Beer is a wonderful drink, and there's never been a better time to enjoy it. The UK has a long and proud brewing tradition, and produces some of the finest brewers in the world. But never — in our lifetimes, at least — has there been such variety and creativity displayed in the beers we make.
One way to appreciate all of this great beer more is to learn about it. When you understand what you're tasting, it can bring a whole new level of enjoyment.
If you're interested in gaining a bit more beer knowledge, a great place to start is learning how to taste properly. That is perhaps the single most important skill you can learn, and a necessary first step to becoming a beer expert.
Reading is a great way to dip your toe into beer education. You can see whether it's for you without breaking the bank. There are tons of books out there but here are two to get you started.
Tasting Beer (2nd edition) by Randy Mosher is a classic, and the one book that anyone serious about beer should read. It will introduce you to the finer points of brewing, serving, tasting, and food pairing.
Beer: Taste the Evolution in 50 Styles by Natalya Watson is another good beer primer that gives an overview of beer through its history. You'll enjoy your beer more if you understand why looks and tastes the way it does today.
Tasting beer with others is great fun, but tasting beer with an expert also adds an element of learning. It's also a great way to explore new beer styles that you're unfamiliar with.
Reading about how a beer should balance sweet malt with bitter hops is fine, but there's nothing like listening to a beer sommelier or cicerone talk you through how a particular beer does this, at the same time as tasting it for yourself, to really lock it into your mind.
A tutored tasting gives you the chance to really engage, to ask questions, to try sharing your own opinions. It will bring your beer education on leaps and bounds.
If you're really serious about learning more, it's time to start exploring classes. The two main paths open to you are the Cicerone Program and the Beer Sommelier qualification.
The Cicerone Program started in the USA but has since started to operate in other countries, including the UK. It's slightly more technical than the Beer Sommelier and more focused on beer service.
The Beer Sommelier programme, run by the Beer and Cider Academy, is a UK qualification backed by the Institute of Brewing and Distilling. There's a bit more focus on beer communication with this one.
Both courses are a great way to take your beer skills to the next level. You will learn about the brewing process, how to recognise off-flavours and where they come from, how to pair beer and food, and lots more besides.