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HOOPS ON HOPS: How to care for, enjoy craft beer

Beer has four enemies of flavor: light, air, heat and age. Each of these beer wreckers — all related to storage — has different flaws or taste characteristics. 2014 file / News Tribune1 / 2
Dave Hoops. 2 / 2

Now's a wonderful time to get out with your family or friends and visit one of Duluth's many local craft breweries.

The simple definition of craft beer is: a beer made in a traditional or nonmechanized way by a small brewery. In Duluth, we're blessed with the greatest brewing water in the world and a vibrant craft beer scene. My goal is to help you get the best experience out of your beer.

Beer has four enemies of flavor: light, air, heat and age. Each of these beer wreckers — all related to storage — has different flaws or taste characteristics.

Beers exposed to excessive light will often exhibit skunky notes. The best way to avoid this is buying beer in cans and pouring it into a glass. If your beer is in a bottle, keep it dark and cold.

Beers exposed to air will exhibit oxidized flavors — usually cardboard or papery notes. So, when you buy growlers from local brewers, always seal the cap as tightly as possible and make sure to drain the growler within two days. In other words, drink up!

Beers exposed to heat will exhibit staling notes. For every 10 degrees above 35 degrees that beer is stored, the aging process is doubled. The beer will lose its crisp flavor and grainy notes will crop up. Most beer is brewed to be consumed fresh.

Finally, the issue of age. Unless you're purchasing a high gravity beer designed for aging — 10 percent alcohol or higher — the shelf life of the beer being truly great, with optimal freshness, is about a month.

Canned beer

Many beer drinkers still associate canned beer with old school macro-lagers that our parents drank. The truth is cans are the most stable, freshness-maintaining packaging for beer. The aluminum is coated inside, so no beer touches metal. Aluminum also happens to be an excellent temperature conductor, and the absence of light in the can ensures the best flavor possible.

Tasting beer

Craft brewers put incredible amounts of energy into the look, aromas and, of course, flavor of the beers we make.

To get the best experience, pour your beer into a clean glass, rousing it enough to gain a 1-inch head. At this point, bring the beer to your nose and inhale. Many hoppy beers will show citrus and tropical fruit aromas. Malty beers will show toffee, caramel, Malt-O-Meal and clean bready aromas.

At this point, take a look at the gold, amber, light brown or reddish-black hues. The pleasure sensors in your brain will be doing cartwheels in anticipation of the first draw. Drink deeply, and you will not be disappointed. It sounds simple, but without developing these habits and learning about off flavors and beer care, you may not always get the best beer you deserve.

Beer lingo

Next, let's tackle the sometimes-intimidating subject of the beer geek verbiage.

• Ale: Ales are warm fermented beers usually brewed in less than a month that highlights character-driven flavors. Examples are IPAs (India Pale Ales), Stouts, Porters, Pale Ales, English, Scottish and Belgian beers.

• Lager: Lagers are cold fermented beers usually taking two to three months to ferment and age. These highlight soft, smooth and clean flavors. Examples are Macro beers, Pilseners, Helles Beers, Oktoberfests and German Beers.

• Hoppy: Hoppy beers showcase floral, fruity and bitter notes that balance and usually overshadow the malt notes. IPAs are the best example.

• Malty: Malty beers highlight bready, sweeter, smooth and clean notes. Brown ales are a great example.

Brewpub or microbrewery

Minnesota state law separates breweries in this way. A brewpub is a brewery connected to a restaurant. Brewpubs typically make many styles of beer that they serve at restaurants they own. The only way to take beer to go from these establishments is to buy a growler onsite at the brewpub.

Microbreweries are production facilities producing beer to be distributed to bars and liquor stores in cans, bottles and kegs. They usually have a tap room on site where tours are offered and where people visit to enjoy a pint. Microbreweries typically send their beer out of market to the Twin Cities and even out of state. Brewpubs only sell the beer they make in their home market.

Here's to a great beer. Cheers.

Dave Hoops lives in Duluth and is a veteran brewer and beer judge. Contact him at dave@hoopsbrewing.com.

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