The slideshow below contains my slides from LRUG’s 13 February lightning talk meet-up. If you missed the meet-up, I’d highly recommend watching some of the talks at that link—particularly Lola’s talk about finding your dream job, and Paul’s bizarre journey through balanced ternary. I would not, however, recommend watching my talk. If you’d like to learn a bit about beer, the outline here will give you a decent overview and touch on everything included in the talk. If you’d like to learn about why I hated giving a talk and never want to do it again, well, there’s a place for that too.

So, beer. I’ve been a beer snob for as long as I can remember. After I moved to London a couple of years ago, I started working for BrewDog, who are big proponents of the Cicerone certification program.

As a Certified Cicerone, I have a greater-than-average depth of knowledge about beer: serving, storage, brewing, history, beer styles, pairing with food, off-flavours, et cetera. When faced with a 10-minute time slot and a staggering breadth of existing knowledge to draw upon, I opted to provide a general overview: enough detail that most people might learn something new, but a simple enough starting point that I felt reasonably confident I wouldn’t lose anyone’s interest right off the bat. So, without further ado, here’s the outline of the talk. You can download a PDF of these slides if you’d like.

A (Pointed) Guide to Beer

Why // When // How

Why drink beer?

  • Brewing is a craft which requires precision, creativity, and attention to detail— much like coding!
  • Beer goes well with food. A good food and beer pairing can be a magical experience, evoking emotional response or feelings of nostalgia. Unexpected pairings can enable you to perceive flavours you wouldn’t expect to find in both food and beer.
  • It contains alcohol, which lower inhibitions. Some people like that.

When to drink beer? This is a trick question. There’s no wrong time to drink beer.

How should one drink beer? There are many ways to drink beer, but Ruby is all about a single opinionated approach, so this is presentation contains strong opinions.

Drinking beer at a pub

  • It’s important to find the right kind of pub—many taps, or a long, handwritten list of beers, breweries, and ABVs on a blackboard are good indicators.
  • If you’re in a pub that doesn’t have good beer, my recommendation is to order a gin & tonic instead. Bad beer is a waste of time.
  • Once you’re in the right place, ask for a taste of something that sounds interesting.
  • If you really don’t know where to start, chat with the bartender for a bit. Bartenders in good beer bars generally know about beer and can tell you what’s tasting good at the moment.
  • Get a recommendation. If you describe 2-3 beers you know you like, the bartender can probably recommend something similar for you to try.
  • Try something new! New beers are released all the time. It’s tempting to get stuck in a rut and order the same thing every time once you’ve found something you like, but that’s pretty dumb. Don’t do that. Try new things.
  • Beer can range in ABV from 0.5% to 40%+ for some ice-distilled varieties, so be careful and pay attention to the ABV when you’re ordering. Don’t be stupid, remember to drink water or eat something if you’re drinking a lot of strong beers.
  • Don’t be a dick. This is where I “subtly” pointed out that if your bartender is giving you a lot of tasters and great recommendations, they’ll be incentivised to continue providing that kind of service (which they’re not obligated to provide) if you engage in this practice some parts of the world call “tipping”. Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it.

How to drink beer, Part 2: Appreciating beer requires a balance of four main senses: Appearance, Aroma, Mouthfeel, and Taste

Appearance

  • Beer colour is measured in degrees SRM (standard reference measure), ranging from 1 for very light lager to 40+ for black beers.
  • Most beer styles should have perfect clarity, but unfiltered, hazy beers are becoming rather common among London craft breweries. Some classic styles, like Hefeweizen, are intentionally cloudy.
  • If you see bubbles clustering on the inside of your glass, congratulations, the bar you’re drinking in has dirty glassware. Bummer.

