An Intro to Craft Beer- The Beer List

intro craft beer list bar
The first thing you’ll probably do upon entering a new brewery is check out their beer list. Depending on the brewery, the beers on it could vary tremendously. There are some core ideas though, that you’ll probably see in most every brewery you visit.

The Information on a Beer List

Firstly, you’ll see the names of the beer. Duh, right? But give them a little thought, they will clearly showcase the atmosphere that the brewery is going for. Is there a theme? Do the beers have their style in the name? Are they funny, clever, obscure, etc.? The beer is a brewery’s business card, and they’ll want them to showcase the company’s personality and character.

craft beer list wood display

Aside from the names, you’ll probably find some other information. If the styles of the brews aren’t incorporated into the names, they’ll most likely list the style as well. This is the best guideline for new craft beer drinkers. Have you had a pale ale that you liked? Grab another pale ale from another brewery to compare. Want something a little more intense? Maybe step up to an India Pale Ale (IPA) for a bigger beer with more aggressive flavors. Want something dark? Check out the stouts, porters, and brown ales on the list. Each style provides a different take on a malt forward beer, see what you like the best and then branch out. Of course, if you want something on the lighter side, try out some lagers or a pilsner for a more crisp and refreshing beverage.

How Drunk Will it Get You?

In addition to the names and styles of a breweries offerings, it is typically required to display the Alcohol by Volume, or ABV. The amount of alcohol in a beer is crucial information for many reasons. Craft beer tends to be stronger than marco-brews to enable a larger flavor profile. You might be used to having a few Bud Lights and be unaware that beer weighs in at 4.2% ABV, so a 10% Imperial IPA might knock you right on your ass. The entire industry of alcohol advocates drinking responsibly, and consumers need to be aware that ordering a craft beer at a brewery might not entail the same effects as ordering a beer at a more typical restaurant or bar you frequent. Do your research and know your limits.

How Bitter Will it Be? (Not as much as she is…)

The last piece of information that’s becoming fairly standard to display is IBUs. IBU stands for International Bitterness Units. While they don’t correlate directly to how “hoppy” a beer is, they do tell you objectively how bitter it is. The malt and grains in a beer are there to sweeten the brew and stimulate alcohol production during fermentation. The hops balance out that sweetness. While IBUs don’t tell you how hidden the bitterness is by other flavors, they’re a good baseline to begin evaluating your options. If you know you don’t enjoy the bitter aspect of beer, keep it on the lower end, under 40 IBUs for example. If you’re curious about the hop craze, step up the IBUs on each beer to try to find your ideal interval. While IBUs don’t tell you how much hop flavor is in a beer, there’s a pretty good chance that a more hoppy beer will be higher in IBUs.

There could always be more information presented on any brewery’s beer list, but these are the tidbits that are most essential for you to scope out what might be your favorite thing on the list. Other stats like OG (Original Gravity) and specific ingredients used are more for homebrewers and beer geeks and don’t offer much to a craft beer novice. It never hurts to ask though. If you see anything else on the list, always feel free to ask the bartender, I’m sure they’ll be happy to clarify.

Have you seen anything not mentioned here listed on a breweries beer list? How crazy and detailed was it? Let me know in the comments below!

 

An Intro to Craft Beer- The Basics

craft beer basics intro

Your Craft Beer Primer

Craft beer is exploding in popularity. If you’re checking out this post, you’ve probably tried and enjoyed some craft beer. The Brewers Association just celebrated the number of breweries in the U.S. climbing beyond pre-prohibition levels. We’re now at over 4,200 breweries, the vast majority of which are far from the macro-breweries that supply the majority of this country’s beer.

Craft beer has a different sort of character than the mass produced American lagers out there. There’s a culture establishing itself around the industry. Weirdly enough, there’s a lot to know about craft beer, it is the second oldest beverage in the world after all. Luckily, drinking beer is a social activity, which makes it pretty easy to spark up a conversation at your local brewery about what’s up. If your curious about the basics before heading in for a brew though, here are some of the basics.

