7 Tips For Sampling Craft Beer
By Kammie Sumpter
Posted in The Field Guide to Drinking in America, on April 20, 2017
Close your eyes and imagine you’re at your favorite brewery—smell the hops, hear the bustle—with a completely unfamiliar tasting flight in front of you. A small round of new, uncharted beer territory awaits. There they are, a dazzling array of brews varying in color and consistency.
You know the feeling, right? For some, this can be a bit daunting—and with good reason. A flight with a handful of different beer can be cause for celebration or hair-pulling. Portland is the Mecca of craft beer, so what do you do when you’re trying new ones?
Here are some of our best tips for sampling beer flights.
1. Be brave and choose a variety.
Beer is an acquired taste for many, so be patient and flexible! Incorporate a healthy dosage of unfamiliar, new flavors among a few old favorites. If you’re a true dare devil, add a beer you don’t think you’d like. You might be pleasantly surprised. I tried sour beer for the first time a few months ago—which took some prodding by a friend—and it’s now one of my favorite types of beer! It just takes a pinch of adventure and a willingness to explore outside your comfort zone.
2. Ask for a glass of water.
This seems intuitive, but it’s often left forgotten. Sipping on water between beer will neutralize your palate and leave you ready for any flavor transition you’re stepping into next. Get cozy with the go-to beer-tasting posture: a water glass in one hand and a beer in the other.
3. Try sampling a flight of beer of similar styles.
This could turn into a fun bar game. Grab some of your favorite beers of similar color and flavor and test your taste buds. It’ll sharpen your sense of the boundaries between similar beers, and you’ll probably share a laugh or two.
4. Organize your tasting to your preference.
Traditionally, it is said that beer should be tasted from lightest to darkest. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that lighter beers are typically served at a lower temperature. However, in the wise words of Stevie Nicks, You Can Go Your Own Way. Be unorthodox and try your beer in whichever way pleases you and your taste buds.
5. Notice flavor before taxonomy.
A common move that beer-tasters take is observing the menu as they sip. While this can give you a lot of relevant and useful information, I recommend doing it after you’ve noted the flavor on your own. If you read that the beer in your hand is an IPA, you might assume a level of hoppiness just from knowing this bit of information. Try abandoning the labels on your flight and taste your beer in spontaneity. Taste the beer. Be the beer.
6. Engage all of your 5 senses.
Beer has more flavor than just taste. It has a color, smell, consistency—sometimes, its effervescence can produce a little sound, too. These are all important when tasting a beer. Take note of it all.
7. Pay attention to ABV.
A flight can be a lot of beer for some, especially if you’re sharing it between two people. Pay careful attention to the Alcohol By Volume percentage. Sometimes, if there’s a beer I like from a flight, I’ll follow-up my tasting with a pint. If you follow suit, please be a safe and responsible drinker. Check your labels and know it’s never too late to call a Lyft.
If you live in (or you’re visiting) Oregon, here are some of my favorite PNW spots for brews.
- Ninkasi Brewery: Eugene, OR
- Basecamp Brewery: Inner SE Portland
- Ecliptic Brewery: Inner NE Portland
- Deschutes Brewery: Pearl District, Portland
- Breakside Brewery: NW and NE Portland
Headed north to Washington state? These two breweries offer a great example of what is happening in the Evergreen State.
- Fremont Brewery: Seattle, WA
1050 N 34th St, Seattle, WA 98103
Try this: Cowiche Canyon Fresh Hop Ale (Note: They also have a ton of great dark beers—I’ve had a tasting flight with a variety of their stouts and they’re all great.)
- Wander Brewery: Bellingham, WA
1807 Dean Ave, Bellingham, WA 98225
Try this: Pomegranate Millie Sour (If you were intrigued by my mention of sour beer above, here’s your chance to try it out! The sourness is a more of a tartness, a small bite like that of a green apple—or, well, pomegranate!)