A beginner's guide to beer drinking

With over 300 events, Baltimore Beer Week can be dizzying. And if you're drawn in by all those free tastings, it can be downright dangerous.

For advice on how to survive the week, and how to become a beer snob in 11 days, Alexander D. Mitchell IV, one of Beer Week's founders, and Steve Jones, brewer at the Pratt Street Ale House, shared some nuggets of wisdom.


For starters, there's no need to be intimidated. These days, there's more variety in beer than in produce.

"I've been in the business for 16 years, and I'm still trying to figure it out," Jones said.


Start slowly Your first tasting should be something straightforward and accessible, like a Heavy Seas Gold Ale.

"If all you've ever drunk is Miller Light, and you go straight to Belgian sours, you might be put off," he said.

From there, you'll get a feeling for your palate.

Don't splurge If you want to save money while you figure out your palate, start at a cheap bar like Wharf Rat or Rocket to Venus, Mitchell said. Beer socials are an easy launching pad. Breweries usually sell sample packs. And, Mitchell added, some liquor stores, such as Jason's in Ellicott City, are allowing customers to create their own six-packs.

Rinse between bottles Don't mix beers without a palate cleanser. When switching between, say, a Belgian sour and an English ale, sneak a glass of water in between.

Head isn't a bad thing Like wine, good beer needs to breathe. When pouring your own glass, don't be afraid of stirring up a half-inch or so of head. With complex beers, this will help unlock some of the hidden flavors.

Get tips Lost during the week? Ask a bartender. Staff, especially at places like Max's Taphouse, know their product. If they're unavailable, ask the brewer.

"People who brew love to talk about what they do," Jones said.


Eventually, Jones said, tastes will begin to emerge. "Keep an open mind," he said. "I'm trying to get into Belgian sours at the moment. Not my favorite. But the more I talk to people, the more accepting I am."

His final advice for Beer Week: Be sensible. Know your limits. And think about how you're going to get home.

— Erik Maza