I’ll admit it, I’m a wine snob. Wine is my first love and for many years, I hated beer. All beer, any beer. Didn’t like it, couldn’t drink it, and after years of taking sips/tastes, I was certain I’d never change. My husband, on the other hand, is a devoted beer drinker. So much so in fact, that when I began my journey exploring the world of wine I had to drag him, kicking and screaming, along with me. It was a simple argument that kicked off my recent experimentation and new-found appreciation of beer. We were eating dinner together and he offered me a taste of the beer he ordered. He liked it a lot and thought I should give it a try. I took a sip, told him “It’s fine” and gave him back the glass.
“You don’t hate it?” He replied.
“No, but I don’t like it.” I answered.
“Why?” He questioned. “What do you taste?”
Now, here I was in a quandary. When I first met my dear hubby, he was the furthest thing you could imagine from a foodie. He wasn’t experimental with food or drink at all. Pizza, ham sandwiches, and pasta with red sauce were just about the only things he would eat. Over the years I converted him to millions of foods, sushi, offal, vegetables in general, haute cuisine, wine even, by using this exact tactic on him. When he claimed he didn’t like something, I made him articulate why. The real why, not just because it tasted good or bad, but which flavors, textures, etc, were specifically negative. And the more I liked the food/drink in question, the more in-depth I made him go. And now the jerk was using my own weapon against me.
He wouldn’t let it go. Perhaps as a taste of my own medicine, he got me to break down every detail of the beer that I could perceive. He looked up the maker, educated me on the style, ingredients and brewing method. I wasn’t happy about it, mind you. He criticized me for dismissing an entire category of beverages because the flavors were not easily attractive to me – my exact lecture to him when he first claimed to hate red wine because of tannin, certainly an acquired taste for some. By the end of our argument/discussion, I almost liked the beer. And I had to concede that he might be right.
That same weekend, we hit the local liquor store and bought a couple of mixed 6-packs. My goal was to try, systematically, all different styles and types and from there not only build my palate and understanding, but hopefully find a couple of favorites. BeerAdvocate became one of my best friends. Lagers, ales, witbiers, porters, stouts, IPAs, sours, shandies, lambics… I tried them all. I took recommendations from friends, ordered flights whenever I saw them, and for the first time in my life, really tasted beer.
What I’ve learned so far…
Beyond learning the basics: brewing methods, grains, regional styles, fermentation styles, I found the most invaluable thing I’ve learned is to articulate what I like and dislike in beers. This means that I’m not only better at asking for recommendations and getting bottles I’ll enjoy, but I can also understand from labels what I’m getting so I can make much safer purchases, buying beers that I’ll actually enjoy drinking.
I know that in general, I am not a fan of hops. The same bitterness that other people love reminds me of dirty dishwater. IPAs are usually not my cup of tea, although Caribbean style IPAs, like the Dry-Hopped on the High Seas by Cigar City, are an exception.
Darker beers, like porters, stouts, doppelbocks, have a nice malty flavor that I like, but only in small quantities. A full glass is too much for me to consume and still enjoy, but a 2 oz pour is quite nice indeed.
I enjoy sweetness in my beer as long as it’s balanced and not cloying. Shandies are sweet and fruity in the wrong way for me, but I am a big fan of peach lambics. The high acidity of a good lambic is just super delicious to me.
Like wines, I find there are certain producers that I enjoy. Cigar City Brewing, out of Tampa, is one of my local faves.
I seem to be a fan of Belgian beers. Sours in particular. If I had to choose a definitive favorite, it might be Flanders Red Ale. Aging in oak adds complexity and the yeast strains used gives a fruity tanginess that I really enjoy.
I like herbed/spiced beers. They are interesting to me because of the complexity in general, and the large variety in styles and flavors.
I keep tasting, keep trying. Mixed 6-packs are among my favorite things to buy, and who knows where this new-found appreciation for beer will take me. My hubby is certainly happier for it. And if you’ve got a favorite, let me know about it. I’d love more recommendations to try.