Think fast: which is less intimidating to try – a beer you’ve never drank before, or a whiskey you’ve never drank before? Many of us would answer beer. As a buddy of mine from college once said, “beer actually tastes good.” Now, those of us who love whiskey might protest that good whiskeys taste great as well. However, it’s plain to taste that beer has less burn than hard liquor, which to an extent makes it easier to drink and taste. The same could be argued for wine. Differentiating and describing wines is perhaps more challenging than parsing out the details of a flight of beer.
If you’re a beer geek – especially a craft beer geek – chances are you go wild for the massive variety of easily identifiable flavors in beer. Maybe you’re a fan of tart ciders or the citrus flavors in different IPA’s. No matter which beers you like, you’re probably able to tell us why. For instance, if you asked me why I like wheat beer, I’d point you to the mild, bread-y taste that’s agreeable with food. If you can describe any kind of beer – be it style or a brand- congratulations: beer has helped you train your palate. Without realizing it, you’re way more equipped to be tasting wine or whiskey than any old shmo on the street.
Sixpoint Brewery recently brought up how with so many different craft beer styles and techniques (including barrel aging, which has been more traditionally associated with spirits), it’s easy for an obsession with beer to spark a love of spirits or wine. A representative from the brewery wrote on a recent discussion thread, “Some of the most popular beer styles these days are barrel-aged beers (bourbon, rum, cabernet, sauvignon, port, sherry, cognac, etc.) and sour beers (similar to some of the sparkling, acid wines). We are…seeing some interesting hybridization of beer styles with cider. Sometimes [it’s] hard to tell if a beer is really a beer, or if [it’s] a wine, or a spirit.” Indeed, your favorite craft beer has more in common with wine or spirits that you realize, and drinking it can help you identify their tasting notes.
Several commenters agreed: drinking beer allows you to pick up on subtle flavors in wine. One person responded, “Drinking and, more importantly, reviewing beer has helped me look for and enjoy the nuances in the wines I have…I now actually can sometimes discern the flavors the bottle says I should taste.” Another concurred, “Beer…has greatly increased my appreciation for wine. Learning how to taste and smell specific things in beer has transferred well to wine and allows me to enjoy it much more when I do drink it.”
Perhaps because the culture surrounding beer is more laid back than the one surrounding wine, or perhaps because, as we mentioned, beer is more quaffable than hard liquor, brews carry far less pretense than other types of alcohol. However, drinking, appreciating, and analyzing beer will probably help you drink, appreciate, and analyze those other types of alcohol in due time. Drinking beer is like playing the piano. The piano is a beautiful instrument in its own right, but many people who play the guitar or violin first start on the piano because it instills musical fundamentals. Similarly, drinking beer is great on its own, but it also can give you the tasting tools you need to help transition you into drinking wine or spirits.
The next time you’re eager to try a new kind of bourbon, warm up your palate with a barrel-aged ale first. It may open up a world of flavors you never thought existed.