What beer should I order?
Perusing the menu at a brewery can be a daunting task, especially for those who rarely or never drink craft beer. Whether faced with 6 options or 100, you can quaff a delicious beer in a few simple steps.
What type of beer do you like? If you are just discovering craft beers, the answer may be domestic light lagers or wheat beers; alternatively, veteran craft beer drinkers may ask, "what beer am I in the mood for?" With all of the different styles of beer out there, how do you choose?
Let’s start with the ingredients. Beer is made with malt, hops, yeast, and water. Malt provides the sugar that the yeast will consume and convert to alcohol during fermentation. Hops add bitterness to balance out the sweetness of the malt, and, in some cases, add flavor and aroma as well. By manipulating each of these ingredients, a brewer can craft a beer to a particular style or flavor. For example, a beer that is malt-forward will be sweeter or less bitter; a hop-forward beer will be more bitter and showcase the flavor and aroma of the hop used, and a yeast-forward beer will highlight the esters and phenols (a byproduct of fermentation) that produce fruity and spicy flavors.
So how does that help you select a beer? Knowing what flavors you enjoy or the ones you don't can help narrow down your choices, i.e., you don't like hop-forward beers. Here are some categories and beer styles that should help:
These beers are generally lighter and have a crisp, clean flavor. While not malty or hoppy, they can exhibit some fruity or spicy notes as well as notes of corn, bread, and cracker. Example styles include:
In these beers, malt flavors dominate the profile. Expect some sweetness and malty flavors such as nuts, toffee, caramel, toast, and dried fruit such as raisin, prune, or fig. Example styles include:
English Brown Ale
Extra Special Bitter (ESB)
Irish Red Ale
Scottish Ale/Scotch Ale/Wee Heavy
These beers are all about the hop flavor and aroma. They typically have a pronounced bitterness and intense hop flavor contributions such as piney, resinous, citrus, and tropical notes depending on the hops used. Example styles include:
IPA (English, American, New England)
American Amber Ale
American Imperial Red Ale
The flavors of these beers are driven by the types of yeast (or in some cases, bacteria) used for fermentation and the esters and phenols they produce. Flavors from the yeasts can range from fruity: banana, bubblegum, orange, apple, and pear to spicy: clove, black pepper, and coriander to funky: hay, barnyard, and earthy. Example styles include:
Belgian Blonde Ale
Belgian Strong Ale
These beers use highly roasted malts that produce coffee and chocolate flavors, rich mouthfeel, and appear very dark. Some will exhibit dried fruit flavors. Depending on the level of roast, these beers can run the gamut of somewhat sweet to intensely bitter: Example styles include:
Imperial Brown Ale
Foreign Export Stout
If that doesn't help narrow down your selection, don't be afraid to ask for help. At Brokerage, our friendly curators are here to answer your questions and help you select a beer that will be to your liking. We will gladly pour you small samples as well. Ultimately, there is a beer for every taste, and with a little knowledge, and perhaps some guidance, you can select the perfect beer for your taste.
- Mike Vanaman, , BBCo Lead Curator