I’ve found there are certain problems with being thoughtful about beer. Not so long ago my method of drinking beer was to simply swill pint after pint and bottle after bottle until I’d reached that warm fuzzy place where I felt smarter and more handsome; the world more pleasant. Then, I would fall fast asleep. The only real “tasting” that would occur would be somewhere in the first several sips, my analysis of flavor being something along the lines of “damn that’s good beer,” or “what the hell is this crap?” No matter where the judgment came down between those two extremes, I’d likely drink it anyway.
Now I have set myself the task of actually thinking about the beer in my glass, I’ve run into a few bumps. First, it’s become quite obvious that a beer's aroma and flavor profile contains more information than I would have ever thought possible. Different hops provide different scents and different presentations of the citrusy/bitter essential oils. It all changes depending on when the hops are added. Putting a beer in wood (aging it in barrels) will lend the beer certain qualities of both the wood and whatever was in the barrel before the beer. Malts will change the flavor. Yeasts will change the flavor. There are a seemingly endless variety of styles and riffs on said styles.
In order to pick any of this out of a beer, I’ve learned that a person needs to take a modicum of care and preparation. I’ll give you a “for instance” in the beer that I had last night after dinner: Full Sail’s LTD, Limited Edition Lager, recipe number three. I had just finished a salmon burger with dill, lemon, and peppers, accompanied by a garden salad dressed with a tart homemade blue cheese dressing. As I poured the beer, I had no thought as to how my meal might have affected my palate. I sipped. The beer tasted extraordinarily dull, with a hint of sweetness and a tiny bright bite. I was disappointed. Every sip was like drinking Miller’s more mannered cousin from the Hamptons. Dull.
Then I realized that maybe my dinner had screwed me up. I began to take more time between sips, giving my mouth a good wash in the brew before swallowing. Low and behold, the last third of the pint opened up to me dramatically. I began to recognize a spicy, almost peppery quality to the beer hovering above the malt tones. There was a nice balance with the slight sweetness and subtle hoppy bite. Those last few sips were eye opening. Then it was gone. Shit. I only had one bottle.
When I began this month, I asked you all for advice, and you gave me structure, tips on timing, schedules. I should have listened to you. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time on this planet, it's that if my mind were a firearm, it would not be a laser sighted sniper rifle, it would be a sawed-off shotgun pulled, in panic, from a trench coat. What the hell does that have to do with anything? I have no idea. The image just came to me. See what I mean?
So, the Full Sail LTD and I will surely share another moment this month. Next time, I’ll be prepared. I’ll put some smooth music on the turntable, light some candles, cleanse my palate thoroughly (yet gently), pop the top off the bottle and spend some time exploring the liquid territories of this brew. Or something like that.
In the meantime, I’m starting to get some learnin’ on. I’ll keep you posted.
Want to learn something yourself? You can ask Upright Brewing Co’s Alex Ganum about his beer and his process when you meet him tonight at Green Dragon’s Meet the Brewer, beginning at 6 pm [928 S.E.9th].
Beer and cheese were meant to be together. Understand more about what every Wisconsinite knows, by heading down to Hopworks [2944 SE Powell Blvd] tonight at 7 pm for a cheese and beer pairing hosted by Steve of Steve’s Cheese.
In the meantime, I welcome your comments. Have any tasting tips? Any words on Full Sail’s LTD?