How To Fake Your Way Through A Drinking Session With Craft Beer Snobs
Know a saison from a gose? Understand the difference between ales and lagers? Have any idea why beer sometimes tastes like cardboard? Step away from that slab of VB and listen up.
‘Tis the season of craft beer, and everyone is drinking it, talking about it, and trying to make it. In fact, a survey conducted last year found that craft beer accounts for 45% of all beer and cider purchases in Australia. So, it’s time to brush up on your knowledge and make sure you can keep up with the wankiest beer snobs at the bar.
I have had a crash course in craft beer over the past year or so, and can now easily reel off the names of a bunch of fancy beers, tiny breweries, and pretend to understand the ‘notes’ of particular brews. Why, you may ask? Well my partner, Nick, brews at Little Creatures – one of the biggest craft breweries in the country – and talks about beer approximately 27 hours a day. It’s a tough gig, but someone has to do it.
I’ve enlisted Nick to provide some tips on talking about craft, so pull up a pint, and take some notes.
Ales and lagers
The first thing you need to wrap your head around is the types of beers you will come across in your drinking journey. Although there are about one billion varieties (this is a scientific fact), there’s only two specific categories you need to remember: ales and lagers.
Every beer on the planet is either an ale or a lager, from the most convoluted craft beer to the most traditional mainstream swill. When it comes to ales they’re usually stronger, more bitter, can seem heavier and you’re also likely to notice fruity notes – whereas lagers are often lighter, cleaner, and go down easy.
It’s also important to know about dark beers like stouts and porters which are just as they sound – dark in colour – and tend to be more popular in the colder months. They are usually quite bitter, and focus on all the best flavours: chocolate, coffee, raisins. They technically belong to the ale family, but are often spoken about in their own category.
Sniff and swirl
You may assume that it is only wine drinkers who smell their drinks before actually taking a sip, but you are wrong. I still laugh every time I see Nick with his nose in a glass, but it’s a great habit to embrace if you want to look like you’re in the know.
“You want to release the aroma, and to do that you might need to swirl it, even warm the beer up a bit, maybe rub your glass.” No, he isn’t kidding about that last bit. “As beer warms up, the flavour opens up and evolves, so if a beer is served icy cold, you might not taste as much.” When you’ve got that covered, perhaps throw around a few buzzwords, which we’ve highlighted for you below.
Then, take your first sip, hold the beer in your mouth for a few seconds, and swirl.
Know the buzzwords
Being a craft beer snob is all about the keywords – and as long as you have a few of them stored up, you’ll be able to fake it for at least the first few pints. No matter what type of beer you’re drinking, it’s always great to start off by talking about how ‘balanced’ the flavours are.
If you’re drinking an ale, always kick off the chit chat by mentioning the word ‘sessionable,’ and talk about the level of bitterness. After you’ve had a few sips establish whether you can taste a specific fruit. If you can’t, go for a stone fruit: peaches and passionfruit are usually winners.
If you’re drinking a lager, talk about how crisp and clean it tastes. Mentioning the ‘great flavour profile’ will always have sage heads nodding along. If you’re feeling adventurous, mention the ‘yeast character.’
If the beer is tasting a bit weird – perhaps too sweet, kind of like cardboard, or just a bit flat – there might be something wrong with it. “Beer wankers will often say something is ‘oxidised’, which is fairly common and is a sign of a beer ageing, and of the oxygen affecting it,” says Nick. If you’re going to go negative, talk about the bad aftertaste, or – if it’s from a bottle – mention how much better it tastes on tap.
Remember that craft beer is better than all of the other things
Craft beer snobs can often be heard scorning the qualities of just about any other form of alcohol, with mainstream beer and wine the biggest targets. According to Nick, “Wine is still seen as a very limited, refined, traditional thing. Not all of it is, and there’s lots going on out there, but that’s the perception.” So, if your friends are drinking pinot, make sure you loudly remind them that their drinks are just made from bunches of grapes.
When it comes to mainstream beers, Nick says that there isn’t a huge technical difference between making mainstream or craft – there’s just a lot more wriggle room when it comes to craft beer, and a stronger focus on experimentation and flavour. “Craft beer is fun because you can do whatever you want,” he says.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you froth over the cheapest beer on the market or like to try out different types of craft, because it’s all made from the same four ingredients: water, hops, malt and yeast. Remember that.
Chloe Papas is a journalist and writer based in Victoria. You can find her on Twitter here.