Even though it’s the oldest fermented drink in the world,beer isn’t beloved by everyone and there is a fair sized group of people who just don’t like the taste of beer. Yet when everyone else around you continues to extol the virtues of every bottle of beer they’ve consumed, you might begin to wonder just what it is you’re missing out on.
You may not believe it right now but to many people, good beer drinking experiences are akin to tasting fine wine or single malt scotch; indeed, one of the tests of a fine beer is that it does taste good. For you, liking the taste of beer may have to be an acquired approach but it can grow on you gradually through a better understanding of which beers might taste better (to you) and how to serve each beer so that it is at its optimal flavor. Perhaps it’s time to reacquaint yourself with beer and to find a taste in beer that does please you.
Learn about the basic ingredients of beers. The history of beer is fascinating and there are good histories you can read online or in books by beer devotees. Check the drinks section of your local library or bookstore for such books. In a nutshell for now, beer is the product of fermentation of extracts of malted cereals, in particular barley, and flavored with hops. Different countries have varying levels of strictness as to the “purity” of the beer brewing choices though. For example, under the German Purity Law (applicable in Germany), the only grain permitted is barley (along with malt, hops, yeast, and water). In most other countries, other grains rich in starch are also permitted to form the basis of beer, including maize, wheat, rice, rye, sorghum or oats. Barley continues to make up the majority of malt for beers though.
- Malting/maltings is the term used for soaking the grain, allowing it to begin germination and then drying it under controlled conditions in a kiln. There are different malting processes too, with some brewers preferring the heavily labor-intensive floor malting while others use ventilated boxes.
- Malt itself comes in a variety of flavors. The manner in which a grain has been malted affects its flavor, such as aromatic toasted malt, honey malt, and biscuit malt.
- Hops come in a variety of flavors, depending on where they’re grown. Some hops varieties have higher levels of essential oils, making for distinctive flavors, including herbal, mint, pine, floral, spicy, and citrus flavors. Premium hop growing regions are considered to be Europe and North America. Hops can be used uniquely or blended with other varieties of hops to create a more complex flavor.
- Instead of hops, beer may also be flavored with many other ingredients including fruit (apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, etc.), grains of paradise, herbs and spices (ginger, cinnamon, chili, etc.), chocolate, coffee, licorice, thistle, heather, orange peel, elderberry, and even seaweed. Honey and maple syrup are also used to sweeten some beers. However, hops is the most common flavoring.
- Added sugar has its own role to play in the taste of beer (that is, sugar that has not arisen from the grain itself). The addition of sugar can change the beer flavor; for example, Belgian beers can have a rum like flavor due to the addition of candy sugar while Australian lagers can taste like the cane sugar that is added to them, thinning the beer texture.
Familiarize yourself with the styles of beer. There are four main categories of beer, namely ales/porters/stouts (top fermentation), lagers (bottom fermentation), wheat beer (top fermentation), and wild fermentation/lambic. The variety or style of beer impacts the taste and this may be where your dislike of beer has arisen if you have only tried very commercial, bland varieties. Beer taste is considered to be measurable on a spectrum of three: 1. Malty beer (sweet); 2. Hoppy beer (bitter); and 3. Dark beer (heavily roasted malt), to pale and heavy (more alcoholic), to light (session). Bitterness (from the hops and tannins) should never reach acridity; if it does, it’s a beer very few people would like regardless of their love of beer! In the four main types of beer, you will find these flavor generalizations apply:
Ales, porters and stouts (English style): These beers tend to have fruitier flavors, such as strawberry, orange, or dessert apple flavors, and sometimes a butterscotch flavor. The butterscotch flavor tends to be most evident in ales from northern England and from Scotland. Coffee and chocolatey flavors can be detected in some of these beers.
Lagers (German style): These beers tend to have an aroma of new-mown hay. Other detectable flavors in lagers can be fresh bread, cookies, caramel, etc. A truly clean lager will taste of nothing more than malted grains and hops (with all the varying flavor overtones of both the malt and the hops). They should be crisp.
Wheat beers: These beers tend to have varying flavors dependent on the source of yeast. For example, yeast from South German beers can have such flavors as banana, bubblegum, and clove. Wheat beers should be tart and refreshing to taste.
Wild fermentation using yeasts from the air (lambics): These beers can taste acidic in a way similar to rhubarb, along with flavors added to them such as fruit. For some, this flavor can seem funky or sour, and it isn’t to everyone’s taste. Only a few breweries continue to use this style of brewing, so they tend to be boutique beers.
Try different beers. Rather than judging your dislike of beer based on only a certain variety or even brand, prepare to broaden your experience by testing different styles of beer. It isn’t possible to identify the “best” beers all in a single article; besides which, what is best to you may be very different from someone else’s impressions. However, it is possible to point you in a general direction so that you know what to look for and try as you ease yourself into enjoying the taste of beer. The following steps suggest a few beer choices that you might like to try in order to broaden your beer palate.
- Visit a brewery or microbrewery and sample local or small production run beers. Many beer oriented bars and restaurants brew on site. This is a great way to support the beer culture in your community and might even give you the opportunity to develop a liking for your local beer’s flavor and style.
