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How does one get a free beer education? Well, you could simply drink a lot of beer, but you are paying for the beer itself so this method is not completely free, and who knows if you are really learning anything as you drink? You could also read my blog, and yes you may learn a little something, but I’m not providing beer for you to taste as you read. So you are now asking yourself, where I can I both learn about beer and actually taste some beer in the process? Here are three great ways:
Beer 101: Tour your local brewery

Touring your local brewery is a great way to learn about how beer is actually made. At a smaller brewery, your tour may be conducted by the brewer himself or herself, and they can provide amazing insights into how the raw ingredients (grain, hops, yeast and even the water itself) can shape the flavor of the beers they brew.

And once you know what goes into making the beer, you get to sample it! Samples (a couple of ounces, not full pints, mind you) are typically available for a few dollars or less, often even absolutely free.

To find your local craft brewery, visit

http://www.beertown.org/craftbrewing/locator/breweries.aspx

Beer 201: Bierkraft

OK, you have to be able to get to Brooklyn for this one, but each Tuesday night at 7 p.m., Bierkraft in Park Slope offers free tastings of some amazing beers. The tastings are often lead by a brewery rep, distributor or on rare occasions the brewer themselves. Typically five beers are sampled at each session, and each small sample of beer is carefully paired with an edible treat (cheese, meat or even chocolate). There’s much to learn between sipping samples, whether information on specific styles of beer or ideas on how to pair food and beer, and questions are always welcome.

Of course, at the end of the tasting, you’ll be quite tempted to actually purchase some of the beer and treats you have sampled. And with literally hundreds of beers on hand to choose from, you might want to pick up a few bottles to do some homework on your own.

If any readers know of any other beer stores that hold similar tastings in other parts of the country, please add a comment to this post, or e-mail me at pintsofknowledge@gmail.com so I can include this information in a future post.

Beer 301: Volunteer as a Beer Steward

There are dozens of homebrewing clubs around the U.S., and many sponsor competitions throughout the year. Larger competitions draw entries from throughout their region of the country, and as you can imagine, organizing the judging of hundreds of beers can be quite a feat. Often, the clubs ask for volunteers to serve as “stewards” on the day of the competition to assist the judges in their tasks that day.

I’ve personally done this twice, and have learned more about beer in a single day than any other beer-related activity I’ve been involved in. While distributing clean glasses, pouring water and collating scorecards isn’t the most exciting part of the day, sitting down with the judges as they taste, rate and compare beers is not only educational, but a whole lot of fun. Many of the judges at these events have completed the Beer Judge Certification Program, and are incredibly knowledgeable about beer. Most are also homebrewers themselves, so they know a lot not only about the final product but the process of brewing itself.

Both times I served as a steward the judges I worked with encouraged me to sample and even share my thoughts. Last year, I even had the chance to sample some of the Roggenbiers being judged, a hard-to-find style that I had never come across before. And while watching the judges study, swirl, sniff and sip each sample with great intensity may initially seem amusing to the casual beer drinker, it makes you realize that brewing is truly an art, and that great beer should be appreciated much like a fine wine or rare scotch.

To find out more about homebrewing competitions around the country, and to inquire about volunteering to be a steward, visit:

http://www.beertown.org/homebrewing/calendar/events.aspx

OR

http://www.bjcp.org/apps/comp_schedule/competition_schedule.php

Definition: Roggenbier

A Roggenbier is a German-style of beer that is brewed with a large about of rye which provides a distinctive somewhat spicy, slightly sour flavor, along with malted barley and wheat. Relatively dark in color and somewhat cloudy in appearance (this is an unfiltered brew), they are amazingly complex, but unfortunately hard to find outside of Germany (and even rare in Germany). If you are lucky across to see one in your local store or tavern, I’d highly suggest giving it a try.

Beer Quote:

“Give a man a beer, and he wastes an hour.
But teach a man how to brew, and he wastes a lifetime!”

– Unknown

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Going down your Christmas list (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa or Winter Solstice list), and you’re having a tough time deciding what to give your beer-loving friend (or dad or uncle or boss or cousin Gertrude). Sure, there’s bottle openers, bottle cozies, beer coolers or even just a six-pack with a bow. But what about a gift that truly inspires the beer-lover in your life.

The Ultimate Beer Roadtrip

American Beer is a documentary about a group of friends who pile into a minivan with camera in hand to trek across the country with the goal of visiting 38 breweries in 40 days. While their adventures and hi-jinx are amusing, their interviews with some of the best brewers in America today will inspire the beer-lover in your life to taste some of the delicious brews described in this film, and possibly take some road-trips of their own to seek out great beer. Now available on DVD, it makes a great stocking-stuffer.

Beer Books

There seems to be more and more books about beer on the shelves every year, but there are a couple that truly stand out above the rest. Garrett Oliver, brewmaster at the Brooklyn Brewery, now offers The Brewmaster’s Table in paperback. My among my Best of the Year for 2005, the book offers an excellent history on various styles of beer, and mouth-watering descriptions on pairing beer with food.

Michael Jackson (the British beer expert, not the wacky American pop singer) has published a number of books in his years. The Great Guide to Beer is one of his better selections, cataloging five-hundred beers from around the world with tasting notes and some interesting trivia. The beer-lover in your life will enjoy checking off which beers they have tried, and which are still on their wish-list.

Brew their Own!

Almost every true beer-lover has dreamed of making their own brew. So why not help them accomplish this goal? For between $80-$100, most homebrew shops can supply you with a basic starter kit that supplies just about all the equipment needed for making batches of homebrewed beer. Add $20-$35 for an ingredient kit that will make 5 gallons of beer (approximately 48 bottles). I’m sure your appreciative friend or loved-one will be more than happy to share their homebrewed beer, so consider this the ultimategift that keeps on giving“!

And while there’s a number of great on-line resources for purchasing homebrewing equipment & supplies, I highly encourage you to visit your local homebrew shopwhen starting off. They can provide advice and guidance on what and what not to buy, and plenty of tips to pass along to the recipient of your gift on making their very first batch. To find your nearest homebrew shop, visit: http://www.beertown.org/homebrewing/shops.asp

And if buying the whole homebrewing kit is a little out of your price range, inspiration can come in a smaller package at a smaller price. Charlie Papazian’s The Complete Joy of Homebrewingis the original, worry-free, entertaining guide to brewing your own beer at home. While there have been dozens of books on homebrewing published since Charlie issued his first edition, his “Relax, Don’t Worry, Have a Homebrew”philosophy is a great way to start down the road to brewing beer at home.

A Very Special Beer

Fuller's Vintage AleFavorite beers are a very subjective matter of personal taste. But I can suggest a couple of truly unique beers that would make a great gift for many beer-lovers. First is Fuller’s Vintage Ale. This bottle-conditioned brew is released in limited quantities each year, and is well-suited for aging. Not only does the beautiful presentation remind one of a fine scotch, but the flavors that develop over the years will remind one of a scotch as well.

Samichlaus is a very special brew, brewed only once a year on December 6th. Although no longer the “strongest beer in the world”, at 14% ABV (alcohol by volume), it may be the strongest lager-style beer to be brewed. Another beer well-suited for aging, it is truly one-of-a-kind.

Cheers to Happy Holidays!