Remember the first time you were confronted with a wine list at a restaurant? That list didn’t come with anything to clue you in to why you might or might not want a wine from this country or that, made of this type of grape or that, one year vs another year. What a frustrating, potentially embarrassing situation! Now we are faced with the same sort of unpleasant experience on our first trips to any place with a nontrivial selection of craft beer.
There are lots of breweries, lots of styles, lots of beers out there now. It can be a bewildering experience to get started down the right path, with not enough clear signposts. Here are some hints for navigating that first trip or two…
- You can ask the server/bartender, but they may not know any more than you. ratebeer.com or the brewery’s website a best bet for quick clue. Beeradvocate.com is popular but not very mobile friendly.
- If you are at a brewpub or brewery, try the house stuff. If at a beer bar ask “what do you have that’s local” as a starting point
- If you see medals or trophies on the wall of the brewpub or brewery, ask what they were for and try that
- You can start with a touchstone of something you already know you like, both beer and not-beer. “What do you have that’s like…”
- If you like (whatever)-light beer then look for these words: helles, blonde, koelsch, gold
- If you like Blue Moon or Shock Top, look for Wit- White- or anything with names that evoke white (Swamp Head Cottonmouth, Avery White Rascal, Cigar City Florida Cracker)
- If you see the word “Pale” or acronyms with a “P” you will notice some bitterness
- If you see the word “Wheat” it will probably not be bitter
- If you like gin, try a Saison or “farmhouse” anything
- If you like whisk(e)y try a barrel aged anything. You’ll probably recognize the oak/vanillin
- If you like a big robust cabernet, try a wee heavy, old ale, belgian dark strong, Baltic porter, or doppelbock for some big rich stone fruit flavors
- Most craft beer bars will list the ABV (alcohol by volume) of the beers on the menu board. Bigger is not always better, it’s just one factor in the whole experience.
- If you take away anything from this, make it the concept of “flights.” For the price of a full pint of something you may or may not like, you can get four to six 4oz pours of different things and experiment.