Firstly, I tend bar Upslope Brewing Co. in Boulder, CO. A huge part of what I do at Upslope is talk about beer with interested patrons. I got into craft beer and homebrewing shortly after I turned 21 when I discovered that there’s something out there aside from Natty Light. I used to splurge on a good 6-pack to split with my friends when I picked up a few 30 packs of cheap beer for us at the liquor store. That way, we could start the night with something nice before continuing on in a more typical college-y way. I still enjoy a Natty Light, or similar light American lager, from time to time, but there are so many more interesting brews out there.

Well then, let’s get started. Here are some of the basics of craft beer.

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The Ingredients

Beer consists of 4 ingredients on a basic level: water, malt, hops and yeast. There is even a law in Germany about them called the Reinheitsgebot, or the German Purity Law. It states that those are the only four ingredients that are allowed to be used in beer, with barley being the specific malt. It is still in effect to a degree today, although many German breweries have branched out to include other less traditional ingredients in their beer. The law, somewhat humorously, was put in place to conserve wheat and rye to be used for bread so that the country’s grains weren’t all turned into beer instead of food.

A Little Prohibition History:

American breweries got a bit of a kick-start after prohibition, which has resulted in a huge amount of experimentation and innovation in the field. That innovation also came along with a relative disregard for the old world rules about beer, resulting in the plethora of options we have today. Shutting down all of the traditional breweries rid us of any preconceived notions once it was repealed. Prohibition seemed like a pain in the ass in its day, but we have it to thank as it indirectly made the U.S. beer scene more unique than ever.

Huge Beer style chart

The Styles

There is a style of beer for almost everyone, regardless of how they feel about beer. We have a lot of fun at work with people who bring in friends or family members who don’t like beer. We have 24 beers on tap and I can always find something that they’ll have at least one glass of. One of my fiancé’s friends from Australia told me that she had never finished an entire beer before and stuck to cider. She had 2 glasses at the brewery and loved it. There is truly a beer for almost anyone out there.

Styles range from light and refreshing lagers and blonde ales, to deep and robust stouts and barrel aged sours. BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) featured 34 main styles of beer in their 2015 list, each one with a multitude of subcategories. Styles are also evolving every year, as well as re-emerging into prominence. A gose(a German salted, soured ale) is categorized as a historical beer by BJCP standards, but they’ve just been coming back into popularity in the past few years. Needless to say, there are a lot of styles out there. If you find something you haven’t seen before, give it a try.

The India Pale Ale:

The most popular style of beer in the U.S., among competitions, is the American IPA. Any beer competition will have a little bit of everything, but they’re always flooded with American- style IPA category entries. India Pale Ales feature robust, refreshing hoppy flavors, and a crisp bitterness that can get a beer drinker hooked. It’s a style that people acquire a taste for though. IPAs are aggressive and overwhelming to your palate. In fact, it’s very natural to have an aversion to overly bitter beers. It’s based on an animal instinct to avoid bitter tastes, as they often correlate with poisonous plants.

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The Experience

A big part of why people are interested in craft beer is for the experience. Almost everyone above the age of 21 has had a Bud Light, but there isn’t much to be excited about with a Bud. Light American lagers are a bit bland, but that’s part of the reason they’re enjoyable. They’re simple, light, refreshing and easy drinking. They have their place, but they can get boring after awhile. Craft beer makes drinking an experience again, beyond just the effect alcohol plays in the fun.

Rather than just knowing that you like beer, you can try out a variety of styles and figure out what specifically you like about the beverage. Through that knowledge, you can find similar beers that showcase that characteristic specifically and discover other beers you’ll love. It sounds crazy, but once you have a firm foundation in craft beer experimentation, it’s really fun to try out new beers and talk about them. There’s way more to talk about than you might think.

The End

Well, that’s enough for now, go out and have yourself a beer. This post will be the first in a series introducing different facets of craft beer as a hobby. Be sure to let me know what you thought of the post or if you have any specific questions about beer in the comments below! Thanks for reading!

Images and references courtesy of: Medical Bag, The Brewers Association, the L.A. Times, The Craft Beer Academy