It’s been said that beer is the new wine. Local craft beers are one of the hottest foodie trends and don’t show any signs of letting up. If you’re new to the local beer scene, here’s a primer on buying and tasting craft beer
What Makes a Beer a Craft Beer?
The Brewers Association defines a craft beer as made by a brewer that has an annual production of less than six million barrels of beer. The brewery is not owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not a craft brewer.
That means that the craft brewery is not owned by a large microbrewing company like one of the Big Three. But the lines are blurred between true craft beers and craft-like beers that come from multinational brewers. The bottom line is that beer drinkers should drink what they like. As you become more informed, you can decide which companies you want to support.
Choosing Craft Beers
Beer comes in many different styles and types. Probably, the most popular beer in America is the lager, which refers to the method of storing the beer in cold temperatures. Ales are usually darker than lagers and are made with more hops, which makes them very fruity. Porters and stouts are dark beers that have similar profiles. Porters are dark, almost black that are sweeter than stouts. Stouts are less sweet than porters, almost a coffee-like beer. Malts are dark and sweet in flavor.
Beer styles also determine the final taste of the beer:
• Amber beers are a malt beer that is versatile.
• Blonde beers are usually crisp, dry and less bitter than darker beers.
• Pale ales are generally robust, fruity ales that pair well with strongly spiced beers.
• India Pale Ale (IPA) beers are made with extra hops.
• Pilsners are golden beers that can be crisp and bitter.
• Wheat beers are usually light and easy to drink. Most wheat beers will have some spicy notes.
Craft beers will usually have more complex and specialty flavors than the mass-produced type. Local beers offer unique and interesting flavor combinations that will be much different from region to region. Many local breweries make seasonal beers that go with flavors of the season. Christmas beers may have more spicy flavors, like cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice, while fall beers may use newly harvested pumpkins, apples and pears.
Trying Beers Out
If you have a local bar that offers flights of craft beers, it’s a good way to try out three or four types of beer at one to compare. Keep a beer notebook to help you remember what you enjoyed and what you didn’t.
Here are four tips to help you choose beers to go with your palate:
1. Purchase seasonal, local beers that go with the season. Wheat beers are perfect for summer parties, because they’re light and crisp. Winter beers are full-bodied and darker, pairing great with holiday festivities.
2. Craft beers tend to be pricier, so make testing them an experience. Go with quality over quantity. Serve craft beers at intimate parties where you can really enjoy the nuances. Get the mass-produced counterparts for your Super Bowl party.
3. Serve beers from light to dark. Consider your taste buds when serving beers. Start with a wheat beer or IPA before drinking stouts and porters.
4. Find a bartender who is passionate about local beer. Ask for recommendations. Skip the wait staff’s advice.
Everyone has different tastes, so it can be difficult to recommend a specific beer without talking to you about your likes and dislikes. If you enjoy beer, you’re sure to find a few craft beers that you really enjoy by doing some research.