Readers of my recent posts will know that I have been thinking a lot about my swimming recently. In particular, I have been considering the best way to improve my technique. It seems that for too long I have been under the impression that just getting into a pool and ploughing up and down for a while will make me a better swimmer. It won’t, and I have reached the conclusion that I need to invest in some training in order to improve my performance in the pool.
I was considering this very point one evening as I sat at home, sampling that week’s offering from my Year in Beer challenge. Turning to my beer I tried to sum up its flavours, its smell, its colour. Why did I like it? What was it about this beer that was different to other beers? I realised that I didn’t know.
It seems that I had fallen into the same trap that had befallen my swimming. Starting my 50-beer challenge I assumed that I would pick up the knack of beer tasting along the way. Through some form of beer-osmosis I would naturally discover the ability to identify different characteristics. I would be able to discern the various tastes and types of beer just through drinking a variety of them over the course of a year. It turns out, though, that this is the beer equivalent of just swimming lengths and not working on my technique.
But having decided to get serious about my beer, where do I turn for help?
Garrett Oliver is the brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery and he has written an excellent book on beer called The Brewmaster’s Table. The aim of the book is to introduce the reader to the joys of pairing beer with food, but it also acts as a great introduction to the different types of beer and their histories and traditions. I bought myself a copy of The Brewmaster’s Table and I am happily working my way through it, getting hungrier and thirstier by the chapter.
One of the first chapters is on wheat beers, a style of beer that didn’t find favour with me during November. I like the stronger flavours of ales and the bitterness of bitter and I found the wheat beers to be lacking something in comparison. Perhaps I have been too hasty in my conclusions though; after all, those beers were good enough to be included in the Top 50 Beers of 2012. Perhaps the answer lies in not drinking them alone, but through matching them with the right food. Already a little bit of knowledge is allowing me to think differently and, in the same way that my swimming will benefit from practicing drills and understanding what a smooth stroke should be like, I am hoping that I will be able to learn more about the different styles of beer and to improve my beer-tasting technique as the Year in Beer progresses.
Some of this month’s beers have been combined with food, to see how they are enhanced by the pairing, and you will be able to read more about that in December’s Year in Beer roundup. I have also found myself standing in front of a shelf of beer bottles, considering whether to buy a wheat beer again to try with the appropriate food. Clearly the shift in thinking has already started, and that can only lead to good things.