bitting's), which has some unusual beers. Pumpkin was my least favorite of these.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 8:17a

Yeah, I really can't stand that whole pumpkin beer in the fall thing. I think it's really vile.

On the other hand, people who really like the pumpkin flavor? Only good things to say about pumpkin beer.

jael mchenry
8.16.02 @ 8:50a

I happen to be a big pumpkin ale fan, but it's not that I think it tastes like pumpkin. There's something they do with the spices.

Anyway, can't wait for the season to come around again so I can get a pint at Cap City. Means fall's really here.

sarah ficke
8.16.02 @ 9:31a

I missed out on the pumpkin beer last year so I can't wait for it to show up this fall, just to see if I like it.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 9:33a

It tastes like pumpkin pie, but beer. I think the reason that I'm not a huge fan of it is because of the huge amounts of nutmeg and cinammon they generally put in it. It kinda overpowers everything else.

Unless there's a pumpkin beer that isn't quite so spicy as the one I've had.

Anyone? Suggestions?

jael mchenry
8.16.02 @ 9:51a

If you have to go with bottles, Blue Moon's not bad. Or Post Road. But my fave is Buffalo Bill's, which they sell at the Sunset, or at least they did a few years ago.

But when I ordered it the waiter laughed at me, so... take that as you will. I think it might also be spicier than the others.

sarah ficke
8.16.02 @ 9:57a

Mmmm... Blue Moon. The best wheat beer I ever had was at the Crescent City Brewery in New Orleans. That was some good stuff.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 9:57a

He laughed at you?

Bastard. Who was it?

Post Road, I've had -- I didn't know that Blue Moon made one, though.

(Did you know that Blue Moon is made by Coors?)

[edited]

jael mchenry
8.16.02 @ 10:00a

Actually, I think his name was Eric.

(Made by Coors? I didn't know.)

My favorite beer used to be Magic Hat #9. Lightish (in a lagery way) with a purportedly apricot flavor. Now I'm not so much with the fruit beers, though, and my standard's a Harp.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 10:03a

See, if he spelled his name right all would have been good.

Magic Hat #9 -- great stuff.

Give Pyramid Apricot Ale a try -- it's even better.

[I swear I will post without editing at least once today]

[edited]

sarah ficke
8.16.02 @ 10:06a

I know Blue Moon is made by Coors, but I'm willing to stick up for it anyway.

Magic Hat #9 is tasty, but anyone who likes fruit beers should try Lindeman's (Erik will back me up on this).

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 10:09a

Yes, I will!!

Fantastic, amazing, beautiful Belgian ale fermented (with natural airborne yeast!) with fruit for huge long periods of time. Sweet, and tart, and lovely.

russ carr
8.16.02 @ 10:34a

Jael, as a chai lover, you'd appreciate one of the beers made at our exquisite local taproom -- a hefeweizen lightly flavored with orange peel and coriander. I'm not a big fan of "autumnal" beers either, but that one's first rate.

jael mchenry
8.16.02 @ 10:52a

Next time I'm in St. Louis, we're going.

And Erik, it took you mere minutes to accomplish your goal for the day. Ehhhxcellent.

Erik, what's great about natural airborne yeast? I am SO curious now.

russ carr
8.16.02 @ 10:54a

I envision a field full of Belgian Trappist monks running around with butterfly nets and bags to catch the natural airborne yeast...

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 10:58a

Okay.. natural airborne yeast -- only available in parts of Belgium (or so I've been led to believe). It's done with these big swimming pools filled with fermenting beer and fruit, and bugs, covered with this lovely airborne yeast, land in the wort and on the fruit and stuff and leave the yeast behind. It's just like bees pollenating flowers, really.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 10:58a

And Erik, it took you mere minutes to accomplish your goal for the day. Ehhhxcellent

That's right.. and now? I want a beer, damnit!

russ carr
8.16.02 @ 11:03a

You're not the only one, bunky.

Since it wouldn't be right to have a post without a link, here's the page from our wonderful Schlafly Brewery which lists all the beers they make throughout the year. And the Oktoberfest -- tapped next week -- is one of the best all-around beers I've ever had, anywhere.

sarah ficke
8.16.02 @ 11:22a

I envision a field full of Belgian Trappist monks running around with butterfly nets and bags to catch the natural airborne yeast...

