You know what is awesome?
Beer is awesome. And as the craft beer craze surges through this country like a goddamn Taylor Swift tour, it has never been easier to get all hopped up on hoppy IPAs, or blackout on black lagers, or hurl up some hefeweizen. Now every nowhere town in the Midwest has a microbrewery standing alongside the customary McDonald’s and Subway. Beer has blown up.
Today, everyone is a beer drinker/enthusiast/expert. I am no exception. There is little I would rather do than flock to a beer festival and pretend to talk knowledgeably about IBUs and apricot notes. I have an opinion. You have an opinion. That guy over there barfing onto his Vans, by god, even he has an opinion.
But while opinions differ widely, there are certain standards — based on, like, science and stuff — that inarguably make beer drinking better. What follows is simple and effective — everything you need to immediately improve your beer drinking experience.
A Good Beer Starts With Storage
I’m a big fan of the beer fridge. I tend to mine like a garden, organizing it by row while incessantly weeding out unfavorable sampler pack remainders and my wife’s hard ciders.
One thing I never considered, though, was that this little labor of love was doing wonders for my beer. Because if stored incorrectly, beer can go bad before ever reaching your lips. Fortunately, the beer fridge fulfills the 3 rules of proper beer storage.
- Keep it cool
- Keep it dark
- Keep it upright
Keep it cool (not cold)
It’s like every beer commercial ever: some muscly bro snags an ICE COLD can from a cooler, pops the top, CRUSHES it, and out of nowhere summer arrives, and he is engulfed immediately and entirely by an impossible number of attractive females.
The big beer industry is tirelessly hawking the idea that an ice cold refreshment is the ticket to beaches and boobies. But while maybe acceptable for mass-produced, domestic lagers, ROCKY MOUNTAIN COLD is not the best way to store good beer.
So what is the best way? At 40° Fahrenheit. Depending on style, beer’s ideal serving temperature bounces between 45-55°. Accounting for a slight warm up when poured into a glass (more on that later), storing beer at 40° gives you a consistent serving temp of 45°.
What’s the problem with ice cold beer? A food’s temperature affects its taste because certain flavors can be activated or deactivated when heated or cooled. If something tastes good, it should be served warm enough to detect it. Over-cooling a beverage suppresses its flavor, which is why whiskey snobs will shit on your doorstep if you refrigerate good bourbon, and also why those vodka shots were so much more tolerable when the bottle of Karkov came straight from the freezer.
Is it dangerous to store beer for a long time or at high temperatures? Yes. Like most food, beer goes bad with time, however, beer won’t rot and fester like the discarded trimmings of a T-bone. Instead beer becomes stale through oxidation (an oxygen induced chemical reaction).
Oxidation occurs even when beer is refrigerated, but — like most reactions — heat expedites the process. The more exposure to high temps and time, the more your beer tastes like something other than what the brewmaster intended.
Will inconsistent temperatures skunk my beer? I was always told that once a beer is refrigerated, it must stay that way. If I removed the beer and returned it to room temperature then it was over, skunked, ruined. It turns out, this isn’t true.
A skunked beer is the result of a specific and scientific reaction, one that cannot result from the modest fluctuation between refrigerator and room temperature. Skunky beer has only one culprit: light, which is why the second rule of proper beer storage is…
Keep it Dark
To prevent skunking, we first must understand a little about beer’s genetic makeup. Warning: science below.
As you probably know, beer contains hops. Within hops are isomerizec alpha-acids. These acids, when struck by light, produce a molecule called 3-methyl-2-bulene-1-thiol, which is almost identical to the contents of skunk spray. So a lightstruck beer doesn’t just smell skunky, it is skunky.
To protect their beer from most ultraviolet wavelengths, most American craft brewers bottle using brown glass or cans. Clear and green bottles, however, are less effective in blocking sunlight. This is probably why imports like Stella and Heineken are always skunky — they can’t make it from the Rhineland to the Promised Land without getting light struck.
Be safe. Store your beer out of the sun and away from excessive fluorescent lighting. Like in a cool, dark beer fridge.
Keep it Upright
When on its side, beer is at an increased risk of oxidation as more of the liquid is in direct contact with oxygen. Upright storage minimizes this risk, reducing the beer in contact to only that at the top of the bottleneck. Another benefit to upright storage is that all the yeast sediments settle to the bottom of the bottle, allowing for a nice, clean pour…
Pour Beer Into A Glass
With a fresh, cool, unskunked beer resting upright and deliciously in your beer fridge, it is now time to drink it. But not before pouring it into a glass.
Why should I pour beer into a glass? Drinking beer from a glass invites more of your senses into the party. Now, in addition to taste, you have touch (the physical pouring from bottle to glass), sight (the color, consistency and head as seen through the beer glass), and most importantly smell (the exploding aroma of malt, hops and fruity esters made possible by getting your nose right up in there). Also, pouring activates carbonation, releasing the beer’s aromatics while inducing a foam ‘head’. This head serves as a net, retaining those lovely tastes and scents.
What if I don’t give a shit about ‘smelling’ my beer? Fair question. It wasn’t long ago that I shared this apathy. But once I understood the relationship between taste and smell, I changed my mind.
What we commonly perceive as taste is actually flavor, or the combination of taste and smell. Our mouths can discern five basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory). All flavors that fall outside this range are detected by our nose. So while taste is limited to 5 profiles, our nose can detect thousands of scents.
Though heavily debated, it is estimated that up to 90% of all flavor perception is governed by smell. A beer has way too much flavor to go to waste inside a bottleneck.
How do I pour a beer? To attain the desired 1.5 inches of head, pour the beer in two 6oz stages:
Stage 1: At 45 degrees down the side of the glass.
Stage 2: At 90 degrees down the center of the glass.
Or like so:
What makes a good beer glass? A few years ago CEO of Sam Adams Jim Koch spent many months and lord knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars researching and engineering the perfect beer glass. Here is a glittered up blueprint — probably created by marketing — but which outlines the glass’ objectives.
Now, if you want to go buck wild over glassware, tailor the glass to the type of beer being drunk from it. But if you just want an all purpose beer mug and don’t have your own superior research (you don’t), I’d find one similar to the Boston Lager Pint.
My glass of choice is this tulip from Bell’s. Notice the narrow top, outward turned lip, and generally rounded shape. Also notice it is classy as shit.
How should I care for my beer glass? Keep it beer exclusive. Prohibiting access to juice, wine, your roommate’s chocolate milk, and other foam-killing contaminants ensures a clean pour and head retention. Even soap residue can kill head, so give the glass a quick rinse right before pouring, and you are finally ready to…
You’ve done some great work, and since even one sip of beer triggers the release of your brain’s feel good chemical dopamine, you should have no problem enjoying the fruits of your labor. And since this dopamine release occurs in your brain’s reward center, you should also have no problem going back for another, and another…and another.