I get a lot of tweets, texts, or casual questions about beer from friends and strangers alike. So, I decided it might be useful to funnel some of these questions over here to a nice, tidy little FAQ page. If you do have other inquiries related to beer, feel free to email me and I’ll attempt to answer those in a timely fashion.
Q: What kind of beer is right for me?
A: To be honest, you’ll have to try a lot of beers to figure that out. But you may be able to narrow down the type of beer that will appeal to your taste buds by thinking about the flavors you typically gravitate towards in foods. Do you enjoy tart or sour things, like lemon sour patch kids? Do you have a sweet tooth or do you typically go for salty snacks? With food and beer sharing such a close relationship, I always recommend thinking about foods you like and then matching that up with beer styles that correlate.
Q: What does the word “imperial” in the name of a beer mean? Does that have something to do with royalty?
A: Sort of. It started out that way back in the 1800s when England was producing specialty beers (typically stouts) that were shipped to Russia for its imperial court. Brewers later used the term more generally to indicate their top-of-the-line luxury beers. In U.S. crafted beers these days, if you see the word “imperial” in the name of your beer that means it’s going to be a big beer: Big IPA, big stout, big porter. Imperial = big (robust flavor and robust alcohol content).
Q: What does the word “session” mean when I see it in the name of a beer?
A: Session or sessionable basically indicates that the beer is going to have a lower alcohol by volume (ABV) for easy drinking (ie. you can have several beers in one drinking session). I wrote about this style here on my blog, so if you’re interested in knowing more, I would recommend reading that.
Q: How long can I let beer sit before it goes “bad?”
A: This varies from beer to beer. If you’re saying “sit,” do you mean in a cool place like a fridge or a cellar? If that is the case, most beers can sit for up to 90 days after bottling before their flavor begins to change and/or freshness will diminish. This is especially true for beers that have a high IBU (International Bitterness Unit) because at a certain point, the hops begin to break down and lose their potency. I usually tell people the 8.5 rule: If the beer is over 8.5% ABV, it’s safe to say the beer can be aged. And with a higher malt profile and lower IBUs, a beer can actually improve with age. Like a red wine, the darker and higher the alcohol content, the more the flavor will evolve (often for the better). Imperial stouts, bourbon aged/barreled beers, barleywines, and the like are great beers to age at the appropriate temperatures. What makes your beer go bad is heat and light. So, without exposure to those elements, your beer will not go bad, but may lose some of its originally intended characteristics.
Q: How the H-E-double-hockey-sticks do you know so much about beer?
A: I’m asked quite often how it is that I’m able to drink so much beer all the time and not get drunk. My answer is always: Drink every day. In moderation, this is the key to avoiding drunken bafoonery (and hangovers!). Same goes for how one gleans a great deal of knowledge about beer. My comrade Kendall Jones of the Washington Beer Blogtold me just over two years ago when I said to him, “Kendall, I really want to get better at flavor profiles and knowing beer as well as you do,” that the best way to get good at beer is to drink a lot of beer. This advice could not be more true. It may sound kind of ridiculous due to the stigma placed on alcohol in our society, but like writing or any applied art, practice makes perfect. Beer is no different. Your palate is your best friend when it comes to understanding beer, and in order to develop and hone your skills with regards to food (which beer is), you must give it lots of chances to become more developed. Beyond that, read a lot and talk to people who do this stuff for a living. I’ve written about the steps I recommend for those getting “into” craft beer, so I would encourage you to read through that post as well.
Q: Are you an alcoholic?
Q: What is your favorite beer?
A: The beer I am drinking right now. Don’t ask me this question, it’s silly.
Q: Okay, then what’s your favorite brewery?
A: The one that made the beer I’m drinking right now. Obviously.