A Beginner’s Guide to Exploring Craft Beer

bottlesIt’s been nearly two years since our first post about starting a bitch beer revolution, and boy, have how our tastes have changed and grown. We put together a post a while back breaking people into craft beer, but with the additional years under our belts, we could give a slightly more informed set of suggestions now. What follows is our guide to the best beginner beers.

Gauge what you know and what you like:

Discern what sorts of drinks you’ve had that you’ve also enjoyed. Note: having something and liking something are not the same thing. You’ve had ice cold cans a-plenty but don’t love that as much as whiskey served neat. That doesn’t mean you don’t love great beer. You’ve shotgunned and thought it was great, but really prefer a sharp, tangy cocktail. That still doesn’t mean you can’t love great craft beer. Part of what makes craft beer wonderful is what an engaging experience drinking good beer is. The first step of that is starting to cultivate an awareness of what your senses enjoy the most. That could be the warming sensation after the 3rd sip of a killer glass of Scotch or the lovely citric tang that tickles your nose before you drink your margarita. It could even be the richness of hot chocolate or the familiar taste of strawberries. Start to find those things and hold on to them for the time being. They will help inform your decision making once we move a little further into this crash course in beer education.

Try something new:

Once you’ve thought about what you like to taste, smell, or just generally experience, you have to make the jump and buy something. This is where that mental list of things you like and things you don’t like will come in handy. Use that to find words that match.This step is scary, so I recommend mixed six packs or splitting a couple bombers with friends. Be adventurous, don’t be afraid to dislike something, and don’t automatically discredit something because it sounds unfamiliar. We’ve reported on a couple different styles in our Drink This, Not That series (lagers and light ales, ambers, and sours respectively) that give lots of suggestions for things that aren’t too far outside your realm of expertise if you’ve only had exposure to big-name beer. Some general rules and things to look at on the bottle:

  • Style of the beer – this will give you a general idea of what flavor notes a beer will have.
  • ABV of the beer – this is the amount of alcohol in the beer. Higher ABV beers typically (but not always) have big, distinct flavors that can be a little polarizing for the untrained palate. If you’re used to hard liquor or heavier beverages, this may not be as daunting for you, but if you’re accustomed to lighter beers or not drinking alcohol frequently, they could take some easing into.
  • Name and location of the brewery – Different regions and breweries have specific takes on styles of beers. For example, an IPA brewed on the West Coast tastes hugely different from an IPA brewed on the East Coast.
  • “Brewed on” date – This isn’t always present, but for styles like IPAs, the freshness of the beer plays a huge part in the taste of the beer. For styles like stouts, porters, or sours, a beer that has aged can still be incredible, but will taste different from a fresh representation.

Make a night of it:

After you’ve tried a couple new things, read up on beer (there are several books I’d recommend to get a basic understanding of what you are drinking both quick and comprehensive) and plan a night to make a party of it! Grab several friends and several bottles and try them all. If you are having a night on the town, try flights at craft beer bars or grab dinner at a brewpub. Or, if local restaurants host beer dinners, splurge for tickets and enjoy some brews paired with killer food. Beer is a lot of fun, and making it an integral part of an evening makes the risk of trying beer just another part of going out on the town or spending the evening with friends.

Suggestions:

I actually have a deep disdain for this part because it is so hard to cover approachable “starter” craft beer. Also, a lot of the beers I got my start with also happen to be really sophisticated, well-crafted beers. Live Oak’s Hefeweizen, for example, is something that many people in the Austin community cut their beer teeth on, but is also a knockout representative of the hefeweizen style that they continue to enjoy and appreciate as they develop more refined palettes. That being said, here is a short list of beers Bitch Beer would recommend.

Note – many of these are local offerings. I find that lots of local breweries are doing great, approachable beers, so most of these are beers from my community.

Light and Lagery:
  • The One They Call Zoe from Hops and Grain
  • Pearl Snap German-Style Pils from Austin Beerworks
  • Hans Pils from Real Ale Brewing
Blondes, and Ambers:
  • Austin Amber from Independence Brewing
  • Bombshell Blonde from Southern Star Brewing
  • Deschutes River Ale
Floral Pale Ales:
  • Pinthouse Pizza Calma Muerta
  • Founders All Day IPA
  • Austin Beer Garden Brewing Co. Daytrip
Wheats:
  • Live Oak Hefeweizen
  • Hitachino Nest White Ale from Kiuchi Brewery
  • A little Sumpin’ Sumpin Ale from Lagunitas Brewing Company
Belgians:
  • Orval Trappist Ale from Brasserie d’Orval
  • Chimay Grande Reserve from Bieres de Chimay
  • Hennepin Farmhouse Saison from Brewery Ommegang
The Dark Side:
  • (512) Pecan Porter from (512) Brewing company
  • Samuel Smith’s Organic Chocolate Stout from Samuel Smith Old Brewery
  • Blind Jake Porter from Pinthouse Pizza
Hop-heavy:
  • Hops & Grain Greenhouse series IPA – they use a different hop in each batch, so it’s a great way to feel out different varieties
  • Austin Beerworks Heavy Machinery IPA – they make a different style of IPA in each batch so you can start to see the spectrum of flavors within a style

-Sarah

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