Russ, there's a great comedy sketch in there somewhere.

matt morin
8.16.02 @ 11:59a

Natural fermentation: A lot of breweries fake it, but Belgium is the only place it happens for real. Basically, there's airborne yeasts in certain parts of that country. So instead of actually adding yeast, they leave the beer in big, shallow troughs that are open to the air.

When I was in Belgium we went to several of the oldest breweries in the world and drank that stuff. It was amazing.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 1:24p

Mmm.. yep.

That's good beer.

heather millen
8.16.02 @ 1:47p

Some really great tips in here. I had the great fortune of being a bartender at a bar with over 200 beers in college and I take my pint quite seriously.

I love Belgian beers. Like LaTrappe Dunkel. Yum.

In Durham, NC each fall they have a World Beer Festival. Ever been to one Erik? I'm quite sure it's your idea of Heaven. It's damn close to mine. Just a great oppurtunity to really taste a lot of great beers. Until the day wears on and they all start tasting suspiciously alike, but that's part of the bliss as well.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 1:53p

World Beer Festival?

[drool]
No. Wow.
[/drool]

I want to go to Oktoberfest in Munich next fall, though.


heather millen
8.16.02 @ 1:59p

www.allaboutbeer.com/wbf2002/index.html

You're gonna be so sad. It's the weekend AFTER your NC visit.

[edited]

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 2:02p

There is no justice in this world.

matt morin
8.16.02 @ 3:01p

Mmmmmm...Dunkles.

Erik, next time you come out, we're spending the entire time at Toronados drinking Chimay.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 3:03p

Excellent. Works for me.

I just got a big bottle of Chimay for my Housewarming.

adam kraemer
8.16.02 @ 3:04p

Yuengling.
(pronounced ying-ling)

sarah ficke
8.16.02 @ 3:20p

Do they sell it in NYC Adam?

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 3:21p

Oh.. Yuengling... one of my all time favorites...

Mmmmm.... (you'll see I included it in the column, Adam... I had to.)

heather millen
8.16.02 @ 3:50p

It is the original American brewed beer.

I just like something with more kick. Pale Ales are my standard. Ever had Rogue Dead Guy? Yum.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 3:57p

Rogue best beer ever, IMHO, was Rogue Ringworm, their Barleywine. Sadly, I haven't seen it in ages.

heather millen
8.16.02 @ 4:00p

Unfortunately, due to the bible-thumping lawmakers in NC, we couldn't serve Barley Wine for its high alcohol content.

And I think that's sad. My experiences with various kinds were always good. Foggy, but good.

erik myers
8.16.02 @ 4:01p

Mmm.. which reminds me of another! Anchor Foghorn.

Damn good stuff.

matt morin
8.16.02 @ 4:25p

I'm sure I'll get an argument, but in general, the beer is better on the west coast. I don't know how many places in NY I've been where the best beer they have is Heinekin.

It's actually really hard to find a bar out here that even serves Bud, Miller, Coors, etc. You just don't see it. "Corporate" beer out here is considered Guiness, Bass, Anchor Steam, etc.

sarah ficke
8.16.02 @ 4:34p

You can't get in an argument with Erik - he's gone for the weekend.

heather millen
8.16.02 @ 5:04p

Well, I'd argue with you (just for the fun of it) but I tend to agree. I love that drinking Sierra Nevada or Anchor Steam (another favorite) is considered drinking cheap beer.

Who's ready for Happy Hour?

[edited]

trey askew
8.16.02 @ 5:22p

I'm the politically correct drinker. I don't descriminate. PBR to Guiness to Spaten to whatever. Bring'em on!

travis broughton
8.16.02 @ 5:30p

I miss Oregon now -- Dry Irish Stout from the brew-pub by work rocked. West Coast is good for Micros, East Coast (e.g. the Burren in Davis Sq.) has the freshest Guinness.

Here in Texas, we have Shiner, which is ok, but to muscle into that niche market, Anheuser-Busch is offering Ziegenbock ("brewed and available" only in Texas). Sad.

