How to Be a Beer Geek

So you’re thinking about getting seriously into beer?

At some point, we went from not car­ing about beer at all to being mild­ly inter­est­ed in it, and from there to being more-or-less obsessed.

If you’re read­ing this, it’s prob­a­bly because you’ve reached that sec­ond stage. This arti­cle is intend­ed to give some prac­ti­cal advice, and some reas­sur­ance, but first…

WARNING STRIPES

A WARNING

Once you start, it’s hard to go back. You might find that pubs you used to like are no-go areas because there’s ‘noth­ing to drink’. When drink­ing becomes think­ing, it can be hard to just relax and enjoy a pint. It’s even pos­si­ble that, for a time, you might become, frankly, a bit of a dick about it.

Are you sure you want to do this? Then read on.

WARNING STRIPES

Rocky Balboa.

1. Drink everything

In which you give your palate a work­out.

At first, what mat­ters is try­ing new things as you come across them. You don’t need to know the his­to­ry, the recipe or the brewer’s shoe size. This is one pas­time (unlike, say, archery) where it’s bet­ter to have a go first and then read the man­u­al.

It’s about dis­cov­er­ing your taste, and broad­en­ing it, while try­ing to avoid devel­op­ing prej­u­dices based on what’s out­side the glass.

This will mean drink­ing beers you don’t like, and that’s impor­tant.

At first, we didn’t like some of the stronger and more strong­ly-flavoured beers we tast­ed, but we per­se­vered, and learned to love some of them.

So you don’t real­ly like them?” No, we real­ly do, even though, back then, we real­ly didn’t. It’s like, say, learn­ing to play a musi­cal instru­ment – not fun in itself, with the bor­ing scales and fin­ger pain, but once you get to the oth­er side, you’ll have a ball.

We also learned, even­tu­al­ly, what we real­ly didn’t like: try as we might, we have not gen­er­al­ly acquired a taste for beers aged in whisky-bar­rels, for exam­ple.

Test your bound­aries with…

Strong stout (Guin­ness For­eign Extra)
Some­thing with ‘in your face’ aro­ma (Brew­dog Punk IPA)
Some­thing sour (Boon Oude Kriek)
A sub­tle Eng­lish bit­ter or mild
Smoky beer (Aecht Schlenker­la Rauch­bier)
Wheat beer (Hoe­gaar­den or Schnei­der Weisse)

Don't Panic

2. Pick a guide, any guide

When, like a three year old, you find your­self repeat­ed­ly ask­ing “Why?”, it’s prob­a­bly time to buy a book.

The mar­ket is crammed with guides to beer, of vary­ing qual­i­ty and com­plex­i­ty, as well as lists of Beers to Drink Before You Die which can per­form the same func­tion, as well as giv­ing shape to your explor­ing.

Here are a cou­ple we’ve reviewed:

It doesn’t real­ly mat­ter which guide you choose, though some­thing recent will prob­a­bly (a) fea­ture beers that are still on the mar­ket and (b) take account of more recent schol­ar­ship. And this one (which we haven’t read) is actu­al­ly pock­et-sized – very prac­ti­cal for the pub-goer.

Of course blogs are good, too, and free, but you’ll have to do a lit­tle more work to find the good stuff among the self-indul­gence, ram­bling and mis­in­for­ma­tion. (Guilty as charged.) Check out our blog roll (over to the left) for some sug­ges­tions.

Whichev­er guide you choose, remem­ber you are allowed to dis­agree with it, and do check oth­er sources before try­ing to use some­thing you’ve read in a beer book to win an argu­ment.

Add Friend.

3. Finding others of your sort

You’ll prob­a­bly soon find that friend and fam­i­ly are less inter­est­ed in beer than you have become, and, if you’re an out­go­ing extro­vert type, will there­fore want to find oppor­tu­ni­ties to hang out with oth­er geeks and talk beer.

There are var­i­ous soci­eties and clubs you can join:

  • The Cam­paign for Real Ale (CAMRA) – found­ing in 1971 and with around 150,000 mem­bers, it has branch­es in every cor­ner of the coun­try; spe­cif­ic focus on cask-con­di­tioned beers; branch meet­ings, beer fes­ti­vals and social gath­er­ings.
  • The Soci­ety for the Preser­va­tion of Beers from the Wood (SPBW) – like CAMRA but much small­er and with less geo­graph­i­cal spread. (They are most active in Lon­don.) Lots of brew­ery and pub vis­its.
  • The Cam­paign for Real­ly Good Beer (CAMRGB) – free to join, infor­mal and most­ly online, but with organ­ised ‘Twissups’ (Twit­ter pis­sups) and less for­mal pub meet­ings between mem­bers in the same area.

