Strategies for finding great beers

Let’s be honest: the mutitude of beer choices is intimidating. Standing in front of a well-stocked beer aisle can be dizzying for even the most experienced beer geek.

One could spend hours with a smart phone researching the choices at a smaller place, nevermind standing in a huge liquor store like Wines & More or Yankee Spirits. Heck, the choices can be mind-numbing at a well a well-stocked smaller location like Douglas, Barry’s, Muckey’s, or Lee’s Market.

So how does one make a choice when facing such a massive selection of options? There are multiple strategies that work well and can be mix-and-matched as needed. As you read on to figure out how to navigate the maze of beer choices, never forget: all beer is good beer. Don’t let the near-infinite beer choices cause anxiety. Continue reading

The benefits, and hazard, of canned beer

I write this column while enjoying the complex, yet easy-drinking Barstool American Golden Ale by the extremely promising Foolproof Brewing from Pawtucket. The beer is unusual not because they manage to squeeze so much flavor into a 4.5% sipper, but because the beer is poured from a can.

That’s right, the can is making a comeback. Long-vilified in craft brewing as the realm of 30-packs of light, flavorless brews, canned craft beers have become as popular as the guy that brought a keg to the party.

Suddenly, craft breweries across the country are selling their beers in cans, and some sell ONLY cans and kegs. Foolproof distributes their top-notch offerings in cans and kegs only, as does Maine’s Baxter Brewing, Vermont’s amazing Alchemist Cannery, Brooklyn’s Sixpoint and dozens of other breweries across the country.

Heck, Sam Adams now sells its flagship Boston Lager and its Summer Ale in cans. Fellow local brewers Harpoon, Cisco, Berkshire, Newport Storm, Narragansett, Gray Sail, and Wachusett all began offering some of their brews in cans in the last several years.

The advantages of cans are numerous: they’re cheaper, can be stacked and stored easily, block skunky-beer-inducing UV rays, are lighter, are easily recycled, and are simply more convenient for the user. And these aren’t your dad’s cans – the beer contained within don’t taste metallic thanks to advances in can technology, so they usually taste just as good as their bottled counterparts

Unfortunately, that same technology has a dark side: the cans contain BPA (bisphenol-A), an amazing bottle protector that also an endocrine disruptor (Google it). BPA keeps the beer from leeching metallic flavors into the beer. That’s good. It’s also a health risk. That’s not so good.

BPA has been loosely linked to a host of medical issues, including obesity, diabetes, neurological issues, and cancer (among other things). It’s been banned in baby bottles and sippy cups in the US, and studies have shown that it does leach into beer in very small amounts.

It’s obvious that BPA has come to the attention of the nation because most reusable water bottles now read “BPA-Free.”

Most brewers completely ignore the issue, and those that address it do so in a very general way. New Belgium, the country’s 4th biggest brewery and a leader in green brewing, basically says that it’s up to the consumer to decide their own risk. Most of the others completely ignore the issue.

In the end, the majority of BPA leeching risk comes from exposure to heat and long-term exposure to the BPA. Therefore, I definitely drink fresh local canned beer, but am slightly wary of canned brews that have been sitting on the shelves for months and shipped across the country.

Originally published on August 15, 2013

The many aspects of beer flavor

We all know beer is delicious. What most people don’t think much about is WHY it’s delicious, or why some folks will rant and rave about a brew that you think is mediocre. It’s fine to simply like or not like a beer, but if one puts a bit of effort into figuring out how the beer really tastes, they might discover other brews that have similar characteristics. Continue reading

The smashing rise of hard cider

Walk into any restaurant or pub with a decent array of taps, or any liquor store, and you’ll see something that wouldn’t have been there 5 years ago: hard cider. Johnny Appleseed would be thrilled.

Today’s ciders can be sweet, sharp, dry, and even hoppy. They can be highly-carbonated or barely-carbonated, and appear with all sorts of extra flavors like cinnamon, ginger, pear (called “perry”), raspberry, and a variety of other flavors. Continue reading

Pairing beer and food

With breweries and beer choices multiplying like yeast cells in wort (beer before yeast transforms the sugary water into BEER), people are giving real thought to how to best pair beer with food.

When the only brews available were choices of light lagers, pairing beer with food was simple – either beer worked with the food or it didn’t. Those light beers do pair well with some foods because their crisp, refreshing, palate-cleansing nature washes away fats in, say, pizza or a burger, but their ideal food partners were limited. Continue reading

Glass choice makes a big difference for beer drinkers

Now that we’re all beginning to try beer with flavor (hopefully), it’s time to talk about how to properly enjoy said beer. When drinking nearly flavorless lagers, it really doesn’t matter what vessel you’re using to drink from … the bottle/can, a standard “shaker” pint glass, or an old shoe.

But the standard glass that we all know and are used to is about the worst glass one can use for beer. It’s terrible at all three goals a beer glass has: keep the beer cold, keep it carbonated, and hold the aroma in the glass. Continue reading