Beer 501: The Wonderful World of Beer - Introduction

Jan 21 2011 Published by under Beer, Life

Settle down class. Settle down. Right, welcome to Beer 501: The Wonderful World of Beer, a course for graduate students and advanced undergraduates pursuing a degree in any of the alcohol-related sciences. This course is designed to educate you about the wonderful world of beer. Today we'll take care of some administrative stuff and introduce the course.

First up, Beer 101: Chuggable Beers for College Students is a prerequisite for taking this course, no exceptions. Anyone not take 101? Good.

Now this course will meet roughly once a week, most likely on Fridays. Attendance is not mandatory, but grades are 100% based on participating in weekly assignments, so attending is probably a good idea.

I don't mind if you bring laptops to take notes, but I won't tolerate twitting, tweetering or whatever it's called during class. CPP, if you see anyone being a twit you have my permission to hit them on the head with a heavy blunt object.

If you're in this class because you have to be, not because you want to be, and want to sit in the back and surf porn sites on your laptops, I won't stop you, but please mute your computers. Yes, GR, I'm looking at you. Old Professor Schmirnoff will be in therapy for a long, long time after that Mexican midget and donkey porn incident in Vodka 220.

My Qualifications
I'm not a cicerone. I have no formal training in the art of beer. But I am Australian and have sampled a great many beers from all around the world. I've also been known to brew my own beer. Good enough for me.

What Will Be Covered
We are going to talk about a wide variety of beers during this course. There is no formal syllabus. We will talk about beers by country, type or whatever else strikes my fancy. Yes, I will be making this up as we go along. Hopefully we will have a guest lecturer or two as we go along.

What Will Not Be Covered
Heavily fruit-based beers. Dross like Magic Hat #9 and Samuel Smith's Organic Raspberry. Abominations such as these are not worthy of the title "beer." Anyone who likes to drink these namby-pamby, frou-frou "beverages" best served with a little umbrella and slice of pineapple held in place by a cherry-skewered toothpick should drop this class now. Go on, bugger off.

Some beers brewed with a hint of fruit, primarily citrus, may be discussed.

What is Beer Anyway?
At it's simplest beer is brewed using just water, hops, malted barley and yeast. Other grains are sometimes used. Wheat is common. Others such as rice, rye and corn can be encountered. Some brewers will add hints of herbs or spices. Perhaps chocolate or coffee. But in the end, most of what you taste will come from the grain, yeast and hops.

The Beer Experience
Let's talk about the drinking of beer. It's an experience, not just something you chug down to get a buzz. Firstly, draught is best. Then bottled, preferably poured into a glass. Cans should be avoided if possible.

Beer should be savored. When you have a beer, before you drink, look at the beer. What color is it? Is it clear or cloudy? Does it hold a head? Is it heavy on carbonation, or are there few bubbles? All these things vary tremendously between beers and have a profound effect upon their taste. Then take note of the aroma. As you should all know, much of what we generically refer to as flavor actually comes from aromas. Think about what you can smell before you drink. Only then should you begin drinking. Hold that first sip in your mouth. Swirl it around a little. Enjoy the complexity of flavors. After you swallow take note of the after-taste - the finish. Take a second sip. Compare to the first. No, it won't always be just like the first. Enjoy the beer.

But wait, color, aroma and flavor are not all. The circumstances under which you are having that beer are important as well. A beer that tastes good when drinking alone can be elevated to very good when it is drunk in good company. Of course a really bad beer is always a really bad beer, but it's all in the experience and you should take note of that.

And that in fact brings me to your first assignment. I want you to describe to me, in the comments, the worst beer you have ever drunk. Not just what the beer was, but the circumstances that may have contributed to to it being the worst.

To get the ball rolling, let me tell you about my worst. When I first moved to the US I hung out with a local rugby team. A good bunch of lads who would drink copious quantities of very forgettable beer. Copious, copious quantities. After an early Fall game where the temperature approached 90F - hot for rugby - I piled into a car with five of the team for the one hour trip home. Being the smallest I was asked politely to sit in the very back of the station wagon. That is, I was thrown in the back. Along with a number of sweaty uniforms. Did I mention this was a Ford Pinto? And that I was in the very back, inches above the gas tank?* Anyway, it got rather hot back there with the smelly uniforms, so I was passed a beer. An Old Milwaukee. An Old Milwaukee that had been sitting in the hot car all day. Now this is a truly dreadful beer to begin with, but a hot Old Milwaukee in the back of a Pinto station wagon, where there's no ventilation, with freshly used rugby kit? I'll let your imagination fill in from there.

That's it for today. Don't forget you grades are based on participation, so do that assignment.

Next week: German beers. Not all are pisswasser.

