Craft Beer is an industry that, to say the least, has grown quite a bit over the last few years. For most of us this is fantastic, there’s more beers and breweries than we can shake a stick at and on any given day you can wander into your local bottle shop and get some new concoction. It’s really a fantastic time to be a craft beer fan, but what if you’re new to this industry that is expanding seemingly by the day? Just a couple of days ago I was asked by a reader where to start with craft beer. This seems like it should be an easy question right? Then I thought about it and the answer really just isn’t a simple one.
When I discovered craft beer the market was a radically different place. There were really only a handful of options in my bottle shops, primarily Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and Bells for local flavor (if I was lucky). Finding a beer like Guinness on draft in a bar was often considered a lucky find, in fact I even remember frequenting bars that had Guinness just to avoid the Bud lights and Millers of the world. Thankfully times have changed. Every bar has at least 2 or three “craft beer” options, grocery stores have extensive beer aisles with varying options of beer, and reputable bottle shops are stocked to the point their inventory is often stored in cases on the ground because they’re running out of places to store items. Does it seem unreasonable to walk into a liquor store and be simply overwhelmed by how many craft options are available? So where do you start? How do you know what beer is good and worth your money? Sommbeer is here to help and this is Sommbeer’s guide on how to start enjoying craft beer.
I’ve been saying for quite some time now that there really is a beer out there for everyone, you just have to find it. For some people that means finding the perfect bourbon barrel aged roasty stout, while for others beer is all about finding something refreshing and fruity to enjoy by the beach. There is no wrong answer here, but as you enter in your new quest for fermented greatness it’s important to remember that beer is supposed to be fun, and you should have fun discovering it. Like any other group of enthusiasts there are beer fans out there that can sully your experience, especially as you start discovering the things you like. Keep in mind that these are not the majority, most people who like craft beer really just have a passion for brewing and sharing their beer experiences. At Sommbeer our motto is “We Don’t Take Serious Beer Too Seriously”. Good or bad have fun with craft beer, the good brews are easy to enjoy but at some point you’ll learn to laugh off the bad brews.
What goes best with beer? Pizza! Actually beer buddies are pretty important, but pizza is a close second. As you enter into your quest to discover the world of beer I’d highly recommend aligning yourself someone who has some experience with craft beers. A beer Jedi that has been through some trials and tribulations can serve not only as a guide opening the door to your palates flavor profile, but will also be a close buddy to share the journey with. You’re beer Jedi will likely become a really close friend, the people who I have experienced craft beers with are my most beloved comrades. We bond over beer, celebrate with beer, and mourn over beer. Friends enhance every aspect of a great beer, and even makes the horrible beers out there more entertaining.
After you have a beer buddy, or a significant other willing to put up with your new-found interest, go to a brewery and take a tour. Pay attention and try to learn about beer and what goes into making a great beer. Try to learn some things you like and somethings you don’t like. A well crafted beer is a work of art, hearing about the passion and attention to detail that pours into your pint will make you appreciate the differences between your local brewery and the big beer venders that dominate 7-11’s and dive bars across the country.
After you have some information about beer now comes the fun part, and it seems like the most obvious but try things! Try lots of things! When I got into craft beer I was completely driven by curiosity, and at times I had no clue what I was doing. I’d wander in the store and spend what was probably way too much time compiling the perfect 6 pack. That never happened, but it did a lot to help me figure out what I like. As intimidating as craft beer can be to begin with one of the reasons people love it so much is because of the huge amount of different options available. So many bars and brew pubs offer flights now, or small sample sized beers that let you try something on draft without committing to an entire pint. I still love flights, especially when checking out a new brewery; they’re the best way to try a bunch of beers without getting sloshed and really help in figuring out what you like.
While you’re discovering new beers it’s also important to try to avoid writing off a style of beer or a brewery from a single bad experience. There are so many different options with beer that it’s impossible to like all of them. Styles of beer like IPA are extremely popular with beer fanatics, but they are often bitter and strong in flavor. It’s definitely a style of beer that I can see being an acquired taste and I know plenty of beer fanatics that never really warmed up to IPA. Still many who aren’t crazy about IPA still are willing to try beers in the style, especially when there’s a reputable IPA available. Craft beer is all about discovering new things, new flavors, and new ways to infuse those complex flavors in your pint glass. Even if a certain style doesn’t become an instant favorite it’s advisable to give those styles a try from time to time since your palate will likely evolve as you dive deeper into different beer and new beer styles.
Speaking of your palate, it’s important not to overload it right out the gate. If you read over annual top 100 lists of beers they’re typically packed full of beers that are designed to overpower your palate. Beers that impose themselves on you and are brewed with the intention of being over the top with flavor. These beers are fantastic but can sometimes be too much to start with. Not only are they sometimes hard to find and expensive but they can also be overpowering. Sometimes too much of a good thing can be counterproductive, at least when it comes to flavors in beer. When you get started on beer it’s probably best to start with a breweries flagships and work your way into their big specialty beers. I would recommend holding off on big-ticket trophy beers until you have a better idea and understanding of what you really like in craft beers. That way when you do decide to drop $20 on a single bottle of beer it will be a more fulfilling investment with low risk of failure.
Lastly, as you start your journey into craft beer remember to ask questions. A reputable beer bar or brewery is going to want you to have the best possible experience with their beer. If you go into a good beer bar, like one of the Hopcat chains for example, and let them know what you like they will gladly present you a hand full of options to accommodate your flavor profile. If you’re at a venue that offers food often there will be suggested pairings to compliment your meal thus enhancing your experience with that beer. The same applies to your local bottle shop. A lot of these guys who own and operate stores with extensive beer selections are fans of brew themselves. Not only can they help point you in a direction towards new selections that might be to your liking, they can often uncover fermented treasures that aren’t even on beer bloggers radars. And of course ask your beer buddies, although they might throw you a beer that is absolutely horrible as a joke, (always hilarious when that happens,) your beer buddies generally have your best interest in mind.
Whether you choose to enjoy craft beer as a passion or simply as a casual interest it’s important to remember to simply enjoy it.
There’s a very interesting community that has developed around craft beer, it’s a tight-knit grouped joined by a common interest. However that tight-knit group is always looking for new members to share in the joy of craft brewing. Although it can be overwhelming hopefully the tips contained in this article can serve as a guide on how to embrace craft beer and the craft beer community while making sure that serious beer isn’t taken too seriously.
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