How to Get Into Beer
A guide on how to get into craft beer.
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If you want to get into beer, but don’t know how or are too intimidated to try, this article is for you! Craft beer is in a very different spot compared to when it really started to take off in the early 2010s. Beer is not just for hipster white men, there are growing scenes of women, queer people, and BIPOC people getting into beer, both as consumers and producers.
Beer is something enjoyed by cultures all over the world, and has an interesting, vast history. Liking beer definitely doesn’t have to be a personality trait, but having a basic fluency in beer allows you to access and feel at home in thousands of breweries all around the world. Breweries are a great thing to visit whenever you are traveling to support the local economy and get a feel for the local community.
Choosing A Beer Style
For most people when they think of beer, American Light Lagers like Bud Light and Michelob Ultra probably come to mind. This is because of the incredible advertising budgets of the big corporations that make these beer but it also speaks to the sheer popularity of them. Most people like beer made by the huge corporations because that’s all they know, but I would argue that they are probably not the highest quality beer ever made. That’s not to say that there isn’t an occasion for a Bud Light, but I would say that is not the only beer that people should drink. There are a myriad of different styles of beer, all with different taste profiles. I truly think that there is a beer out there for everyone, but it will take some leg work to find it.
In craft beer, the cult of the IPA (India Pale Ale) reigns supreme, there are so many variations on the style that nowadays saying just IPA might not get you anywhere close to guessing how the beer will taste. Although IPAs are super popular, that isn’t to say that there isn’t room for other styles in the arena. Lagers and sours in particular are still quite big in the craft scene, and I would predict that they are only going to get bigger as breweries start to look at more things to innovate. Not all beer styles are the same, and everyone likes different styles. People tend to be very snooty about IPAs, but no style is in any way superior than another. Each style comes with its own unique challenges and science to making it good.
To beginner beer drinkers, I usually recommend (Fruited) Sours or NEIPAs (New England IPAs). Sours are great because they have a taste that people don’t associate with beer usually. They are sour (wow), but also usually have a touch of sweetness. However, some people don’t like the taste of sours because some sours have a very distinct sour taste that doesn’t jive with them. NEIPAs are good because they have more of a familiar fruit tasting hop notes as well as a traditionally low bitterness. Hazy Pale Ales, New England Pale Ales, and Session IPAs are relatively newer and lighter styles that I would recommend if a brewery offers them over NEIPAs because the are typically lighter and should have less in-your-face hop content which is what tends to scare off newcomers.
If you want to read a comprehensive list of beer styles: check out New to Brew: A Beginner’s Guide to Beer.
It might not taste bad, but different than you’re used to. Beers taste like the malt, the yeast, and/or the hops that go into making it, all of which you may or may not be familiar with in your everyday diet. Something that is important to note is that a lot of times beer will taste like other things, sometimes without having that ingredient at all. This is because of the compounds present in hop oils, so you might have a beer that tastes floral, spicy, or fruity. However, it is important to know that tasting notes are the beer versions of that flavors, it might not taste exactly like mangoes, but it is quite similar.
It is also important to note that everyone’s tastes are different, sometimes a lot of people agree on the same thing, but that doesn’t mean that you will agree too. Some people like it bitter, some like it sweet, sometimes a beer is just not made for you. You will have to try a lot of beers in order to nail down the things you like and don’t like. Try not to commit to a full pint, see if the place you have has smaller pours. Untappd is a great beer resource because you can see what other people think about the beer. They will also usually have a list of tasting notes that users have submitted. This helps you to know if you want to order it.
Just because you like one thing one place, doesn’t mean you’ll like it at another place. So many beers are made with the same materials, but to greatly differing results. Additionally, each brewery and brewer will brew a beer to their interpretation of the style, so just because the beer says NEIPA, that does not mean that it will taste exactly like other NEIPAs you have had before. Some brewers are better at keeping the spirit of styles in their beers, but some are not as reverent. Above all, resist the temptation to call a beer that you don’t like bad. Not all beers are made equally, there is such thing as a bad beer, but oftentimes it is just not the beer for you.
How to Read a Brewery Beer Description
Tap lists/beer menus can be very overwhelming at first glance, but once you know how to break it down and what to look for, even if you don’t know every single word, you should be at least generally informed about what you’re ordering.
Components of a Tap List Entry:
- Name: Names are very fun in craft beer, when ordering at the bar you usually don’t have to say the full name, usually the first two words will suffice as long as there aren’t other beers with a similar-ish name.
- ABV (Alcohol by Volume in %): The amount of alcohol in the beer, 5% is about what you’d get in a seltzer anywhere else
- IBU (International Bitterness Units): The measure of how bitter a beer is (measured by presence of isohumulone) higher number means that it will probably taste more bitter but perception may vary Style Name
- Style Name: The kind of beer that it is
- Modifiers before and then the style is usually after
- Ex: Imperial + Stout or Imperial + IPA
- Ex: Rye + IPA
- Ex: Dry + Irish + Stout
- Ex: Fruited + Sour
- Modifiers before and then the style is usually after
An example of a Brewery Tap List/Menu, from Rockwell Brewery in Frederick, MD