* Okay, I'll 'fess up, it wasn't one of the exploding models. But it does make for a good story.

65 responses so far

  • Dr. O says:

    My absolute worst beer turned out to not really be beer at all. I was hungover after a frat party in college and reached for my boy friend's open can of Natty-Light. This was a pretty lame beer to begin with, but good for chugging through a beer bong. The beer, however, was gone, and it turned out to be my boyfriend's makeshift spittoon. Chugging back tobacco spit while hungover might have been the worst experience of my college years.

  • Raven says:

    The Hello Kitty Cough Syrup beer. It was some kind of special in a mix 12 pack - I wish I could remember its real name so I could warn you off, but I've repressed the memory. The label, covered with anime-style cherry blossoms and cute little animals, should have warned me away, but I opened it, swigged, and gagged. Cloyingly sweet, cherry-flavored ale. BLEARGHGHH.

    • odyssey says:

      Cherry beers are unfortunately common... I had forgotten (repressed?) the name for them and had to look it up - Kriek or Kriekenbier. Nasty stuff.

  • I'm no fan of fruit-flavored beers, but Magic Hat #9 is pretty decent.

  • drugmonkey says:

    I want you to describe to me, in the comments, the worst beer you have ever drunk. Not just what the beer was, but the circumstances that may have contributed to to it being the worst.

    Right in my wheelhouse my friend.

    Hands down the worst tasting beer I ever drunk was the first (or possibly third) one at the first ever high school party I attended and actually drank a beer. I think I was about 14 or so. The nasty beverage in question was good old US Budweiser in a can.

    Tasted like total ass. Horrible.

    And there I was, in the midst of peer pressure to soldier on, man up and drink some beers!

    There was nothing wrong with the particular can (or three), nor with America's highly popular brand. It, undoubtedly, tasted totally normal.

    Because beer, my friends, tastes terrible. Objectively and irrefutably.

    The only reason you think you like the taste of beer is because it contains that wonderful psychoactive ingredient, alcohol. The ethyl variety, hopefully, good old EtOH. This little molecule, my friends, you do like the, well, not taste but effects of. It trips your reinforcement triggers way down in your brain.

    And here's the fun thing about your brain. If you get enough pairings of central brain reward with some external stimulus, you have a pronounced tendency to come to "like" (i.e., repeatedly seek out) that external stimulus.

    So yeah, I soldiered on through many a party, getting inebriated on beer I really didn't like. And you know what? At this far remove I think just like you do. I like the taste of beer, I really, really do. I like variety and I increasingly favor IPAs, stouts and other more, shall we say challenging, brews that relative newcomers seem to detect as off-putting.

    ...but I know it is really the long term conditioned association with the brain effects of EtOH talking.


    Samson HH.Initiation of ethanol reinforcement using a sucrose-substitution procedure in food- and water-sated rats.Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 1986 Aug;10(4):436-42.

    • odyssey says:

      Dude, don't going getting all science-like, okay? Beer good. And not in the Homer Simpson way.

    • odyssey says:

      I like variety and I increasingly favor IPAs, stouts and other more, shall we say challenging, brews that relative newcomers seem to detect as off-putting.

      Okay, maybe you'll manage an A after all...

  • pinus says:

    DM, Real beer tastes good. don't be fooled.

  • Where I live there has been a second resurgence of PBR amongst the hipsters here, I guess they went back and watched Blue Velvet upon the death of Dennis Hopper. But the most truly vile beer is Iron City, that shit is the sweat off of Satan's taint. Keystone Light receives honorable mention, its fucking gross and to contain the toxicity of this beer there is a plastic liner in the can.

  • Jacques says:

    The worst beer I have ever drunk was the first beer I ever drunk. Did not like it, proceeded immediately to vodka. Later, after it grew on me, Borg was the worst. Great party, great people, terrible beer.

  • The Aqueous Layer says:

    Corona. Piss in a bottle.

    And any beer with 'Light' in the name...

    ...or bearing the the city of Milwaukee in it. Milwaukee's Best, Old Milwaukee, etc...

    I'm also pretty sure that Stella Artois is Belgian for Corona.

  • scicurious says:

    Natty Light. Hands down.

  • Materialist says:

    On the first night of a college choir tour to Budapest, we sat down to a tour group-style dinner at some large mediocre restaurant.
    The beverage with dinner was supposedly beer, but its light yellow color matched pretty well with a liquid that I thought better described the taste.

  • Ryan S. says:

    My worst experience was with a tall boy of Bud Light I had to chug after losing a round in a drinking game. I didn't favor the Bud Light flavor before I started and just about vomited afterward.

  • Bashir says:

    I try not to have bad beer experiences any more. At a recent happy hour I put up the extra cash so that when it was the grad student's turn to buy a pitcher he could get something decent and not PBR. I just can't, I'd rather drink water.

