For the eyes, Jones says, look at color and clarity. A cloudier beer is fine. It's probably yeast in an unfiltered brew. Color can range from pale yellow to inky. Don't assume -- as some do -- that deep color means intense flavor, strong alcohol content, and thickness. Put the nose to work too. The fragrance of foam, Jones says, is often related to taste. Maltier beers usually boast a sweeter aroma. The more hops, the more bitter. "Bitterness is not bad at all," he says. "Bitterness is a spice." Note the beer's mouth feel -- a quality known as viscosity. And swallow. Unlike wine, Jones says, beer should be swallowed to fully enjoy its flavor because the taste buds that acknowledge bitter are way back on the tongue.
Before sampling beer, don't smoke or eat a spicy meal. And between tasting, Jones recommends clearing the palate with a swish of water and a bite of unsalted cracker or pretzel. Which leads to food and beer. Match complementary, not overpowering elements. For spicy chow, Jones suggests varieties with piquant hops flavor such as India pale ale or German-style pilsner. A light dish, he says, goes nicely with an American-style pilsner.
Of course, much legwork is already done at the festival. Tents featuring a particular country's or region's beers will also include a restaurant selling cuisine from the same place. Two-ounce drink samples will be offered. Or beer fans can buy favorites by the bottle or pint. Grocery store types will be available for those who want to skip foreign varieties or refrain from chocolate, coffee, and raspberry flavors. Just pop the top and swig.