So, we’ve been over this before: you like beer. Or are well on your way to doing so. While you may be a rare individual who drinks and enjoys anything set in front of you because it’s well, beer, the rest of us typically have preferences and particular tastes. Or, aren’t in college anymore. Truthfully though, everybody does have preferences. Until the current craft beer explosion, people were a bit limited in phrasing, though: there used to be self-proclaimed “dark beer” drinkers, loyalty-brand enthusiasts, maybe foreign style specialists. Now we have so many options it’s often dizzying trying to assess what they all are not to mention considering carefully if you will enjoy drinking them. As a bartender I’m very used to seeing that flattened look of dismay and desire on a customer’s face who is wading through the choices. Variety is what we want, but sometimes it’s overwhelming. A little guidance without judgment is really helpful. Let’s break down some categories and statements I hear from bar-goers and help you (or help you help a friend) find something to love and imbibe.
A lot of drinkers especially on the west coast, land of IBUs, are currently experiencing IPA fatigue. Every other tap or six-pack out there seems to be an IPA, and I’m not even really exaggerating. Not liking every IPA thankfully doesn’t mean you don’t like hops, bitter flavors and IBUs. Try an English-style ale from abroad or from Seattle’s own Machine House Brewery that’s been hopped with Goldings hops late in the brewing process and you’ll experience a flavorful, marmalade-like goodness that is yes, hoppy. Try a crisp, dry German style beer like Chuckanut Brewing‘s Altbier brewed with spicy hops and you’ll also be drinking a hop-forward beer. And even within IPA territory there are different versions of hoppy. “What’s the best IPA you have?” I hear the question all the time and, knowing that “best” varies with taste, typically ask a few follow-up questions. “Do you like piney and earthy, citrusy, or tropical fruit flavors better?” “Do you like a sweeter malt backbone, or are you looking for an attenuated, dry finish?” Unpacking “bitter and hoppy” into individual flavors and supporting characteristics is key to enjoying and understanding a lot of beers.
While Guinness and dry stouts remain staples in parts of Europe and other areas of the world, porters and stouts are not nearly as prevalent here in the Western US. I encounter a number of customers who say they only drink “the dark stuff” though, so it’s absolutely not a minority of preferences to undermine. My job satisfying those customers gets easier in the fall and winter with the release of holiday ales and darker beers of many types, but there’s so much to dissect in this category as well. Somehow many drinkers, especially women, are under the impression that darker beers are more heavy or “filling” than other styles. The chocolatey-roasty flavors can be very strong on the palate, and there are a lot of sweet stouts out there. But it’s not a true statement across the board. Dark lagers like Uinta Brewing‘s Baba Black Lager for example, are often quite dry, light and refreshing. Black IPAs are often bright and hoppy–take Seattle’s Pike Brewing’s Octopus Ink IPA for a great sample. Judging the book by the cover, in this case, won’t always get you the best beer.
“Light” beer is the easiest place to start from, in my opinion. If you or your grandfather, say, are only accustomed to the lawnmower-type, tailgating kind of deliciously quaffable beer styles, the world is waiting for you to branch out, even if just a little. America’s light lagers were after all originally crafted after a number of classic European styles. It’s not a huge step to try a Weissbier, a Märzen, a Kölsch. Or maybe a Saison, a Belgian Witbier, an Amber ale. The trick is to take baby steps, embrace familiarity along the way, and enjoy complexity when you find it. Don’t let others judge you on your path to deliciousness.
This is the tip of the iceberg here-with almost every style of beer there are subsets of flavors and emphases, roads to go down. If you’re game, try everything with an open mind, or just ask a trusted barkeep to guide you forward to the winning pint.
Categories: How To