beer column

my notes from yesterday's beer column on cbc radio's on the coast with stephen quinn:

So you know you like craft beer. Now what?
I think learning more about craft beer should be the second thing on everybody's craft beer to do list... right behind drinking more of it!

I was at a tasting room the other evening and the folks beside me were very enthusiastic about their craft beers. It appeared they were on a bit of a brewery crawl, which I very much salute, and were trying to find the words to describe the different beers and how they felt about them. Now I'm not going to go all beer snob on you and say that they were using the wrong words to describe the beers, because there aren't wrong words to describe any experience. Sure, they could have used words like "mouthfeel" and "lacing on the glass" and other bits of beer lingo, but that's not what struck me most about these beer appreciators. No, what made me keep listening was the misinformation they were unwittingly feeding each other. While part of me wanted to lean over and offer them a dazzling beer 101 lecture, the rest of me preferred to leave them be. You see, I would rather live in hope that I see those people again in a year's time and hear how differently they might be approaching those same beers than try to force learning upon them. I believe that people as enthusiastic about craft beer as they are will learn a lot about it in a year's time, whether they're actively trying to or not. Craft beer is in the mainstream news regularly these days, and if you go to any place it is served, people are always talking about it. Passive learning is happening all the time!

But suppose you want to actively begin your beer education? Where can you start?

Keep tasting beers. Keep trying to describe what you're tasting. Notice how the beers pair with foods. These are all things that begin a beer education. Happily, actual beer education is not much harder. Organizations like CAMRA (The Campaign for Real Ale) offer classes to their members on a variety of topics. Join the club, take the classes - there's beer drinking involved! Many of the private liquor stores offer tastings as well. Some of these are more formal than others, where you sit at a table and taste beers as you are being told about them. Others are less formal but still offer you a chance to talk to someone knowledgeable about the beer. 

Go to beer pairing dinners. At these the brewers talk about the beers, you taste them on their own, then with the food that has been made to pair with them. Sometimes the chef will talk about the dish and why they prepared it for the particular beer. There is so much information to be absorbed at these events, all while you sip and munch.

Fun while you learn?! Fortunately much of beer education is very social! And we are so lucky here in the Lower Mainland that we have so many breweries full of people to ask about beer when we visit them. Provided they're not crazy busy at the time, brewers and staff are great people to talk to about beer. Go on a brewery tour - see behind the scenes and learn about how beer is made.

Read about beer! There are several beer magazines you can subscribe to, Taps magazine here in Canada, BeerAdvocate in the United States, are both great resources. I subscribe to both and like to read them on the bus. I also have a whole shelf of beer books at home. The internet is great for finding quick answers to beer questions, but I like to read books too as they give me information I didn't even know I was looking for.

Some of my favourite books are:

Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher. This is a text book about beer, but a very accessible text book! He covers a myriad of topics, including: sensory evaluation, brewing, judging beer and beer styles.

Man Walks Into a Pub and Three Sheets to the Wind by Pete Brown. These books read more like fiction, but are the very real accounts of a very funny Brit as he travels the world drinking beer in the one, and covers the history of beer in the other.

Craft Beer Revolution by Joe Wiebe. This one is by Victoria's Thirsty Writer, Joe Wiebe. It is a bit out of date now, as a new brewery opens almost weekly in BC, but it is a great source of local beer history and the stories behind the breweries and their brewers.

B is for Beer by Tom Robbins. A children's book for adults, it takes little Gracie Perkins through the whole magical world of where beer comes from.

Have a bottle-share with friends.  You could pick a style of beer and have everyone bring a bottle from a different brewery.  Pour all the beers in taster glasses and compare and contrast your hearts out.  Or you could have everyone pick a different style of beer and do the compare and contrast over the different styles.  However you do it, you're learning as you go.  You can use the beer style guidelines as a reference to keep you on track.

If you are already along the beer education path, some possible nexts steps in beerducation would be homebrewing, searching out and trying new beer styles, and taking the tests to become a Cicerone or a Certified Beer Judge.  Or why not get a diploma or certificate from College or University? Kwantlen, and SFU have programs.

Beer Picks:
Because Bomber Brewing announced that you'll be able to drink their Pilsner at Canadians' games this summer, I'm making the Bomber Pilsner my first beer pick this week

And then, because it has been feeling so Springy in Vancouver this week, I'll keep it light with Powell Street's new Azacca Ale.  A lighter ale with a hint of citrus from those New Zealand Azacca hops.  Only available at the brewery.

And Yaletown Brewpub's Bohemian Pilsner, a crisp and hoppy lager, is back on tap at the brewpub.


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