But I know what I like

posted on March 12th, 2018 by Anthony Casey

By the time I publish this, I will have probably passed the 500 unique beer mark on my little #alelog. In some respects that is a huge amount of beer. In others, it is barely a drop in the overflowing beer lake.

So far it’s been a very solitary pursuit. It has quietly turned into a little side project, an enjoyable hobby. I’ve been sipping away at beers and letting myself wander wherever it has taken me. I’ve developed my own thoughts on things, on what I like … all for me.

More recently I have been taking much more interest in the wider craft beer community. I’ve cast my net out further to bring in bigger beers, I’ve started interacting with other people doing the same things as me. It’s been great, the beer I’m drinking now is on a completely different level to when I started. It’s kind of nice to feel a little bit more connected to something.

One thing that venturing out has confirmed to me, and it’s something that I’ve suspected for a while, is that I actually know very little about beer.


It’s not an unusual phenomenon – there are graphs and research for this sort of thing. There’s a name for it – the Dunning-Kruger Effect – and it applies to pretty much any human endeavour.

I still feel it in my web design career after working in the industry for getting on for nearly two decades. Imposter syndrome. It’s normal, and it’s horrible.

I don’t think I was ever daft enough to think I knew much about beer – I never reached the peak of Mount Stupid – but my horizons have constantly expanded as I’ve exposed myself to more and more beers. My field of vision was extremely narrow when I started.

To continue down this line of thought – there’s also the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something. What that doesn’t make clear is that the practice needs to be targeted. You can’t take up golf and expect to turn pro by just rocking up to your local course and whacking balls about for 10,000 hours. You need a proper golf pro to tell you what to do.

I have a lot of experience drinking beer, but I don’t have much actual knowledge. I am that guy hacking away at the course.

Partly I’ve ended up like this through stubborn choice. I didn’t want to be a beer bore. I still don’t want to be a beer bore … but I’ve come to the realisation that I don’t have to be. Knowing more about beer isn’t boring. Telling people what to drink is boring, and I’m definitely not into that. (Incidentally, that’s a different post I’ve got brewing.)


I know my way around the most of the main styles. I know what I am looking for in those styles. I think I know what a good beer tastes like … but there are so many details and finer points that I am completely clueless about.

After ‘reviewing’ so many beers, I feel like I should know more about some of these details. So here, as a sort of a confessional, are the bits where I feel like I need to put my hand up.


Beer is fundamentally simple. Three essential ingredients: water, yeast, malt. Plus one that is nearly always there: hops.

When I started this beer journey I can honestly say I wasn’t 100% sure which bit of the flavour hops contributed. I soon worked it out, but it was always a vague concept that other people talked about. They’ve been used for hundreds of years, partly as a natural preservative, but also to add bitterness to offset the deeper malts. Kind of like the top notes, on top of the malt’s bass.

And there are loads of them. Ancient ones, modern ones that have been bred specifically, ones from the UK, ones from Australia … all the American ones. And I don’t know them. I don’t know what individual properties they have. I don’t really know what to expect from them.

Then you get beers that are double and triple hopped.

When the hops go into the brew makes a huge difference. Dry hopping, double dry hopping …

There are cryo hops, apparently.

The fact that hops can make beer smell and taste like passionfruit still blows my mind.

IBU and other arbitrary, contextless numbers

IBU is the International Bitterness Unit. There’s Gravity … Original and Final. There’s ABV … well, I get that one.

The numbers have no meaning to me, and no matter how much I look them up they never seem to stick, make sense, or necessarily translate into taste. There’s no context to them, I don’t keep track of them … I’m not sure I really care.

At least ABV is useful for knowing how drunk you are going to get, and it’s a useful thing to mention about when you’re writing notes. It gives an indication of how harsh you can expect a beer to be.


Like with most pursuits, beer comes with its own language. ‘Dank, hazy, crushable, juice bomb’ is the beer equivalent of pulling off a ‘superman seatgrab backflip, double tailwhip’.

At least on a bike, the tricks are defined. With beer, everything is subjective. Most of the beer words make sense … some you can guess … others, well I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of blagging going on.


I said I know my way around styles, but it gets very murky, very quickly.

Take a question that seems simple “What is the difference between a porter and a stout?” and you get the answer “originally a stout was simply a strong version of porter: today the difference is whatever you want it to be”.

That’s supposedly a distinct style. Let’s take a look at the IPA, for instance. Probably the drink that embodies the whole craft beer thing. Beer Merchants list nine distinct sub-styles of IPA, and that’s almost certainly missing a couple.

There is so much grey. I can’t find any definitive answer to what actually constitutes a saison, the categorisation of a Belgian Dubble, Triple or Quad is seemingly nothing to do with the actual beer … there’s just so much stuff.

It’s like house music sub genres.

Again, it’s all very subjective.

More structured learning.

I didn’t expect drinking beer to be so enjoyable. That sounds like a ludicrous sentence – of course drinking beer is great, it’s drinking beer! But I’m now coming at it with a completely changed minset, getting something out of it other than a hangover.

While writing this I’m finding myself looking at the Cicerone website looking at what you need to do to become a certified beer expert. I’m not sure that’s for me. Does it really help if everything is so subjective? I’m not looking to go pro, but it’s interesting to see what the process is.

What I’m realising is that with beer – like most things in life – you need to practice a lot. Which for drinking beer, is great news. I also realise that I need to do be a bit more structured, I need to pay more attention to what goes into the beers I’m drinking. I need to keep stepping outside of my bubble, to read more, engage more.

I, almost certainly, need to have a go at brewing my own beer.