    I'm all about IPAs now. The most remarkable being Dogfishhead 120 Mintute IPA. 20% alcohol. That is quite a beverage.

  • gerty-z says:

    Worst beer ever for me was a Keystone light. I was visiting a friend who was in college (I was still in HS) and we went to a really lame frat party. Frat-boy dudes were being super-lame and nasty-ass Keystone Light tasted even worse than usual-who knew that was even possible?? Folks kept trying to tell me that it smelled like banana, but I got nothing but the odor of skunky piss beer.

    @Drug Monkey: I'm sure that EtOH has great reinforcing effects. But some people do innately like the taste of beer. I just spent the weekend with my mom, who finds great amusement in relaying how much I liked beer as a toddler, from the first time I tasted it.

  • El Picador says:

    Mmmmmmm, raspberry lambic, mmmmmmmm......

  • Cashmoney says:

    Hamm's ( the beer, refreshing),

    Nice chuggable, inexpensive brew for the undergrads. Nothing to suspect, opened up the third twelve pack of the day...4-5 folks pop one open, slug one back.....and gag.

    SWEET. The beer tasted like it had sugar added it was so sweet. Yuk. Not much carbonation either. I suspect the yeast died or something.

    Hey Prof! Why would beer taste sweet? What part of commercial high volume brewing would be fucked up to cause that?

    • Odyssey says:

      Some brewers add sugar, although that's often after bottling an unfiltered beer when they want the yeast to continue fermenting and provide the carbonation. I can't say I've had Haams, so I don't know what it's deal is. Possibly heavy on the grain and light on the hops.

    • Odyssey says:

      Sorry CM, I think I misread your comment. Sounds like the cans might have got too hot at some point or the beer was way old. Unlike wine there are very few beers that age well.

  • Graham says:

    One time, as part of a trivia tie-breaker, I had to down a pint. Previous experience led me to believe I was getting PBR or Bud Light (which I can easily down very quickly). On this occasion, however, they served the Inversion IPA. Ingesting a pint of that in under 2 seconds is an experience I do not care to repeat. The ensuing hour was one of extreme and surprisingly prolonged discomfort.

    To add some commentary, I'd say PBR is great, for what it is ($0.50/can?). I'd take it over a bud light any day. I truly hate those beers that make you think they'll be good but then end up sucking as soon as you taste them:

    - Leinenkugel's Berryweiss (why did I think this was good? Someone I trusted told me so... We are no longer friends. This would be terrible beer, even if you weren't expecting something good.)

    - Magic Hat #9

    - Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA

    - Midas Touch (I think that's the name...?)

    - Oskar Blues Old Chub

    Speaking of Oskar Blues, I take exception to your assertion that one should avoid beer in a can. While this may be a good rule of thumb, there is nothing inherently wrong with cans, and a number of microbreweries have followed Oskar's lead and begun putting beer in a can. Canning can be more expensive than bottling, but cans provide a better/stronger seal and protect the beer from light (also, don't buy beers in a clear bottle... corona!). They are also handy for beaches and backpacking. Most cans now have an interior coating which protects against any oxidation so the beer keeps longer.

    • Odyssey says:

      If you're sure the can is lined, okay. I still prefer glass. We'll discuss the pitfalls if clear bottles and the whole skunk thing in a later session.

  • mouthfulofpancake says:

    The worst beer I've ever tasted hey? ALL OF THEM.
    Sorry, I think I'll transfer to Red Wine 501 instead.

  • Adam First says:

    Stag, stolen from my father's frig. Or at least, it topped the list until a few years ago when I had the misfortune of tasting Michelob Ultra.

  • JollyRoger says:

    Firstly...'Cakes' at least come and try the Tangleheads White Ale before you say 'all of them' might just find you like it!!

    And the rest of you

    FOSTERS!!!!!.the worst liquid called beer in the world

    Anywhere, anytime you drink it! It will always be the worst beer in the world!!

    • Odyssey says:

      Yes, Fosters is way down there, although Cascade from Tasmania gives it a run for the money. We'll have to have a session on Australian beers. Alas Fosters is the only one readily available here. And sometimes Coopers, which isn't a big improvement.

      • antipodean says:

        Cooper make a good beer. But it sure as shit doesn't travel very well. Any further from Adelaide than Sydney and it will become quite nasty.

  • leigh says:

    the worst beer i ever had was the local product of a cheapass college town brewery. fucking nasty shit. but it was college, and it was cheap, and we were more interested in intoxication-units-per-dollar than taste at that point.

    i grew up with old milwaukee, just so my benchmark is out there. i didn't exactly have a high bar to reach, going into that phase.