- The best way to find great beer is to try as many as possible. If you see something on tap you’ve never seen before ask the bartender for a sample (they’ll usually oblige), or take the plunge and get a pint! If you don’t like it, at least you tried it (it helps to have friends who drink beer no matter what – you can offload the beers you don’t want onto them).
Try a stronger tasting beer. Stronger tasting beer might prove an interesting discovery for you, especially if you’ve only ever tried weak, sugary beer targeted at the mass market. You may find that a full-bodied beer will taste better to you even if you haven’t enjoyed beers before. Stronger beers include stouts, ales and reds:
- Imperial stouts are the extreme of the “dark” spectrum
- India pale ales are the extreme of the “hoppy” spectrum
- Flemish reds are the extreme of the funky/sour spectrum.
- Barleywines are the extreme of the heavy/boozy spectrum.
- Porters and milk stouts are the extreme of the malty/sweet spectrum.
Try a lighter beer. Session beers such as Kolsch, Dortmunder, Pilsners and pale ales tend to have lower alcohol, fewer calories and a lighter flavor. Make sure this kind of beer is cold and hasn’t been exposed to light for a significant amount of time as light may make these kinds of beers skunky and undrinkable. And believe it or not, Guinness is a light beer too!
Try cask-conditioned beer. This is the English style of serving. Drawn beers have much less carbonation than bottled or draught beer, and have added flavor from the cask. Cask conditioning can greatly change the character of familiar beers. Visit a traditional pub in England (or one that has been set up in your own country with the same style of cask-conditioned beer) and enjoy. Typical English beers include brown and pale Whitbread, pale ale, and British beers include Scottish Gordon (at Christmas time) and Irish Guinness.
Try beer from different countries. Beer making has a long history in almost every culture and due to the natural conditions for growing grains, hops, and other additions, as well as variations to the brewing process, you’ll find that beers from elsewhere will usually have very different tastes and flavors. This exploration may even unearth a particular variety of beer that you truly enjoy even if all other beers are still disliked! A few examples of beers from other countries to try include:
- German beers from Bremen, Cologne, Dortmund, and Munich (Spaten, Kapuziner, and Löwenbräu). Berliner Weisse and smoked Bamberg beer are other options from Germany.
- Belgian beers such as Gueuze, Kriek, Roddenbach, Chimay, and Jumet.
- Czech beers such as Czech Pilsner (pilsner Urquell) and Czech Budweis.
- French beers such as Champigneulles, Kanterbräu, Mutzig, Meuse, Kronenbourg and Ancre Old Lager.
- Danish beers such as Carlsberg or Dutch beers such as Heineken. These tend to be very light but bitter.
- Other countries producing beer you might consider trying include Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Singapore, India, the Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia. Indeed, most countries where alcohol is part of the culture will have its own beers. And naturally, if you’re not from North America, try beers from the USA and Canada; even if you are from here, have you tried boutique brewery (microbrewery) beers?
Drink the beer at the correct temperature suggested for the variety. If you consume beer at the wrong temperature (for example, too warm or too cold), some of its flavor elements will be anesthetized and therefore the beer may taste bland or one element of the fine balance might overwhelm the other flavors in the beer. The best serving temperatures for beer are as follows:
- Light beer should be consumed at 7ºC to 9ºC.
- Dark beer should be consumed at room temperature or wine cellar temperature.
- Every kind of beer has to be enjoyed in a certain way. Research on the internet for the best temperature, the most appropriate glass, possible mixers, etc. Enjoying a beer appropriately served is the only way to fairly judge it.
- Store beer properly; opened beer deteriorates quickly and isn’t pleasant to resume drinking. Beer that hasn’t been stored properly can become skunky (it tastes just at it reads!), which can put off even a diehard beer lover. Read How to Store Beer Properly for more details on good beer storage.
Use the right glassware for drinking beer. For some people, the whole drinking from the bottle and can is enough to put them off the beer drinking experience. Therefore, it’s good to know that there is appropriate glassware for beer:
- Use balloon glasses and tumblers for normal beers.
- Use tulip or tall beer glasses for very frothy beers.
- Use ceramic tankards if in Germany or at the Oktoberfest; pewter tankards for English beer.
- Beers are not soft drinks, so don’t drink them with ice. Beer is watered down by ice, adversely affecting the taste.
- Don’t drink beer from a frosted mug, as it can cause some of the beer to freeze which spoils the taste.
Have the right atmosphere when enjoying a beer. What is in the air and affecting your nose can also impact the beer tasting experience. If tasting beer, it’s recommended that you don’t try beer around cigarettes, cooking smells, or perfume, as these can all interfere with the experience. As well, what you eat and/or drink prior to taking a sip, gulp or swig of your beer will affect how it tastes. The carbonation pulls fats and proteins off of your tongue and spreads the flavors and aromas all around your palate, which makes beer ideal for cheese pairing (such as Gouda and Maroilles). And most of all, have some beer loving friends with you, to help steer you in the direction of the best tasting beers!