Aroma

  • Aroma is delivered from the beer to your nose in the little bubbles of carbon dioxide that pop on the surface.
  • Swirl the beer in the glass to generate a bit of foamy head, activating aromatic compounds.
  • Take a few small sniffs, then a deeper inhalation. If you get too acclimated to the aroma and can’t detect it as well, try sniffing the back of your hand to reset your nose.
  • Most of the aroma in beer comes from hops added late in the brewing process.
  • Hop aromas vary widely depending on the variety. Some common hop aromas you might encounter include citrus (lemon, grapefruit, orange), tropical (passionfruit, pineapple), grassy/herbal/floral, pine, mint, marijuana (typically described as “dank”).

Mouthfeel

  • Take a sip of the (hypothetical) beer, swirl it around in your mouth and over the tongue
  • The sensation left in your mouth in referred to as “mouthfeel”. Does it coat your tongue? Dry out your mouth?
  • High carbonation/more fizz creates a drier, crisper mouthfeel.
  • More sugar and heavier body make for a richer mouthfeel.
  • Mouthfeel is one of the most important factors in pairing beer with food.

Taste

  • Five elements of beer taste are sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami.
  • Bitterness is the big one, derived from hops added early in the boil.
  • Sweetness generally comes from malted barley.
  • Salt flavour can come from minerals in the brewing water or can be added for certain styles.
  • Umami is generally not a great flavour to find in beer; it can indicate autolysed yeast.
  • Sour beers are my favourite! Sourness can come from the yeast strain or from added bacteria.
  • There’s an important difference between good sour(deliberate) and bad sourness, such as from infected beer or dirty draught lines.

How to buy beer for a poker night

  • Buy from local shops and local breweries: Kew, Beavertown, Kernel are all great options.
  • Lower ABV beers are usually more cost-effective.
  • Classic styles like lager, pale ale, IPA are safe bets and go well with snacks.
  • It’s more important to have enough beer than to have expensive beer.
  • Be nice to your guests: Provide appropriate glassware if the beer is unfiltered; no one likes a mouth full of yeast.
  • Check the dates to make sure your beers are fresh! IPAs and pale ales are best within six months of bottling (the younger the better). Hop aroma fades quickly and very old hops can take on a cheesy smell that most people find deeply unpleasant.
  • If your friends don’t appreciate good beer, save some money and buy crappy beer for them.
  • Yes, they will probably just drink your good beer anyway. If that happens, save the bad beers and use them to make beer bread or micheladas.
  • It can be distracting to fuss over fancy beer, so don’t get anything too special if the purpose of your gathering is to play poker or watch sports.

How to pair beer with food if you’re going to dinner at your boss’s house or something

  • Pairing beer with food is really tough if you don’t know the menu in advance.
  • The best option is to just buy Belgian beer, since it goes well with food.
  • Belgian yeast strains have fruity, spicy, peppery notes that bring out complementary flavours in food.
  • Saison is a particularly good option—goes well with cheese, meats, vegetables.
  • They tend to be pretty strong, so if you want something lower ABV, keep an eye out for “table saison”, also known as grisette.

Beer for dessert? Sadly saison doesn’t go very well with chocolate. Pick out a nice imperial stout or barleywine to go with dessert.

  • A (Pointed) Guide to Beer
  • Why, When, How to Beer
  • It's a craft; brewers deserve your respect
  • Goes great with food
  • Gets you drunk
  • When to beer
  • How to beer
  • How to drink beer at a certain sort of pub
  • Drink gin, not bad beer
  • Ask for tasters
  • Chat with the bartenders
  • Get a recommendation
  • Try something new
  • Mind the ABV
  • Don't be a dick
  • How to beer
  • Appearance, Aroma, Mouthfeel, Taste
  • Appearance
  • Aroma
  • Mouthfeel
  • Taste
  • How to buy beer for a poker night
  • Cost <=> Flavour
  • Small range of classic styles
  • Check the dates; freshness matters
  • Special considerations...
  • Must go well with snacks
  • Your friends might have bad taste
  • Beer shouldn't detract from the main activity
  • How to pair beer with food when someone else is cooking
  • Belgian beers
  • Duvel, Orval, Chimay
  • Saison
  • Imperial stout or barleywine for dessert
  • Further reading and contact info