If you and I have anything in common, and I like to imagine we do, then you are no stranger to the malt-based, hop-infused liquid refreshment known as beer. If you and I have anything else in common, reading this far has already triggered a biological desire for a cold, thirst-quenching pint of ale.
Now let’s pretend that we have much less in common. “Yeah, I definitely enjoy a good beer!” you say, but you’re in an exclusive relationship with a single brand’s boring, tasteless barley-water. A sad life. All of the other beer drinkers feel sorry for you. I do too. If this sounds like you, I apologize—you need to branch out a little. If this sounds like a friend, do them a favour and send them this way. You see, Canada’s brewing industry has exploded recently, and many new, local breweries are producing quality beer of tremendously varying styles for all those willing to appreciate it.
As a resident of British Columbia, I’m privileged to have access to some of the best beers in the country. I was able to discover many of these first-hand by exploring the taphouses, brewpubs, and breweries close to home. Brothers and sisters to the east, fear not! Although my opinions are based on personal experience on the west coast, amazing, high quality beer is brewed nationwide.
With that in mind, the info I’ve laid out before you will hopefully get you on the path to beervana—no, ale-lightenment—wait, wait, brewtopia. There it is.
Appreciating the Craft
My mind is repeatedly blown by the ability of local breweries to do so much with so little. Boldly complex or subtle and palate-pleasing, the flavors imparted solely by types of malt (kiln-dried grain, the starch source), hops (flower used for flavoring and bittering), and yeast (fermenting microorganisms) are extremely diverse. The process hinges on the quality of ingredients, the balance of individual flavors and the brewmaster’s relentless dedication to the sacred brewing procedures. If you are even remotely interested in beer, find the nearest small scale craft brewery and watch the magic happen on brewing day.
When you’re there, you’ll notice that breweries take extreme pride in the quality of their ingredients, whether imported from some of the finest suppliers in Europe or grown locally in Canada. The foundation of a good beer is in the raw ingredients. From there, the traditional tried-and-true brewing practices come into play. The malts are steeped in hot water (known as mashing) at precise temperatures for exact amounts of time. Hops are added at various times during the final boil, releasing bittering and aromatic compounds. When it comes to fermentation, many breweries are eager to explain how their yeast has been washed and reused for years, developing complex character and flavors unique to their own beer. This subject is extremely detailed and warrants its own future article. All in due time.
Discovering Your Own Tastes
Alright, alright. Before you were embarrassed, now you’re intrigued. Discovering your own tastes starts by simply sampling more beers. No need to go all willy-nilly though. Forcing yourself to drink a full 650ml bottle that your palate isn’t prepared for can be an unpleasant experience. Instead, slowly venture out into familiar styles and flavours.
Presuming you have a few favorite brews already, question what you enjoy about them. Are they light and crisp, sweet and malty, maybe floral and bitter? Did you know that the flavors attributed to various beers have been summarized by chemists in a reference tool called a flavor wheel? Over 40 terms are used, from hoppy to malty and everything in between.
As you continue on your journey to brewtopia, always be seeking out what you find enjoyable in a brew. Beer is a social beverage! Many young beer connoisseurs flock to social media to discuss new beer releases and existing favorites. You’ll find there’s usually a consensus when it comes to rating local craft beers, and can use the online platforms to connect with others in your area interested in craft beer too. If you’re one of the lucky ones who happens to have real, live, flesh-and-blood friends who enjoy the same things as you, try picking up a few beers you’ve never tried before and do some blind taste testing together. You’ll quickly start to realize what you like and don’t like about certain beers.
With any luck, this article has inspired you to think a bit more about the beer you drink and why you appreciate it. You’ll be on your way in no time. And from one friend to another, don’t be stupid. Drink responsibly.