    • Odyssey says:

      I've had beers in comfort that taste worse than Old Milwaukee, but fortunately none have come close to that hot Old Milwaukee in the sweltering back of a Pinto surrounded by stinky rugby uniforms.

  • samantha says:

    Hamm's or Busch. Either were the cheap-ass beach-party beer run beers of my high-school illicit drinking years. Frequently, I'd have a sip, pour out half the beer, and just stand around holding it so that people wouldn't try to force more on me. I'd rather be sober than swallow liquid poop.

  • mouthfulofpancake says:

    Please understand, I have tried many a beer, dark and light, fruity and not. Unfortunately, there has not been a beer that I have found to my liking. Jolly, I will certainly try the Tangleheads White Ale. I would actually like to think that there is a beer out there that I would like!

  • Bob O'H says:

    I've had a few awful beers in Finland - the commercial brewers really don't brew lagers well. Added to that, I moved there from Denmark, who do do pissy lagers well.

    Actually, I think the worst beer I've had was a Bjørnebryg from Harboe (one of the smaller commercial breweries). It was metallic, and with no redeeming quality: so bad the only supermarket in Denmark that sold it was Aldi, a cheap German chain.

    The Finns sold it as a speciality beer.

  • MitoScientist says:

    I'm going to have to second Scicurious on the Natty Light. A truly abominable beer, especially when warm, with random things like tabasco and sour cream thrown in during a game of Kings Cup. Just the absolute worst.

  • IrishMom says:

    I managed a project in the middle of nowhere out West - spent nine months working 6 days/wk, 10-20 hours/day and endured rapidly rotating shifts. My happy thought was beer. I discovered a lovely liquor store that had an enormous refrigerated beer section and all beers could be sold by the bottle. I had to create a database to keep track of all the beers that I tried.

    On one of our few days off a colleague and I decided to arrange a beer sampling party. We spent a considerable amount of time choosing our samples and splurged on a bottle of Delerium Tremens. It was, hands down, the WORST beer I've ever tasted. Worse than Keystone, PBR, Bud, Little Kings, etc... Maybe it had been skunked, but it wasn't drinkable. We poured that sucker down the drain.

    Life is too short to drink crappy beer.

  • Ugh. Beer smells and tastes like dirty, sweaty feet. Disgusting. Good thing I didn't sign up for this class. I'm taking Chocolate 501 instead.

    • DrugMonkey says:


      • Odyssey says:

        Yet, by your own admission, you drink the stuff DM, which sort of undermines your argument.

        • drugmonkey says:

          You have not actually read my argument then. By continued association of the taste with the intoxication, one comes to find the taste pleasurable. But it is not, objectively and in the absence of this conditioned association, pleasurable to the vast majority of people. Kinda like coffee.

          This is why you have now at least three observations that on first experience beer tastes horrible. The rest of you are just in denial about it.

  • eTourist says:

    I'll have to agree with The Aqueous Layer, avoid anything with "light" or "Milwaukee" in the name. The worst beer I've ever had was when I let this filter slip. In my defense, it was July. At a concert at Red Rocks. The vendor only had Coors Light. It tasted almost, but not quite, entirely unlike beer.

    Speaking of the light and Milwaukee filter, I'm sure it's saved me from many unpleasant experiences. The most unpleasant beer I can imagine (though I've never tried it) is Bud Light with Lime.

    • Graham says:

      Should've gone to a different vendor! Was it a draft or a can? (Or a plastic bottle, even)? I like the vodka lemonades at red rocks.

      I once had bud light lime and it was drinkable (though, the only other option was sobriety). Of course, my reaction is pretty colored by my expectations and it had a rather low bar to meet...

    • DrugMonkey says:

      If you drink Cuurs you deserve what you get.

  • docstymie says:

    are you going to have a lecture on the great American beer, Budweiser?


  • proflikesubstance says:

    Anything with "ice" or "light" in the name. Before the microbrew revolution fixed the beer market in the US and found ways to get around the 3.5% ABV, Canadians always called US beer "sex in a canoe" (aka fucking close to water). I still think that holds for the mass produced shit in the US and pretty much any other country.

    The only beer I have had that breaks your can rule is Surly Furious ( Wonderfully hoppy, even in a can.

  • seth says:

    There is no bad beer , just some that are worse than others !

  • NickyFlip says:

    My 3 buddies and I go to ToughMan every year (amateur boxing tourny that can get pretty hilarious) and drinking is usually the focus of the weekend. I won the poker game that decided who uses everyone's money to by everyone his choice of alcohol. I decided to do a power hour using fancy beers - except 3 ounces every 3 minutes instead of a shot per minute. Anyway, my answer is Chimay Tripel - because it happened to be the one I puked immediately after. What a waste of great beer and a truly horrendous idea. It did give me a greater respect for light beers though...