Or you could just find a nice beer-geek friend­ly pub in your area, sit at the bar, and get chat­ting. Here are some local pub guides by var­i­ous blog­gers around the coun­try, or you could try Googling ‘craft beer bar [YOUR TOWN]’ and see what you find.

Online, there are sites such as Rate­beer, as well as active Twit­ter com­mu­ni­ties and local Face­book groups.

Inter­net dis­cus­sions can be a bit frac­tious, in our expe­ri­ence, so, unless you’re pret­ty resilient in the face of aggro, it’s best to be in lis­ten­ing and ques­tion­ing mode until you’re real­ly con­fi­dent you know what you’re talk­ing about.

Prague Tram
Pilgrimages…

One of the bits of being a beer geek that is most enjoy­able is trav­el­ling to try local spe­cial­i­ties and expe­ri­ence unique beer cul­tures.

Here are just a few sug­ges­tions for places where you can learn more about beer in one week­end drink­ing than from 20 books:

…and Rarities

Some peo­ple think it’s impor­tant to try spe­cif­ic rare beers such as the leg­endary West­vleteren 12 or Pliny the Elder. Some­times, it can be fun to join the mass hys­te­ria, and, as in col­lect­ing books and records, to have a ‘hit list’.

We’ve tried West­vleteren 12 and, though it is a very good beer, it is not The Best Beer in the World, and hunt­ing rar­i­ties is not, in our view, the best way to go about enjoy­ing beer. But that’s just us.

Home brewed brown ale.

Brew your own

Home brew­ing is a great way to under­stand the sci­ence behind beer with­out resort­ing to text-books and cours­es. It can also pro­vide social con­tacts – many areas of the UK have their own brew­ing clubs and soci­eties. If the beer you make is undrink­able, you will learn some­thing. If not, then, wa-hey! Beer!

Here are our rec­om­men­da­tions for some books about home brew­ing, and there are lots of inspir­ing blogs such as Andy Parker’s.

So when do I get my membership card?

There are var­i­ous ways you might con­sid­er you’ve grad­u­at­ed from the School of Half Pints and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Big Hops.

There are actu­al qual­i­fi­ca­tions, e.g. the Beer Academy’s beer som­me­li­er accred­i­ta­tion.

Or you might just be hap­py, as we are, with a more per­son­al sense of con­fi­dence in your taste, knowl­edge and opin­ions about beer: when you stop feel­ing like a bull­shit­ter, you’re there.

We’ll be adding to this and amend­ing it as more thoughts occur to us.

2 thoughts on “How to Be a Beer Geek”

  1. First – the IBD som­me­li­er accred­i­ta­tion is a pro­fes­sion­al qual­i­fi­ca­tion, and no push-over. You won’t get accred­i­ta­tion with­out a sol­id port­fo­lio of pro­fes­sion­al expe­ri­ence – blind tast­ing 16 beers in a viva voce inter­view is also part of the test­ing process – so not real­ly for begin­ners.
    The day cours­es run by the IBD Beer Acad­e­my are open to all, how­ev­er, and could be use­ful once a cer­tain lev­el of palate train­ing and expe­ri­ence have been achieved.

    Sec­ond – in Czech “pilzn­s­ki” ie “pil­sner” means “from Pilzn” and there­fore denotes ori­gin not style. It fol­lows, there­fore that the only pale pil­sner that you will find is Pilzn­s­ki Pradroj” aka Pil­sner Urquell.
    How­ev­er there is any num­ber of pale lagers (Sve­tle Lezak), not men­tion amber Polot­mave , and dark­er Tmave or Cerne, beers, as well as stronger Spezial­ni bock-like beers. Even some Psenice wheat beers.
    In fact if you go to the Czech Repub­lic what you should dis­cov­er is that there is a very wide range of beers, not just “pil­sner”.

  2. Dun­no about this post (or page) – I’d have said that if you are get­ting into beer, you’re get­ting into beer, and you’ll find your own way (which will be as good as any oth­er). I start­ed on old-school brown bit­ter a long time ago, then dis­cov­ered Bel­gian beer and got into every­thing from wit­bier to Orval to Roden­bach, and only got the pale’n’oppy bug much lat­er. Even ten years ago, if any­one had told me I real­ly should try a DIPA or a sin­gle-hop pale ale, I’d have told them to get lost and ordered a bot­tle of Chi­may. Of course, get­ting into hop­py beers was a good idea, but I need­ed to do it in my own time. But this may just be me.

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