Every year. Every damn year I have to work the same handful of beer festivals, slinging sample-sized portions of beers I don’t even know how to categorize anymore. By the end of the day, I am left with a thought: I think we forgot how to drink craft beer.
I’ve got a beer in front of me as I write this. It’s Stone IPA, my go-to. Go grab yourself a beer you find yourself going back to again and again. It’s a rare thing these days, but apparently, so is this experience–drinking with intent.
My name is Simon Nielsen. I’m head brewer at Central Waters Brewing Company in Amherst, Wisconsin. If you could share one thing about yourself with me, what would it be? Mine: connecting with others and using beer as the vehicle to do so was the main reason I was drawn to craft beer to begin with. There are plenty of beers for people who want to drink beer alone. But I want to talk about creating connection.
You know the first thing that tells me a person knows how to drink beer? They look at it!
Did you pour yourself a glass of your go-to beer yet? Good. What do you see? Give me a few descriptors out loud. I know, I know, I am not actually sitting with you, but humor me. This helps your brain know you are drinking this beer on purpose. This is going to cause some tension within yourself–this is important–but think of it as ambiance for now.
Give that thing a good swirl. We’re releasing the aromatics and looking to see what kind of head this beer has and can sustain. Ask yourself, “What is this beer actually made of?”
(More: Before Mott the Lesser, There was the Legend of Kate the Great)
By intentionally looking at and agitating the beer in order to experience it more deeply, you are activating the 90 percent of the experience that you aren’t always aware of. Your brain takes notice that you aren’t blindly drinking and unconsciously begins to pick out nuances you can’t consciously comprehend. Your brain is going to communicate this to you through feelings. Do you ever feel like you know an aroma or flavor in a beer but can’t find the word for it? This happens when we taste foods that carry us back to our childhood or a distant memory. I’m a sucker for those deeper experiences. Without connecting to our unconscious, the best we can experience is 10 percent of our beer (or anything, for that matter).
I realize I am talking to you like we are actually sharing this beer together (fourth wall broken). However, it is possible to actually share a very similar experience emotionally as I write this and as you read it, so please, stick with me a little longer. It’ll be worth it.
Besides, you haven’t finished your beer yet.
The disconnect we experience between our conscious and unconscious is not only the cause for our inability to describe beer flavor and aroma, but it is also the same cause for our inability to connect with others. The principles involved in beer tasting, and even drinking, reach far beyond beer–they speak to our inner character. Show me how someone drinks a beer and I will tell you what they value and want out of life.
(More: If Taste is All You Care About in Beer, You’re Missing the Point)
Now, smell the beer. Tease the thing at first, don’t shove your nose straight in the glass. Beer isn’t a gentle creature, and it will overwhelm your senses to the point that you won’t experience everything. Pass the glass under your nose a few times first. Take a few short, sharp sniffs. Breathe it in. Be overwhelmed. This is the time you want to describe what you are experiencing in at least three words–but the more the better! Say them out loud and make this experience 10 times better.
Finally, taste the thing. Release the tension. Notice the beginning, middle, and end. What do you think? What are you feeling?
Follow these steps not only to deepen your experience with the beer but to continually experience this pleasure indefinitely.
Being intentional about drinking beer causes your brain to release as many of those magical little pleasure chemicals as possible. Isn’t that what we are trying to do when we drink? Isn’t that what we are trying to do in life?
I would much rather spend my life sharing and experiencing my beer, my food, my wine, with the ambiance, relationships, and love that develops from embracing the tension of being face-to-face with others. Enjoying those things intentionally brings new depth and meaning to them. Enjoying those things in a way that allows us to connect with our experiences and each other beyond the sample-sized pours I’m hocking at those beer festivals. Let’s embrace each other, the experience, the beer a little deeper. Isn’t that what drew you to craft beer in the first place?
CraftBeer.com is fully dedicated to small and independent U.S. breweries. We are published by the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers. Stories and opinions shared on CraftBeer.com do not imply endorsement by or positions taken by the Brewers Association or its members.