Fortunately we're close enough to Dixie that it's possible to find Turbo Dog and Blackened Voodoo, and Austin has enough yuppies that you can find Harp on tap and Urquell in the grocery store.

heather millen
8.16.02 @ 5:41p

Mmmm.... Turbo Dog. Made for a great Mardi Gras.

adam kraemer
8.16.02 @ 5:43p

Matt - I don't normally think this, but you're a tool. You've just been to the wrong places. Most of the bars I go to have, at the worst, Bass, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Guinness (of course), and something like Pilsner Urquell, Carlsberg, Yuengling (yes, in NYC now), Stella Artois, Pete's Wicked, etc. Most of the places I go have at least 10 beers on tap (some have 50 or 60). I think that the distribution of beer is such a large industry these days, that you can't really say that one area has better beer than another. Now if you're talking local brews only, that's a different story, but to say that it's hard to find something better than Heinekin in NYC is just ignorant.

Oh, and Travis, you're right. The Burren does pull a very good, fresh pint.

[edited]

matt morin
8.16.02 @ 6:20p

Well, all I'm saying is that in general, if I walk into 100 bars in SF, maybe 10 of them will have Bud, Miller, etc.

In New York, I'm betting the ratio is closer to 50.

And the reverse is true for non-mass produced beer.

True, it may completely be that I just don't know where to go.

d b
8.16.02 @ 6:35p

Slight diversion of the discussion, but just wanted to let you flatlanders know that Otter Creek (the Copper Ale in particular) is even better than Magic Hat.

tracey kelley
8.19.02 @ 12:42a

(with natural airborne yeast!)

My momma told me to stay away from airbourne yeast, and if I do get it, there's this cream...

...oh, never mind.

I'm definitely a lager girl, and I rarely drink beer without eating. Harp's and particularly Carlberg are favorites.

erik myers
8.19.02 @ 8:22a

True, it may completely be that I just don't know where to go.

Yeah, no kidding! That's what happens when you go to the places with the huge-assed Budweiser and Michlob Light sings in the windows.

Honestly? I've yet to go into a bar on the West Coast and find something other than Coors and pals.

But maybe I just don't know where to go.

jael mchenry
8.19.02 @ 11:52a

Unless you've lived in a city, you rarely have a true picture of what it's got to offer. I'm sure my NYC experience was hardly representative of real NYC drinking options; ditto SF.

DC has everything from the several-hundred beers at the Brickskellar to resturants with only Bud/Miller options. What really pissed me off this weekend, though, was when we went to an Irish bar and asked for Harp and I SWEAR what they gave us was not Harp. Far too light. We switched to Bass. It was deeply annoying, because not only were we drinking lousy beer, we were being told it wasn't lousy. Grr.

adam kraemer
8.19.02 @ 12:05p

I was actually stuck in the Sheremetevyo-2 airport in Moscow at the Irish pub there (brilliantly named "The Irish Pub") drinking Harp for about 3 hours on food vouchers I'd been given by BA for cancelling my original flight. I can't think of a better way I could have spent that time.

erik myers
8.19.02 @ 12:07p

Wow... an Irish Pub in the Moscow airport... that's pretty damn cool.

That must be a chain, though -- isn't there one of those in Chicago's airport?

...

I bet in Moscow they don't drink Smirnoff Ice.

adam kraemer
8.19.02 @ 12:11p

Actually, in Moscow they probably don't drink Smirnoff, period.

erik myers
8.19.02 @ 12:19p

More of a Fleischmann's Vodka kinda country, eh?

(drip sarcasm here)

adam kraemer
8.19.02 @ 12:21p

Popov.

erik myers
8.19.02 @ 12:25p

Oh, if it comes in a big plastic jug you know it's gotta be good.

Drunk-proof.

adam kraemer
8.19.02 @ 1:59p

And with a little plastic filter on top to prevent puking back into the bottle as you take a swig.

erik myers
8.19.02 @ 2:10p

I see you've had more experience than I with Popov Vodka.

eloise young
8.22.02 @ 1:03a

Matt'll find you places with decent beer, Erik. Guaranteed. House-warming party? When?



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