Drinking for Dummies

Local beer experts dish on how to conquer the tap-list

Drinking for Dummies

by Sally Hedberg

For college students, the process of buying or ordering beer is typically one centered on expedience. It’s about getting drunk and avoiding bankruptcy — plain and simple. There’s nothing wrong with this per say, but it all too often leaves one slamming the most boggy and flavorless of brews.

The act of drinking distilled fermented grains is an art to some, like Mark van Wie, owner and beer buyer of the Muddy Pig,  who offers some insight on how to step away from Coors.

“I would encourage everyone to learn more about beer in general,” van Wie said. “Whether they’re reading about it or going to the local pub and drinking it.”

Beer education, after all, is really about getting in tune with your taste buds and being able to articulate what makes them happy. To do that, it’s vital to drink outside the box, which doesn’t have to be scary as long as you know a few simple tidbits of information.

Beer is a lot simpler than you’d think. Four ingredients — water, malt, yeast and hops — combine to create our beloved (though sometimes fickle) beverage. Different flavors and styles are a result of many variables, like how long the grain was roasted or the type of fermentation process used. If flavor is completely boiled down, and for this purpose it will be, the basic taste can be described as either hoppy or malty.

Hoppy beer is bitter beer, characteristic of something like a Summit Extra Pale Ale, a brew that van Wie says “owns the Twin Cities.” Malty beer, on the other hand, is sweet, custom to something like Rush River Brewing Co.’s Lyndale Brown Ale.

Voicing your preference, sweet or bitter, is a great start to help your bartender offer new suggestions.

“If you go to a good beer bar your server should be knowledgeable,” van Wie said. “You just can’t be afraid to ask them questions.”

From there, be bold, order something unfamiliar and don’t forget that most reputable bars will provide draft samples upon request.

 For those committed to a long-term education, there’s another approach. Adult beverage expert and author of “Drink This: Wine Made Simple” Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl knows all about figuring out taste.

“Pick a point of entry and a way to limit the selection for yourself. Decide you’re on a mission to try every IPA you come across, or every porter,” Grumdahl said. “It’s not like you’re stuck with your choice forever, if you drink mostly IPA for six months there’s no reason you can’t move on to nothing but wheat beers once summer hits.”

When all is said and done, three things remain important. Talk to your bartender or server (tip them too), try new drafts and pay attention to the tastes. By doing so, you will undoubtedly enhance your beer-drinking experience, an act that’s shamelessly vital to college-age hoppiness.