Bar Tending & Beerspectives
by Matt Martinkovic
Brewsearch & Development -
Some long time beer drinkers often ask me how their traditional American lager beers their
beloved source of simple, hedonistic pleasure, has now morph into something deserving of
study and deep thought. I answer by saying old and young beer drinkers have both benefited
greatly from this cultural shift away from beer pong and toward,appreciation of truly tasty craft
beer. I do acknowledge however that they have a point-  a person can derive stunning
degrees of satisfaction from this liquid without knowing a hop cone from a ice cream cone.

Still there is an element of knowledge that are necessary to survive and thrive in a craft
beer world.  So here is a quick basic guide to give you the basic basics

1.The term "craft beer" doesn't really mean anything anymore.
The Brewers Association's official definition of "craft beer" has changed a few times over the
years to the point where it's lost a lot of meaning.  So if you want to know what the term
means think something that has a lot of flavor and you'll never see on sale in a 30 pack.

2. Everybody likes hops, even those who think they don't.
Most beers are made from nothing more than grain (usually barley), water, hops, and yeast.
Hops,  are the major flavor engine in most beers, adding bitterness and a variety of other
characteristics, like citrus and/or tropical fruits and/or pine trees, etc. Those hop haters
actually don't like in your face hop bombs, not the hops that are essential to beer.

3.  Yeast Matters
Yeast turns the stuff in the tank from wort to beer by encouraging the fermentation that
results in alcohol. There are hundreds of different yeast strains used in beer production;
many better brewers rely on proprietary strains developed on-site over time. Outside of the
traditional beer-making yeasts, the one you're going to hear the most about is brettanomyces
(brett), which tends to impart a funky, earthy note that some people and others do not.

4.  It's okay to drink a lager.
There is no inherent qualitative difference between lager and ale. The categorical distinctions
are based on yeast (top-fermenting for ale, bottom-fermenting for lager) and fermentation
temperature. Lagers are fermented at lower temperatures, which slows down the necessary
chemical reactions, and therefore makes lagers, in that regard at least, a less attractive
option for brewers. But we're drinkers, not brewers, so what do we care how long it took the
fermentation process to complete?  If you like it, drink it.

5.  The nose knows.
You probably already know that most of what we experience as flavor is actually aroma:  
Before tasting a beer I prefer to take a couple of quick, little sniffs rather than one big, long,
deep one for the simple reason that it makes me feel like less of a pretentious geek..

6. Go light to dark.
It's worth mentioning: If you are trying to really evaluate a series of different beers, start
with the lighter ones, to give your tongue a fighting chance by the time the end of the session
comes around. And I don't mean light in color, but in flavor.

7. Freshness matters... mostly.
Almost all beer is designed to be drunk as soon as possible after being bottled, canned,
kegged, or growlered. IPAs and other hoppy beers in particular suffer from aging. They don't
go "bad," per sebut it's just not going to taste as good as it should.  However stronger beers
like imperial stouts sometimes benefit from aging.

8.  It's too cold inside and out.
Cold masks the flavors of beer.  Most beers taste best chilled not nearly frozen.  American
light lagers have little real taste so no harm done where they're served ice cold.  Most bars
set their beer temperature at 38 degrees which means order two beers at a time - one to
drink and one to let warm up so you can get it's full flavor profile.  
And never use a frosted glass.


Please continue to support my friends at
The  Northside Lounge
Nik's Wunderbar - Whitehouse Station NJ
Matt Martinkovic is not only a recognized beer authority but a well known ecological writer whose
work has appeared in the The American Midland Naturalist (University of Notre Dame) among other
industry publications.  He also has been an agricultural consultant on, of course, the growing of hops.
The Basic Beer Basics
To all my readers and friends, I want to thank you for all your support during my time at Nik's
Wunderbar and at the Northside Lounge.  I'm moving back to the enviromental/ecological field so
the next time you see me at a pub it will likely be on a stool next to you.  I'll continue to write my
column here on BeerNexus giving you my take on what's happening in the beer world with my
insights derived from many years in the industry.  Cheers!