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Pour another round: How to serve a perfect glass of beer

While American beer once meant light lager, today it encompasses a wide array of flavors concocted by innovative craft brewers whose varieties — and in some cases alcohol content — approach the breadth of wine and spirits.

In fact, there’s now so much to learn about beer styles and how to serve them that the president of the Craft Beer Institute, Ray Daniels, has launched a sort of beer sommelier ce.jpgication program.

That’s because all that variety has complicated not only pairing beer with food but also the mechanics of serving it. Like wines, each variety of beer benefits from different serving styles.

Proper service means paying attention to glassware, the serving temperature and how the beer is poured.

A proper serving of beer presents the head well, offers the right portion, shows off the color and aroma, and honors brewers’ efforts with a nice visual presentation, says Randy Mosher, a beer consultant who teaches at the Siebel Institute of Technology in Chicago, which specialized in brewing.

"Beer should be an aromatic and taste-and-texture experience. But we all know, what the stuff looks like has a huge impact to how people perceive things," he says.

Here, Mosher offers some general tips:

Match the strength of the beer to the size of the glass

For amber ales, the typical American "shaker" pint (the standard, straight pint common at most bars) is fine. For a more bitter barley wine, with higher alcohol content and bigger flavor, choose a snifter, which traps aroma and is smaller.

"You wouldn’t want a pint of barley wine. Well, you may want one, but shouldn’t have one," Mosher says.

In general, a glass that curves inward, so the rim turns up, helps concentrate aromas. A classic pilsner flute with its tall, tapered conical shape serves to wedge foam in and give it support, Mosher says. Try one for a cream ale.

Pour a little, wait a little

Don’t tilt the glass. The idea is to keep the head. Pour some beer into your glass, let the head foam up a bit and settle, then keep pouring. It might take two or three pours. The idea is to keep the head while releasing some of the carbonation that otherwise can leave you feeling bloated.

"By doing it that way, it knocks a little gas out of the beer. It makes it taste smoother, less harsh. All those bubbles are filled with aroma, so if they’re popping, they’re releasing aroma," Mosher says. "It’s nice to have a thick head on beer. It feels good on the lips. It’s all about those details."

Watch the temperature

Like wine, different beers taste best at different temperatures. Lagers are served cooler than ales, darker beers are served warmer than pale, and stronger beers are served warmer than weaker ones, Mosher says.

While American-style lagers should be served between 35 to 38 degrees, English style beers should be served as warm as 50 degrees. Serve an India pale ale or a porter at around 50 to 55 degrees.

Mosher acknowledges this can be tough to manage. "Not everybody has 12 different coolers," he says.

Assuming you don’t have multiple refrigerators or beer coolers, keep them in your regular refrigerator. Before drinking, let the beer sit on the counter for about 15 minutes. This should get it to a better temperature.

Mosher does urge leaving the frozen beer glasses for only the lightest American industrial beers, such as Bud, Miller or Coors.

"You never want to put a really good beer in a frozen glass. It’s a waste of money," he says. "The aromas just can’t get out. They get locked into the liquid. So at slightly warmer temperatures, they have the ability to jump out of the glass and get into your nose."

Catherine Tsai

The Seattle Times - 24 January 2008
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