With our ‘Celebrate Craft…Beer!’ fundraiser approaching, we wanted to learn more about the craft of craft beer! We asked our one of our wonderful jurors – Chad McCarthy, an expert in the craft beer field, to give us tasting tips for people new to the craft beer scene.
What attributes do you take into consideration when reviewing/tasting a new craft beer?
Probably the first thing is to set your expectations appropriately. If a new craft beer drinker expects a beer to taste a certain way and it actually tastes totally different, the shock might be a turnoff – even though the beer might be incredible. So try to learn about the different styles of beer and how they taste. Then you will know what to expect when presented with a new beer of a style you’re familiar with. And keep an open mind!
What are your top tips for beginners when tasting a new beer?
As I said above, learn what you can about how beers of that style usually taste, so you know what to expect. Always pour a beer into a glass – it improves the aroma, flavour and appearance, knocks the carbonation down so you don’t get gassy, and allows you to avoid drinking the cloudy dregs of certain beers. Unless you don’t want to smell or taste the beer (in which case it’s not worth drinking anyway).
Think about context – not all beers are thirst-quenchers made for the beach. Some are perfect for a stormy night by the fireplace. Just because you’re not in the mood for a beer doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be great in another situation.
Get the beer at a pub that cares about what they serve. If a new beer if served through dirty draft lines, or in a dirty glass (bubbles clinging to the side or streaming upward), or without any head, or when it’s too old or in poor condition, then you probably won’t like it – even though it’s the pub’s fault, not the brewer’s. If there’s something wrong with ANY beer, you should complain and/or send it back.
What is a common misconception about beer tasting that you often hear?
That dark-coloured beers are somehow “stronger” tasting and light-coloured beers are “lighter” tasting. There is actually very little correlation between beer colour and flavour. For example, some of the lowest-alcohol and most-drinkable beers are quite dark (e.g. dry Irish stout such as Guinness, or English mild ale), while some of the most alcoholic and intense are quite light (such as Belgian golden strong ale or imperial IPA).
What are your recommendations for a style of beer for people new to the craft beer scene?
I think people should try a few styles that exemplify the different beer ingredients, to demonstrate the breadth of flavour available and open up their beer horizons. Just make sure you buy them from a top-notch brewery:
North American pale ale – to demonstrate the aroma and flavour of hops.
English brown ale – to demonstrate the aroma and flavour of toasted malt (barley).
Belgian pale ale or saison – to demonstrate the aroma and flavour of different strains of brewing yeast.
Sour or fruit beer – to show the effect of different brewing techniques and ingredients.
And finally, what is your favourite style of beer?
I am an equal-opportunity beer drinker and taster. As long as the beer is enjoyable, style doesn’t matter to me!
Chad McCarthy is a Certified Cicerone®, National-ranked BJCP Beer Judge, award-winning VanBrewer homebrewer, proponent of craft beer and related foodstuffs.