"Do I have to use a glass?" he asked, waving his credit card.
An imperial stout worthy of a slow and calculated pour into the finest glassware, Epic Brewing's Big Bad Baptist is not intended tasted from the bottle, but who was I to dispute the customer's request? Doing so would likely only add to the pretension many consumers perceive (often wrongfully) in the craft beer industry. Yet, with the cost of many beer bottles approaching that of moderately good wine, it seemed wasteful to treat this $12 bottle like a typical twelve-pack beer. You certainly wouldn't drink a Bordeaux from the bottle, and I felt only a spacious, stemmed glass would give Big Bad Baptist the room it truly needed to spread its wings and show off all its colors.
The following is how I and thousands of craft beer professionals before me treat our beers to ensure we experience every nuance and subtlety of their identities. From adjunct lagers to Belgian sours, every beer will open up with these techniques. How the extra dimensions you encounter affect your experience is another matter entirely.
Ditch the Bottle
In the world of craft beer, bottles aren't drinking vessels; they're just a convenient way of packaging servings of beer. Their tapered necks and small mouths confine the aromas and CO2 contained in the beer and their thick, tinted glass removes visual analysis from the equation entirely. Opt for a large crystal glass when possible (a red wine glass will suffice), preferably a stemmed snifter or tulip with enough room for foam. It should be spotless and free of dust or dry detergent.
Master the Pour
Nailing the proper beer pour is essential to enjoying everything a craft beer has to offer. To execute this critical beer-drinking feat, tilt your glass to a forty-five degree angle and begin pouring, targeting the middle of the sloped glass. As you reach the halfway point, begin straightening the glass and pouring into the center, perhaps quickening the pour or creating more distance between the bottle/can and the beer. The resulting head will give your senses something to latch on to as you move into the tasting phase, not to mention release all of that gut-filling CO2 dissolved in the beer!
Use Your Senses
Enjoying beer can be a full-spectrum sensory experience. From color and aroma to taste and mouthfeel, a beer's qualities can be isolated and scrutinized independently or collectively in a range of environments. Whether you're at a bar, festival or at home, good tasting practices can include examining the beer's color, rapid or "drive-by" sniffing, swirling the beer to release an extra burst of aroma, and even the seemingly-pretentious wine slurp. Hearing can even play a role when sampling particularly effervescent brews!
Take Some Notes
As you progress with your craft beer tasting adventures, you may find it difficult to remember which beers you liked most or what set them apart, creating a need for documentation. This can be anything from jotting tasting notes on coasters and napkins to using apps like Untappd and filling out tasting graphs. The medium matters less than the process of identifying and giving names to the smells and flavors you encounter, which will make the beer and others like it easier to describe in the future.
One of the beauties of craft beer is that even constrained to what I consider a poor tasting environment, it never loses its ability to make people happy. Though I maintain that my customer would have enjoyed his beer more had he heeded my serving advice, I have no doubts that it satisfied whatever itch he was trying to scratch when he choose it from the hundreds of others he could have selected that night.
This article originally appeared in the Tucson Weekly on 11/20/14.