It is with some sadness that I learned of the departure of Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher from the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The husband and wife team have been writing insightful and accessible columns on wine in that paper for a dozen years, and have long been one of the few reasons I would pick up the weekend edition. I still have a yellowed copy of their “How to Order Wine in a Restaurant, In 10 Steps,” which is one of the most common sense pieces of wine writing I have ever come across.
Much of Gaiter and Brecher’s work, I have found, is easily transferable to other realms, including beer. And so, in honour of their years of service to imbibophiles, I am going to riff (yet again) on one of their ideas, with my “10 Things to Do with Beer in 2010.”
- Learn to appreciate something different: You may not like, say, lambics or highly hopped ales, but that need not mean you shouldn’t try to understand what they’re all about.
- Blow apart your preconceptions with a blind tasting: Sampling a slate of beers without knowing what they are can be humbling and illuminating. For extra credit, try using glasses that hide the colour of the beers.
- Learn to love low alcohol: Subtlety is sometimes lost in beer tasting circles, so even if you enjoy your fill of session beers now and again, or again and again, much can be learned by taking some time to ponder the nuances of a 3.5% alcohol mild or 5% alcohol kölsch.
- Try a beer under different circumstances: Possibly the greatest thing I’ve learned in my twenty or so years writing about beer is the powerful effect of context on taste. Trying a familiar brew under utterly unfamiliar circumstances – early in the morning, say, or under physiologically stressful conditions – can lend keen insight as to its makeup.
- Plan a period during which you will not drink the same beer twice: Be it a week or a month, spending some time in beer drinking promiscuity can be both fun and challenging.
- Talk about beer without judgement: Be it with beer aficionado friends or the Bud drinker at the end of the bar, you can learn a lot about beer and beer drinking by simply listening to what others have to say.
- Drink both beer and wine with an oenophile: Sample some of your favourites and some of his or her favourites and learn from each other.
- Buy blindfolded: Not literally, of course, but randomly grabbing stuff off the shelf, or having someone do it for you, can lead to interesting discoveries, and also, it needs be admitted, huge disappointments.
- Splurge: Not on a high-priced beer – although feel free to do that, too – but on a totally unnecessary round for a group of friends and acquaintances. There’s no better way to remind yourself of why beer really is the most sociable of beverages.
- Spend time with a notepad: Nobody should feel they need to take notes on every beer they drink in order to assure their “beer cred,” but it can be an interesting exercise to from time to time sit down and record flavour and aroma observations. You may even be surprised at how it improves your taste perceptions.