Often people ask me how they can tell what beer they really like, amongst these are the safe drinkers who always return to their “favourite” beer, because they know they like it and also those who simply don’t know what to look for. In this article I will try to get you thinking about your favourite beer, go into a little on beer tasting and hopefully set you on the path to finding your next “best beer”.
If you are one of the people who are stuck on their “favourite beer” then hopefully this blog will help you widen your horizons and get you tasting new beers, but as the first steps can be daunting I will try to help you – soon you will know just what to expect in your beer and hopefully this will lead you to try beers you have never considered, or just avoid tasting beers you know you won’t like.
There are a few things which can help you on your way to finding your new favourite beer, firstly the best place to start is with one or more beers you know you like.
Ask yourself what it is that you particularly like about those beers:
Is it the middle malty taste?
Something about the aftertaste?
Also how do you enjoy them:
A cold one after a hard day’s work?
As a session beer when out with friends in the evening?
A warming beer on a cold winter’s night?
This will help you to understand what you enjoy about that beer and, as beer drinking should be about enjoyment, that’s what you need to focus on.
Next think about the beers that you have tasted that you didn’t like and similarly what was it about them:
Did they smell funny?
Not sit well in your stomach when you drank them?
Unpleasant taste in the middle, at the end, aftertastes?
As a note of caution, it is important to consider the condition the beer was in when you tried it. If you had a “bad beer”, was it the beer’s fault? Or did you just have a “bad pint”.
I for ages thought I hated Frog Island beer, one day I was in a pub which I know serves very well kept beer and I noted that they had a Frog Island beer on. Talking to the landlord I got onto the subject of not liking Frog Island beers. He was surprised, considering my other beer tastes, and persuaded me to try some – just one more time – and to my surprise I liked it. I would even go as far as saying it was a nice beer!
It turns out that the beer in question didn’t keep well and that on the other occasions when I tasted it the beer was likely off. The moral being – be careful about writing off a beer as “beer I do not like” unless you have tried it from a reputable, reliable source and if possible on multiple occasions.
So once you have worked out the thing which you like in your beer the next step is to consider the other beers which you prefer. Try to find the common ground and remember there may be a range of different factors and you may even find that you have several beer categories which you like (maybe a “cold one after gardening” and a “beer out with mates” type). This is then the beer (or groups of beers) you are looking for.
The next challenge is finding another similar beer to try, there are many ways in which you can find beers which are similar to those you know you like.
The first and easiest way is to ask someone, and who better than your local landlord. If you are lucky and you live near a CAMRA pub or your local landlord knows his ale then they should be able to advise you. Other people who might be able to point you in the right direction are people at beer festivals (“getting a tip” is often a good lead to the best of the beers) or in your local CAMRA pub there should be someone who can help you out.
Try to describe your ideal beers, if you know the names of some typical beers of the kind which you like then use them as this will make it easier for your guide. Hopefully they can point you in the direction of something to try there and then.
Another good source of new beers is the Good Beer Guide, this is published each year by CAMRA and has a section giving tasting notes on many different beers, at first this can be a little daunting, but soon you will be familiar with how beers are described and you will find yourself leafing through the pages eyeing up potential new best beers.
Also a beer festival is a good place to track down beers you may like to try, usually a beer festival will have tasting notes which try to give a description of what you should expect from each beer, and of course you will be surrounded by like minded individuals eager to offer advice on what you might like to try.
The final place I would recommend you look is the supermarket, go direct to the bottle, read the description and compare it to the beers you would normally buy. If a beer has a similar description then it is likely it will have a similar taste, the people writing the tasting notes and bottle labels are trying to appeal to people who will like their beer – so if the words have you salivating then it is likely the beer will too!
You should now have at least a good idea of what about the beers you makes you like them. Hopefully you have some initial ideas of where to go looking for your next best beer. In the next few articles I will try to cover some of the things introduced here such as tasting notes, CAMRA pubs, beer festivals and making your supermarket beer selection. Until then keep tasting – soon you will be able to be the one making the recommendations to others lost in the beer wilderness!