From the Archives: Eighteen Ways to Improve Your Beer Life

The following first appeared at the original Stephen Beaumont’s World of Beer site in April of 2004. I’ve decided to go back into my old files and find some of the stuff most suitable for reprint to present here. There is plenty more to come…

1. Don’t compromise. If you want a purely refreshing beer, for example, there are many available brews superior to those generally grouped under the heading of ‘lawnmower beers.’

2. Use a glass, because aroma and colour do count. What’s more…

3. Use a suitable glass. Just as fine wine is nicely complemented by Reidel stemware, so will a Westmalle Tripel taste better when enjoyed from a chalice or even a wide rimmed wine glass instead of from a juice glass or mason jar. And while we’re at it…

4. Keep your glassware (and beer) out of the freezer. Cold kills taste. And if the bartender thinks that she is doing you a favour by serving you a frosted mug, politely decline and ask for one from the shelf instead.

5. Don’t be an ale snob. Yes, practically all the mainstream beer in the world is lager, but that doesn’t mean that all lagers suck.

6. Smell your beer. Not only is aroma integral to the flavour of a beer, but sitting at the bar and sniffing your pint is a great way to start up a conversation.

7. Be open to new things. Intense bitterness, surprising sourness or fruit flavours may not be what you think you want in your beer, but you might just find yourself liking it if you give it an honest try.

8. Make it a general rule to not drink the same beer twice in a row. Variety counts, and no matter how many notes you’ve recorded on or, there are still thousands more beers left in this world to try. But…

9. Don’t get obsessive about your beer. If there is only one beer you feel is worth drinking, and you’re at a bar with friends or family enjoying yourselves, then have a couple of a few pints of the same brew.

10. Refuse to patronize bars that serve only flavour-free beers (unless you’re with friends who absolutely refuse to change locales, or there’s a really good band playing, in which case drink whisky neat or gin and tonic or bourbon with a rock or two or even a glass of good wine).

11. Fear not the beer cocktail. Remember, beers have been blended with other beers, or with spirits or fortified wine, for centuries. And you never know, by mixing together two or three or four brews, you might actually be creating a new style.

12. Leave the low carb diet at home. You want fewer carbohydrates in your beer? Drink less beer!

13. Ditto calorie-counting.

14. When dining, think about the flavours in your beer and in your food and try to make them work together. A suitable beer really can make a dish taste better, and vice versa, so why would you not want to make the effort?

15. Ignore the critics around you. A comment like ‘What’s the matter? You too good to drink mainstream beer?’ should be countered with a simple ‘As a matter of fact, I am.’

16. Make no assumptions: Dark beer is not necessarily rich and filling; strong beer won’t put you over the edge if you sip it slowly; hops are neither necessarily good or evil things; ales are not always stronger or more caloric than lagers; and fruit beers are not just ‘chick beers.’ On that last point, for the guys…

17. Don’t ever, ever think that the lady in your life, or the lady who you would like in your life, is going to prefer a lighter, paler or fruitier beer than the one you have in your glass. One definite truism I’ve culled from my years of observing the beer market is that women are frequently much more experimental when it comes to beer than are men.

18. Finally, drink for flavour, not alcohol.

6 Replies to “From the Archives: Eighteen Ways to Improve Your Beer Life”

  1. I’m a beginner when it comes to beer tasting and #1 is something I’m really guilty of doing. I definitely wasn’t obeying #18 in college. Great read, Thanks!

  2. While, in general, I think there is a lot of excellent advice here, there are a few points I would take issue with. First: smell your beer. I think, as you quite correctly point out in number 2, that’s the main reason that specific glasses are designed for specific beers. Sniffing beer in addition to inhaling the aroma while drinking seems pretty excessive to me.

    Second: do “not drink the same beer twice in a row” Why not? I just got back from Germany and did this several times. In fact, one place, I had the same beer four times in a row. Of course, the place only made one beer and the quality was extremely high. Beer is not an adventure, it is enjoyment.

    While I generally agree with “Be open to new things”, there are some new things I’ve had quite enough of, thank you. Extreme beers (that is, radically unbalanced beers) are not for me. I’ve tried a few and decided they suck. But that’s not to say I’m unwilling to still try new things.

  3. Mike, first off, I am chronically unable to drink anything, not just beer, without appreciating its aroma first. (Or being warned off, as the case may be.) For me, and others I know, it simply adds to the enjoyment.

    Two, I did write “general rule.” Meaning that, rather than order the same old, same old time and again, switch things up by adopting the mantra of variety being the spice of life. I’ve also supped in many a one beer pub or beer hall and enjoyed the hell out of it. But as a general rule, I think it’s still sound.

    “Open to new things,” see above. I know a lot of people who were Brett-o-phobic until they finally tasted the one that changed their mind, and I personally wrote off all Adam Sandler movies as infantile crap, but still watched and roared with laughter at You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.

    1. Steve, as you may or may not know, I live in Europe. Both the approach, as well as the attitude toward beer, are quite different here than in North America. One of those differences is that there seems to be an approach to beer that follows the approach to wine in N. America. Smelling is one example, matching with food is another. Approaching it as something unique and amazing is a third. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

      Bear in mind, of your 18 points, I take issue with one, plus quibble about two others. Quibble one: while variety and experimentation seem to be the hallmarks of many beer specialists in N.A., not so in Europe. (Although you didn’t mention it, obsession with “styles” has, thankfully not taken hold here.) So, in my environment, your point about variety is somewhat less valid than in your environment.

      There are things I like and things I don’t like – much like you or anyone else, I would imagine. There are breweries that don’t seem capable of making good beer (ie, to my taste) and other breweries that don’t seem capable of making bad beer (see previous note). And a majority that sit somewhere between the two. I won’t waste my time or money buying beer from a company that has an abysmal track record in my experience. Sure, lightning could strike and they could have made a good beer. But, frankly, I’d rather protect my sense of taste than miss a decent beer.

  4. I’m with Steve on the matter of nose. I find it a bell-weather to the quality of the drink itself, even porter, where aromatic hops are not key to the palate. I don’t think it’s a spin-off from wine culture, I know lots of people, and I’m one, who rarely drink wine but enjoy the aroma of beer before sampling it.

    I haven’t lived in Europe – itself a pretty diverse place I’m told – but I visit England quite often and I find the beer scene there catching up to what we have here. I can disagree with some of the experiments, but overall it’s a good thing. If innovation did not occur, good beer would wither, it almost did before CAMRA came along. The U.S. craft scene was a CAMRA-like development here and now the favour is being returned since CAMRA alone cannot save great beer in England.

    I don’t think I’ve had the same beer twice for over 20 years but I can understand people who do. It’s purely a matter of taste, of local custom too.


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