With the popularity of gastropubs and craft beer bars in our city, you can't just walk into a beer-serious bar and order a tall, cold one anymore. Now there are many factors to consider: glass, temperature, style, pour. Connoisseurs know this, but many mainstream drinkers don't. Beer experts Larry Caldwell, Father's Office Santa Monica general manager; Christina Perozzi, co-author of The Naked Pint and co-executive editor of TheBeerchicks.com; and Ryan Sweeney, owner of The Surly Goat and Verdugo Bar share five complaints they often hear that mark an amateur beer drinker and then why these complaints are so wrong.
1. “There's too much head on the beer.”
Caldwell: By pouring the beer with a bit of head, it's allowing the beer to release a lot more aromatics than if you poured it without. That is the biggest point I can make. When you are drinking a fine craft brew, you want to experience every bit of flavor you can, and to achieve that….you have to have some head on your beer.
Perozzi: The perfect beer for this example is the Belgian Golden Ale Duvel. This beer is supposed to be poured with at LEAST two inches of head. The bubbles carry the aromatics and provide the exact balance that the brewer intends. If all that carbonation remained in the beer, it would explode in your mouth, and not in a good way.
Sweeney: Getting beer with no head, although seems like you're getting a deal, is an indicator that the beer is either under carbonated, the beer lines pouring the beer are not clean, or the beer is infected in some way. Any of these three issues would mean you are not getting a good quality beer.
2. “This glass isn't frosted.”
Caldwell: Frosted glasses are the enemy of craft beer. The whole purpose of the frosted glass is to serve the beer as cold as possible, which while refreshing, also numbs the palate so you can't taste it as much. Fine craft beers, however, often get better as they get warmer. Much like wine, they open up as they come up to temperature and are allowed to breathe. If you are buying a beer with a lot of flavor, you don't want to dull that flavor by serving it in a frosted glass. You want to allow the flavor to be at its best, and in many cases that's as it is allowed to warm.
Perozzi: The colder your beer is, the less you are going to taste it. So you don't necessarily want it served in a chilled ice cold glass, unless it's a crappy beer and you don't want to taste it. Or you're very very hot. Also, excess carbonation can occur in beer when it changes temperature rapidly. If you pour a 50-degree beer into a 35-degree glass you could have excess carbonation release that will leave your beer flat.
Sweeney: Have you ever seen that Coors commercial about the mountains turning blue when the beer is cold enough to drink, did that ever seem a bit odd to you? It should, because the colder that something is, the less you taste it. The less you taste something the harder it is to know if it is low quality or not. Now this works just fine for all American macro lagers, because the last thing they want you to think about is how bad tasting and low quality their beers actually are.
3. “Why such a small pour for higher alcohol content beer? What a ripoff.”
Caldwell: A. There's only so much of the higher ABV beers your palate can handle. B. More importantly, it's a more responsible pour. The bar's job isn't to get you drunk. If anything, it's their job to stop you from getting too intoxicated.
So if you look at it, you are getting wine strength beer and getting almost double the pour-size. Even with the higher cost of those beers it's still a steal when compared to wine as the prices are comparable. People need to understand that a pint of a higher ABV beer is like serving a person two to three beers at a time. Three pints of a high ABV beer can be the equivalent of serving nine “regular” beers.
Perozzi: Believe us when we tell you that you do not want 16 ounces or 20 ounces of high percentage beer at a time. In fact, many of these higher alcohol beers come in 11.2-ounce bottles, and sometimes even smaller. These kinds of beer aren't meant to be guzzled, they are meant to be appreciated…sipped…like cognac. Quality, not quantity.
Sweeney: In the same way you don't drink port wine in a pint glass, or even a red wine glass, you also don't pour high alcohol barley wines in a pint glass. This has to do with tradition and the strength of the beer. Any place that does not follow these rules probably has no clue of the beer they are serving nor do they want the hassle of multiple glasses, basically they are not doing the customer a favor, they are just too lazy to do the right thing.
4. “What's up with this girly tulip glass?”
Caldwell: Many of the breweries have their own glassware because it's the style that best presents their beer. Often, the type of glass has to do with how the carbonation is to be presented in their beer. Wide-mouth chalices allow the stronger carbonation to dissipate quicker allowing for a creamier body. Thin flutes (much like champagne flutes) hold the carbonation longer keeping the beers from getting too flat and syrupy. Tulip glasses vary in size and the width of the opening. More often than not, these tend to be the most aromatic beers. Much like a great burgundy glass, tulips really channel the aromatics to your nose allowing you the greatest ability to smell the beer and get the full effect of it. Unless a beer is meant for a chalice or flute, to me the tulip is the best all-purpose beer drinking glass. I wouldn't just drink Belgians in it. If I drink at home, I put almost everything in a tulip. IPA, Imperial Stout, Sours and Lambics, etc.
Perozzi: A chalice – like for Chimay – actually provides a big surface area so that carbonation can escape quickly, providing a different kind of balance. The glassware is there to provide you with the perfect beer tasting experience for that particular beer as prescribed by the brewer.
Sweeney: Having many glass style and shapes is the universal norm and the traditional way to serve beer. So when you go out to a bar and get a beer in a non-shaker glass, this is not some ploy or cost-cutting shenanigans, it is a bar or restaurant trying to do what's right and bring back beer tradition to a culture that has been dumbed down.
5. “This beer isn't cold enough.”
Caldwell: This often comes up when referring to cask beer or “real ale.” There is a big misconception that those beers, which are commonplace in the U.K., are served at room temperature. That's completely false. They are served at cellar temperature which is usually around 54-57F (12-14C). Also very similar in temp to proper red wine temps. Much of the fear of non-ice cold beer is that mass-produced BMC (Budweiser, Miller, Coors) types taste horrible as they get warmer. However, cask beers and real ale need to be slightly warmer so you can pick up all of the flavors. Too cold and you miss a lot of the nuances.
Perozzi: Basically lots of people are terrified of getting “room temperature” beer, especially when they think about English styles… but the truth is that it's not being served room temperature, it's being served at the correct temperature, not ice cold. We're so programmed by beer commercials (which hardly ever discuss the actual flavor in beer) that tell us that we have to drink ice cold beer, and that the bottle will change colors when its cold enough for us to drink. It's BS.
Sweeney: Different styles of beer are meant to be served at different temperatures, like white wine vs. red. An American macro lager is suggested to be near 30 degrees and maybe any lagers could be served as low as 38 degrees, but I think no beer you want to taste should be served under 40 degrees and higher alcohol beers should be served at high temperature getting up to 55 degrees.