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Several years ago, shortly after the onset of my craft beer fanaticism, I made a New Year’s resolution: this year, I vowed, I would drink more beer. That resolution is one of a very small handful of resolutions that I have actually kept.

Of course, I can’t pat myself on the back too much; it wasn’t a terribly challenging resolution to begin with. But I have also come to realize that it was the wrong resolution to make. If the goal is to learn more about the beauty of craft beer, then the right method isn’t to drink more; it’s to drink smarter.

Here are three ways to drink smarter in 2018.

THINK OUTSIDE THE HOP

Despite the fact that it would make our evolutionary ancestors roll over in their graves, many beer lovers actively pursue extreme bitterness. (It’s not for nothing that Bells Two-Hearted Ale and Russian River Pliny the Elder have, for a long time running, been at the top of various lists of the most-loved beers in the country.) And don’t get me wrong: I love me some Aslan Batch 15 and Melvin 2×4. But this year, resolve to expand your vision.

At its heart, beer is water, malt, hops, and yeast, and its non-hop ingredients are well worthy of your attention, too. So as not to shock your taste buds, you might start with a pint of Menace Best Bitter, which (despite its name) throws a delicious dose of breadiness alongside its hops. Then you might head over to Structures to get acquainted with the spiciness in one of their yeasty saisons, before trying to figure out exactly how Chuckanut manages to get the taste of brown bread crusts so prominently into their award-winning Dunkel Lager.

INTEGRATE THE MEAL

I suspect that the popularity of intensely flavored beers is due in part to the fact that they are an experience unto themselves. It’s harder for less intensely flavored beers to shine in isolation, but this isn’t a reason not to drink them; it’s a reason to pair them with food.

Finding the right combo of beer and food can seem intimidating, but the basics are really pretty straightforward: (1) match intensity, and (2) look for resonances and contrasts. As for intensity: you probably don’t want to drink a brown ale with sushi, because the chocolatey sweetness will drown the fish (no pun intended). Likewise, skip the pilsner if you are having barbecue, because the virtues of the pilsner will be completely overpowered by the barbecue sauce. But flip those choices around – pilsner with sushi and brown ale with barbecue – and you’ve got a couple of winning combos. As for resonances: Main dishes with lots of herbs typically play very nicely with herbal or spice-forward beers, such as saisons or witbiers. And, of course, stouts go notoriously well with chocolate. But contrast is an equally important consideration. The sweetness of an amber ale is what you’ll want with your five star pad Thai, and the effervescence of a Belgian Golden Strong Ale is going to help keep that pesto pasta from weighing those taste buds down.

BE PATIENT

Just as Halloween candy demands to be eaten immediately upon returning from trick-or-treating, your beer might sound like it’s demanding to be drunk immediately upon removing it from the fridge. But don’t be deceived: the flavor of most craft beers improves as the temperature rises above the mid-30s Fahrenheit. As a general rule: the darker the beer, the warmer you want to drink it (within limits, of course – it’s beer, not coffee). So, the next time you crack open a bottle, go ahead and take a sip – it would be cruel for me to recommend against that first refreshing sip – but then let it sit for 10 minutes or so before picking it up again. You’ll probably start discovering a side to your beer that you didn’t know existed.

"If the goal is to learn more about the beauty of craft beer, then the right method isn’t to drink more; it’s to drink smarter."