Beer masterclass: how to taste it, serve it, and pair it with food

British beer sommelier Jane Peyton explains how to get the best taste from beer, and how to choose the appropriate glassware for each pint. Plus: some clever food and beer pairings to try at home.

Raise a glass to the golden age of brewing! This is the most exciting times for beer drinkers, with a plethora of vibrantly flavoured brews that help prove why beer is the world’s favourite alcoholic drink.


How to taste beer properly

To get the most out of beer, swirl it in the glass (wine glasses are a good shape) and sniff the aromas – the brain registers most taste through the nose. Then sip the beer and let it sit on the tongue, engaging all the taste buds. Beers can be acidic, sweet or bitter, so different areas of the tongue will register those tastes. Then swallow the beer and repeat.

Pairing beer with food

Some say that wine is best with food, but beer has some useful characteristics that wine does not.  To start with, beer is up to 95% water and contains dissolved carbon dioxide (a by-product of fermentation) which is efficient at scrubbing the palate. Hops, one of the ingredients of beer, give bitterness, aroma and flavour, and are superb at cutting through the texture of food – especially oily dishes. Wine struggles with spicy food and desserts, whereas beer embraces every course of a meal, and can even enhance your food. 

It’s not just crisps and nuts that taste good with beer – it can be matched to fine dining menus too, especially when the glassware is appropriate to the beer and the occasion. The shape and design of the glass will alter the appearance, flavour, and drinking experience. 

What glass should I use?

*A tall narrow flute with tapered rim pours the liquid towards the back of the tongue, enhancing effervescence and acidity. Try a gueuze (a sour style of Belgian beer) or crisp pilsner as an aperitif in such a glass, served with smoked salmon.

*Weizen is a tall, slender glass flared at the top ideal for accentuating the voluptuous head of wheat beers.  Match wheat beer with egg dishes, Thai, or seafood.

*A chalice glass is a wide rimmed bowl on a long stem. The design allows complex aromas to develop, and encourages sipping which means the beer hits the front of the tongue where sweetness registers. Barley wines are perfect for this style of glass, and should be served with sticky toffee pudding or a cheese plate.

*The classic English pint glass gets short shrift when it comes to presentation or elegance – it is a rather clumsy vessel. In a recent survey of 1,000 women conducted on behalf of Friends of Glass, when given a list of glassware 43% preferred beer from a continental lager glass, and 25% said that using an elegant glass would make drinking beer more pleasurable.

Many excellent beer pubs in Britain permit customers to choose their preferred shape of glass.  The Brewhouse & Kitchen chain – which brews its beer on the premises – is notable in this respect. The ‘Tap’ chain of pubs at, or adjacent to, some mainline railways stations has an ever-changing range of amazing beers often served in tulip glasses.

Next time you have a dinner party, surprise your guests by serving a different beer in an appropriate glass with every course. Beer, food and the right glassware is the start of a beautiful friendship!

Jane Peyton is a beer sommelier (Britain’s first beer sommelier of the year – 2014), author of ‘Beer o Clock’ and other books, founder of the School of Booze, and instigator of Britain’s first national beer day – Beer Day Britain.

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