21 January 2016

The Ritual

I think one thing that I have gained from exploring all that good beer has to offer is that I no longer desire or need to get blackout drunk. I might sound like a broken record, but Craft beer may have saved my life. This is a subject I keep coming back to again and again as I write because it is so important to me. It is always hovering in the background and I have no doubt that if it weren't for some self control and of course, delicious Craft beer, I would fall off into the abyss again.
It is with this in mind that I want to pause my day for a moment to discuss The Ritual.
I think we all have some sort of routine we fall into for anything we do, brushing your teeth, cleaning the house or car or even getting ready for bed. These things are mindless activities that we go through every day and for the most past they occur without any real forethought. I used to drink macro beer with the same approach. My only concern was with having enough and getting it as cheap as possible. Growing as a person and coming to the realisation that I could do better than I was has created a lot of change in my life and part of that is how I approach beer and life in general.
I like to call my approach The Ritual and it helps me to be fully present in the moment for the purpose of gaining all the experience I can from anything I do. With beer, it begins when I choose what to drink. I have an array of beer in my cold cellar and fridge and often take a bit of time to consider my choices. What am I feeling? What do I want from my beer tonight? Am I enjoying the game, someones' company or is it a quiet night just sipping and reading? All of these things play in my head as I scan the bottles and cans before me. It was easier to just grab an Old Mil and get plastered, but hey, I am trying to grow here.  A lot of times, I will latch on to a theme, like a particular region or country or perhaps a  style like a stout or pilsner and ride that for the evening. Other nights see me choosing a beer I have seen popping up all over Instagram or Untappd. It is not so much falling prey to advertising, as it is reading what others I trust write about the beer and wanting to try it myself. 
I always consider the proper and recommended temperature for serving the beer when choosing. Often I need to bring a beer out 30 minutes or so before drinking it in the case of a stout and warm it a bit if I need to. Check with the brewers website or someone you trust for advice based on the style you want to consume. Macro lagers must be drunk ice cold because that is the only way you can avoid any flavour issues they have as they warm.
Once a beer has been chosen, it is my next step to get the glass I want to use and rinse it out. I have harped on this subject as well and I cannot drink out of the bottle or can anymore unless I am forced to by circumstance. I always drink some water before I have my beer, as well as between brews to help cleanse my palate, slow myself down and fill me up. Not a bad idea.
The Pour is maybe the best thing about beer after the taste. The moment when you pop the top, crack the can or twist off the cork begin a cascade of events that lead to the first sip. The sound of opening a beer turns my head and heightens my other senses. I know what is to come. Tilting the glass in front of me, I begin delivering its contents forward. Slowly and deliberately, it is almost a religious experience. As it fills the vessel, I begin to straighten it up and the head, be it thick and bubbly, or thin and ethereal, begins to form. The aromas can make you salivate sometimes. I love it when a beer announces itself as soon as you open it and often it really explodes as you get it into your chosen glassware.
I always take a moment when the Perfect pour is done and consider what the beer looks like. Hold it up to the light and pause for a bit. You can start to tell the character of the beer by its how it looks. Is it thick and dark with a large head? Thin and straw coloured with a foam that just sits on the rim? An amber? Cloudy? So many things can come into play when you take the visual impact of a beer into account. But you must always approach with an open mind as appearances can be deceiving. I have been surprised plenty of times when a beer looks like one style and delivers a knockout flavour I wasn't expecting. I recently had a Farmhouse Ale called Biere de Noel from Niagara Oast House Brewers that poured black with a thick tan head, but it delivered a saison like orange peel, the spices of a winter warmer and a hint of roasted malt chocolate flavour. Great discoveries in beer take all the senses into account.
Only a small step left before the grand finale. Smell your beer. Give it swirl, get in there and sniff. The main reason I hate drinking from the bottle or can is that I miss a lot of what I was intended to receive when the brew master conceived the brew. The sense of smell tells you so much about what you are about to experience and why you would want to miss that by bypassing the aroma is beyond me. Especially with the stouts and porters. They can transport you to distant places with their thick heavy smells of roasted malts, coffee and spices. Other, lighter beers can have floral notes, grassy takes and fruits, even banana. I wouldn't have known that I was supposed to slow down and smell my beer from my previous experience with beers like Brava Light, as those are meant to be consumed quickly, not savoured and enjoyed.
Finally the time has come for the final step in The Ritual.
 The Sip.
I call it that and always begin my flavour descriptions with the phrase "On the sip" because that is what I want to do. You should too. Take a sip, swirl it around. Let it play on your taste buds. Often times when I take that first sip and begin to feel the brews notes expand I am surprised by what appears. There are a myriad of flavours in any beer and it is up to you if you experience them. Quickly downing beer after beer will get you nothing but drunk. Stop and consider what you have in your glass and savour the whole experience. I get the need to just pound beers one after the other, I really do. But it is in the slowing down and deliberately giving in to the beer with all your sense that you truly open yourself up to new and wonderful things. I have travelled the world through my beer and it is that kind of thing that has led me to this point. There are so many different styles and sub styles and even smaller niches that I don't think I could do them justice in one lifetime. The discovery of a flavour that you never considered before in a beer can be eye opening, as it was for me with English pale ales and their bready, caramel and nutty flavours. I never thought I would crave that kind of thing, but I never pass up a chance to grab one and enjoy that combination of tastes and many more. 
The drinking of my beer is always a singular experience for me. If I am going to a party or dinner, I always choose something I have had before. I want to be there for the experience of the event, not trying to make notes or take pictures about the beer. I touched on that last week and work very hard to pair the beer I drink with what I am doing. When I am chilling with my wife or alone, I always try to get new beer or two and just really enjoy them. Every beer deserves your attention because if you are not going to get all that it has in it, why bother. Get a case of Coors Light and get lit up. Even a brew that you don't like can tell you something and it is often by revisiting a style I didn't like at first that I am most surprised. IPAs, saisons and stouts are prime examples of beer types I struggled with when I first began my journey, but now clamour for on a nightly basis.
So please take the time tonight to slow down a bit. Open your senses to what is before you and really give your beer proper consideration. Explore something new and try something different. You will be surprised at how much you can learn just by letting yourself become immersed in that beer you have in front of you and shutting everything else out.
I know I will.
So Damn Good!

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