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Learning to Appreciate Beer

Aug 07, 2014 Comments (6) Learning to Appreciate Beer

Here's something that may surprise a few of you: you don't need to be a beer expert to apply for a job at a craft brewery. BUT you DO need to be ready to learn a ton about beer as soon as you get hired. Especially at Ninkasi. We consider staff education and training two of the most important tools to ensure we produce and deliver high quality and delicious beer to all of you. That education starts pretty close to the second you get hired. Which is what Kenny, one of our recently hired members of Team Ninkasi, is here to tell you about today. And he wants to share a few tips from that experience with all of you. Take it away, Kenny!

Prior to April of this year, these were the only two descriptors I had for beer:  

1)      “Hmm, this beer tastes hoppy.”

2)      “Hmm, this beer does not taste very hoppy.”

No joke, that’s all I had.

Since I work at Ninkasi now, it’s shameful to admit that for years I had no idea how great beer could be. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always enjoyed beer. And, since I live in the Pacific Northwest (where it straight up rains craft beer) I’ve tasted some renowned beers from some of Oregon’s best known breweries. But I never learned how to fully appreciate what I was drinking, so my naïve taste buds thought that all beer was pretty much the same.  

On day two of my Ninkasi orientation, Jamie Floyd (our founding brewer who I secretly refer to as “The Godfather of Beer”) took me to our Tasting Room for an in-depth beer tasting. If you don’t know Jamie, the man is an absolute encyclopedia when it comes to beer. Not to mention, he was the mastermind behind almost all of the beers we were tasting. For an amateur like myself to talk beer with a guy like Jamie, “intimidating” doesn’t quite cover it. During our tasting, Jamie would ask “What do you think of this one?” after we’d taste each beer. After I answered “This beer tastes hoppy” nine consecutive times, I was fully prepared to be slapped in the face.

Since Jamie is awesome, no slapping took place. But he did give me a few tips that have revolutionized the way I enjoy my beer. Taking Jamie’s lead, these are three very simple things that made a world of difference:

1)      I started smelling my beer (and as you can see, I also perfected my “I need to look serious because I’m smelling my beer” face).

Seems like a no-brainer now, but I never realized how much aroma contributes to the overall satisfaction of beer. By simply pouring my beer into a glass and letting my nose get involved in the process, I’ve discovered all kinds of new flavors that I never knew existed.


2)      I started taking my time.

For years I thought that aggressively pounding my beer was the key to being awesome. While in some circles that’s still the case (mostly among my degenerate pals from college), I’ve learned that the more I savor my beer, the more I discover about it. Turns out, unique flavors emerge at different points in the drinking process, so by not taking my time, I wasn’t giving my brain enough time to communicate with my nose and taste buds.

3)      I’ve started pairing my beer with activities that I enjoy.

I’m the worst fly fisherman on the planet. A typical outing involves lots of casting, hooking trees and falling into the icy McKenzie River. I assure you; I’m feared by no fish. That being said, I adore spending time on the river. To make the experience even better, I’ve started taking Ninkasi on my fishing trips. For me, there’s something magical about standing waist deep in “my river” while drinking a beer made from the same water I’m fishing in (every drop of Ninkasi beer is made with water from the McKenzie River). It might sound crazy, but now every time I drink a Spring Reign, Nuptiale, or Wunderbier (my go-to river beers), I feel instant nostalgia for the old McKenzie.

Moral of the story, if you feel like you don’t “get beer” yet, it’s not too late to learn. Since that day with Jamie, I’ve had the chance to go through Ninkasi’s sensory and beer education program, and it’s amazing how quickly I’ve become a proud beer nerd. I have a long way to go before I feel like I’ll fully understand what it takes to make a killer craft beer, but after a little education and a few tweaks in how I drink it, my appreciation has sky-rocketed. One of the most exciting things about craft beer is that people from ALL different walks of life can come together over their love for this delicious beverage! So seize any and every opportunity to chat with your friends, or the person next to you at the bar, or the guy fishing down the river from you, about why they appreciate what they're drinking.  

Oh, and just in case you find yourself talking to a beer genius and you want to sound cool, here are some descriptors besides “hoppy”: Malty, Earthy, Floral, Deep, Roasty, Citrusy, Spicy, Sharp, Bright, Fresh, Rich, Full, Effervescent, and Aromatic. Oh, and if you really want to blow them away, drop the term “ester” and watch their head explode. 

Comments (6)

  1. Barbara:
    Aug 07, 2014 at 06:33 PM

    Kenny= Beer Nerd FOREVER- Great Article!

  2. Ryan:
    Aug 07, 2014 at 09:48 PM

    Awesome read! I too have been guilty, and sometimes still am, of the "hoppy" comment. One question though. Where can I get one of those awesome glasses you are holding so I too can enjoy my Ninkasi in style? I already have the pint glass!

  3. Nancy:
    Aug 08, 2014 at 02:17 AM

    Way to go Kenny!!

  4. Nicole:
    Aug 08, 2014 at 03:22 AM

    This blog makes me want to become more educated in the beer I drink for sure Kenny! I'm going to need a tour and your excellent guidance for my next beer outing!

  5. Tom Hathaway:
    Aug 08, 2014 at 04:36 AM

    I really enjoyed your article. So true. So many beers, so many flavors, so many things to be enjoyed. Slowing down and savoring the aromas, the tastes, the memories triggered... These are the pursuits of creating original and wonderful craft beers. I love Ninkasi brews.

  6. steve chamberlin:
    Sep 13, 2014 at 04:07 PM

    Great blog - you captured a really unique approach to hiring. I am considering craft brewing after a career in the Coast Guard and lots of craft brewers I've met are pretty reluctant to hire people with no experience in the biz. Ninkasi approach is refreshing to see. Oh - I had hoppy AND
    roasty in my vocab even before reading your blog!

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