There is an unfortunate stereotype regarding the beer drinking consumer in the United States. Often the stereotype is one of college kids and keg stands, cheap beers in brown paper bags, and in general drunken buffoonery. When I say I like beer I always automatically explain that I like good beer, craft beers, and I don’t drink to become a drunken idiot, but because I enjoy the taste and flavors of good beer. Craft Beer Culture is a lot like wine culture, with different types and styles with fans of one type or another.
If you’ve decided to make the jump from macro to craft brews you will find people who are more than happy to guide you in the right direction and smooth out your transition. If you’ve been drinking bud light since you were of age then jumping into a bottle of Arrogant Bastard probably isn’t the best choice. Personally I got started drinking craft beers while in the military. Traveling to places like France, Greece, and Germany I had a lot of chances to dry different beers and different styles and quickly shunned light beers and macro breweries.
When I started researching craft beers I was pleasantly surprised that many service men started tasting in enjoying foreign beers from around the world in the 1970s, and this really help spur the culture of craft beer.
What is craft beer?
Craft beers are kind of like artisan beers. Craft brewers are defined by the brewer’s association as small, independent and traditional. Craft beers can be looked at as science projects in beer innovation. People brew and experiment with beer, with how it’s brewed, how it’s stored, and the ingredients added. Craft brews often create a cult like fan base around a particular blend of their favorite beer. Most of these beers started as an experiment to tweak an existing recipe, to add their own unique signature to it.
Beers fall into pretty much two categories, Ales and Lagers, which differentiate by their yeast fermentation/ Ales are top fermentation and lagers are bottom fermentation. Even though the idea of only two types of beers seems limiting it really isn’t. For example the difference in taste between an Indian Pale Ale (IPA) and a Dry stout is apples to oranges.
Ales – Tend to be chock full of flavor. A good ale is complex with a variety of nuanced tastes one has to identify. Ales can also be very bitter beers, like an IPA. Believe it or not people enjoy bitter tasting beers, but a person should allow their taste to grow accustom to a bitter ale. Ales smell amazing, and one should enjoy at least one deep wiff before enjoying. Ales can beer served warmer as well, typically around 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Lager- Lager just sounds manly. Lagers go through a process known as lagering, and that’s where they derive their name. Lagers tend to be light tasting beers, and very crisp and smooth. Most lagers will be highly carbonated. Lagers form one of the most popular seasonal beers, Marzen aka Oktoberfest. Lagers can chilled a bit more and are enjoyable around 39 to 44 degrees.
Within these two beers you find the foundation for an enormous and ever expanding variety of beers. From stouts to pale ales to pilsners and porters, the lager and ale formula produces a wide variety of beers.
The Ice Cold No No
So when it comes to drinking these beers I mentioned the temperature restraints. A light lager can be enjoyed at 39 degrees, sure, but that’s a light and crisp beer. To really taste a beer, to get the essence right one has to reject the ice cold idea.
What? No, no, no beers are supposed to be ice cold right? Well if your drinking a Keystone light then taste doesn’t really matter so go ahead. (Side note author was once a broke kid too, so he understands the struggle and Keystone’s place) Ice cold beers, and frosted glass ware is a sin in the craft beer world. A beer that is too cold cannot be appreciated. Too cold of a beer and the drinker is exposing their tongue to the cold nature, which means your taste buds will be numbed. This is especially true of frosted glass ware.
I made this mistake early on, and occasionally still make it. When its 107 degrees out I want something called. So I admit I trade taste for cold with some light and crisp lagers, occasionally, and rarely at that.
Craft Brews for beginners.
I don’t suggest starting with a double IPA, or an Imperial stout. Double IPAs are delicious, but bitter an can be a brutal assault on the taste buds for a beginner. An Imperial Stout is best drunk at around 55 degrees, which is a hard transition for most. For beginning beers I suggest Belgian White, even if it’s from a macro brewery like Shocktop. It’s a step in the right direction. Move into sweet creamy stouts, like Guiness. Develop a different taste for beers, and then move on. Neither of the beer I mentioned are craft, but they are excellent for changing minds, and can be considered gateway beers.
Find a good beer house or bar, many will have their one build a six pack. This will allow jumping right in with a variety of beers to give you a good idea of what’s out there. You’ll probably find some you don’t like, but the important thing is to keep moving forward. Even revisit those beers you didn’t like at first, and you’ll be surprised to see how your taste has grown.