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Ask a Cicerone: What People Get Wrong About Beer

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Charles Coy of The Corner in Santa Monica

This week, we asked our crew of beer experts to sound off about people's misconceptions about beer. What myths and assumptions drive them crazy? Here's what they had to say...

"Even though the craft beer movement has made remarkable strides over the last decade or more, mainstream alcohol drinkers still have a core misperception about beer. And that is that beer is basically a one-dimensional beverage. Or maybe two dimensions, at best—it's either the bland, yellow fizzy stuff or it's 'too bitter.' This makes sense, in that so many people either experience beer as the macro-brewed light lager of Bud Light or when someone (a craft beer lover maybe?) drops a 120 IBU triple India Pale Ale on them and their inexperienced tongue shrivels in horror. Of course, we beer lovers know better. We know beer to be a staggeringly diverse world of flavors and aromas and characters and backstories. The trick is inviting our wine friends or Bud Light friends into this dazzling world of choice carefully and logically. Don't start with the 120 IBU triple IPA brewed with jalapeno peppers. Find styles that give a drinkable, fun introduction to hops and to malt.—Charles Coy (The Corner, Santa Monica, CA)

"An unfortunate misperception about beer is that it only goes with pizza, wings, and pretzels. Much to the contrary, there are too many fantastic beer and food pairing combinations to count, and beer is arguably a better beverage for cheese pairing than wine, with the carbonation cleansing the palate between each bite and setting up the taste buds for the next cheese."—Rob Hill (Total Wine & More)

"Wine is not more 'classy' than beer. Minutes, hours, months and sometimes years of dedication and fine tuning are poured into the creation of both of these wonderful liquids, and craft beer should be treated the same way as wine—correct glassware, serving temperature, tasting technique, pairings."—Becki Kregoski (Bites 'n Brews)

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John Wyzkiewicz of Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Bolingbrook, IL

"As a brewer, I get a lot of people who want to know the ABV or the IBU. These stats are less important to enjoying the experience, but we want measureables, it's part of our nature maybe. I try to steer people away from this and get them talking about what they enjoy about the flavor or aroma or the tactile sensation they are experiencing. This discourse is much more interesting and gets people thinking differently about what they're drinking. I think when people get over the notion they could be 'wrong' about what they're tasting, we can stop discussing the lab numbers. If you're tasting it, it's not wrong."—John Wyzkiewicz (Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant)

"I would probably say they judge a beer by its color way to often. It's always fun to try to get the customer to try a beer with their eyes closed and then watch them say, 'Wow, I normally don't drink dark beer.'"—Bryan Rounds (Central Coast Distributing)

"What brewers get wrong: Thinking that more is better. There's a difference between complex and obnoxious. We need more well-made session beers, because let's face it, even pale ale still intimidates 90% of American beer drinkers."—Aaron Libera (Sanford Homebrew Shop)

"The one I hear most often: 'Cold beer that warms up will get skunky.' People ask 'Where do you keep the warm beer? I don't want cold beer to warm up on the way home.' Skunkiness is caused by one thing and that is light exposure. Temperature fluctuations that are not extreme won't have much of an effect on beer. And for freshness sake you are always better off buying cold beer even if you are going to allow it to return to room temperature. Cold beer ages slower and stays fresher longer."—Chris Kline (Schnuck Markets)

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Mike Reis of Lime Ventures (and Serious Eats!)

"Here's one I come across a lot in this time of IPA domination: equating hoppiness with bitterness. We're seeing liberally dry-hopped beers boom in popularity, which can be absolutely packed with hop flavor and have very little perceptible bitterness. Many of the folks I speak to who 'hate hoppy beers' are sensitive to beers with a bitter finish. Don't hate the hops, hate the early hop additions!"—Mike Reis (Lime Ventures)

"Pretty much everything that a beer commercial tells people: beer should be ice cold, beer is for partying, beer should have no aftertaste, you should be loyal to one brand of beer. Things are changing, but for the most part people don't really know what beer is."—Jesse Vallins (The Saint Tavern)

"It never ceases to amaze me how often I hear beer geeks speak disparagingly about lighter beers or well balanced session beers just because they're not extreme in some way. To me, it's really nice have several pints of a well crafted session beer. There's a time and place for every good beer and no reason to trash talk entire styles. In fact, the best way to learn to appreciate craft beer and the many flavor profiles and classic styles that are available is to purposely challenge yourself—try new beers, analyze them as objectively as possible, and appreciate them for what they are."—Chris Cohen (San Francisco Homebrewers Guild)

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