I am definitely a wine man. Ever since I began nicking drinks from my parents’ liquor cabinet, I knew that I loved wine above all else. Something about the color, the flavor, the heightened intellectual and spiritual awareness when drinking it — it is the drink of the gods. But to be fair, the only beer I really drank, until several years ago, was mass-produced junk. Then a friend of mine introduced me to really good, high-quality, crafted beer, and my opinion of beer changed. I can now appreciate beer as a very nice drink, full of flavor and complexity just like a good wine, and worthy of being sipped with food. Beer has been a staple of mankind for tens of thousands of years, so it is certainly worth investigating.
I was invited to a beer tasting by a distributor of Celt beer. I was delighted to find that some of my friends were already at the event when I arrived. The event host, Charles, arrived at our table with the first bottle. He poured us several samples. While we were sipping, I asked him if there was a proper way to taste beer, as there is with wine. According to Charles, the proper way to taste and evaluate beer involves four basic steps:
1. Take two sharp, quick sniffs of the bouquet.
2. Take a normal sniff of the bouquet.
3. Take one last sniff with the mouth open.
4. Slurp the beer into your mouth, allowing it to coat the entire tongue and the top of the throat. Allow it to sit while your tongue and brain register the nuances of the flavor.
5. Exhale, releasing the air in your mouth, through your nose, and swallow.
I followed his instructions, and to be sure, I found it much easier to detect the complex scents and flavors of the three beers that I sampled. This is invaluable knowledge that I will take with me to my next beer tasting. Charles offered three beers for sampling, all from the Celt brewing company, which is based in Wales, UK. The first was called Golden Crafted Ale with 4.2% alcohol by volume (ABV). The second was called Bronze Crafted Ale with 4.5% ABV. Finally, there was the Bleddyn 1075 Crafted Ale with 5.6% ABV.
The Golden Crafted Ale was a basic golden ale, but with deep, complex flavors. I detected a light sweetness on the palate, with a floral bouquet on the nose. One thing that was different from a standard golden ale was the noticeable strength of the hops, and the fruity citrus bitterness associated with that.
Next, the Bronze Crafted Ale shared the basic of the characteristics of the Golden Crafted Ale, but with more intensity. There was also a distinct malty element that added to the delightful bitterness of the hops. The company describes this ale as having a long, sweet, hops finish, and a smoothness on the palate. While I can agree with the smoothness, I completely missed the sweet finish. I found the finish to retain the bitterness of the hops — a bitterness that I am a huge fan of, but not every beer drinker is.
Speaking of the bitterness of good hops, the third beer, the Bleddyn 1075, was a true India Pale Ale (IPA). As such, it was overwhelming in its bitter hops and malt flavors, as well as bursting with fruity grapefruit elements, as a good IPA should be. This was, by far, my favorite beer of the three. To me, there is almost no such thing as too much hops, and this IPA delivered. The citrus bitterness coated my palate and throat, and the higher alcohol content produced an invigorating buzz that went well with the slice of pizza that one of my friends offered me.
Overall, I truly enjoyed these beers. In fact, I liked them enough to forgo the free samples — I bought an entire bottle (not cheap!) of the Bleddyn 1075. But it was worth it, as I enjoyed conversation with friends, and a cool afternoon. I have argued before that the different phytochemicals in the plants used to ferment and distill different types of alcohol, produce different feelings and sensations while drinking. For example, wine always makes me feel intellectual and pensive, and stimulates philosophical conversation.
On the other hand, beer treats me differently. Cheap, bad beer only makes me sleepy and then a bit nauseated. But high-quality beer, like I enjoyed tonight, causes me to feel extremely sociable. It enlivens and stimulates the part of my mind that makes me desire to be around friends, to share, talk, and laugh. It awakens that part of all of us that truly realizes and understands the great vale of friendship and love. And, tasting aside, that alone made this night worthy.