Beginner’s Guide to finding a Great Beer

glass of beer

BEER!

I get asked a lot what kind of beers do I brew, drink, like or would recommend… the questions come up often while I’m standing in a taproom with my friends. Maybe you have similar questions but may not be standing in a taproom with me and for that, I am sorry that we aren’t hanging out. In lieu of us not being at the same place at the same time I thought I would write up a post to help you out if you sometimes find choosing a beer to be difficult and I’m not around to ask!

There are many styles of beers and I cannot (nor would I even want to try) to attempt to list off every beer style there is. That is what the website Beer Advocate is perfect for. I will, however, mention the beer styles that I am familiar with and if you and I were standing in a taproom somewhere these beer styles would be what I would recommend to you.

Also note that I am only highlighting beer styles, not specific beer brands. I find (at least with my friends) that when I tell someone about a specific brand that they should try they tend to get hung up on only that beer brand. I am a lover of beer and feel that everyone’s brew is worth a try. It’s why I travel to breweries far and wide.  I am always on the hunt for a great beer. But once I find a great beer that doesn’t mean I stop with that beer, it just gets added to my list of great beers and I quest on for the next great beer.

So let’s first get some of your questions out of the way:

What kinds of beer are there?

Beers can be classified as Lagers or Ales. What makes the beer a Lager or an Ale is the yeast that is used and the temperature at which the beer is fermented at. Lagers require cooler fermentation than an Ale. Also, Lager yeast ferments at the bottom of the beer whereas Ales ferment at the top of the beer.

What is a hop anyway?

Leaf Hops

Leaf Hops

Pellet Hops for beer brewing

Pellet Hops

Hops are the flowering part of a Hop plant. Hops are to beer as spices are to your cooking. You add spices to flavor your food, you add hops to flavor your beer. Hops have many different flavorings that range from citrus to floral all the way to spicy flavors.

The brewery may list either on the beer bottle or on a tasting menu what hop or hops they used for their brewing process. Once you get familiar with the hop flavors you like it will help in selecting future beers.  The two photos above are examples of leaf hops and pellet hops.  Although more cumbersome to brew with, the leaf hop’s flavor will be more prevalent in the beer over a pellet hop.

hop ingredient list

This beer uses Crystal Hops. This hop has flavors of cinnamon, black pepper, and nutmeg

What else is in Beer?

Grains, Malts, Yeast and Water. Malts are technically grains that have been converted into starches which then create the sugars for the yeast to eat. The yeast eats the sugar creating alcohol. Lastly, all of this would not be possible without water. Water is the main ingredient in beer as it makes up the bulk of ingredients. Although I am not sure you can count that type of water consumption towards your daily recommended water intake.

I don’t speak gibberish – what’s this ABV, IBU and SRM business about?

beer ABV

ABV example

ABV stands for Alcohol By Volume. This is a measurement of the density of alcohol in the liquid you are measuring. Look at the next bottle or can of beer you drink and see if you can find the ABV. It will most likely be listed as a percent.  You will see things like 5%, 6% … or 11% (are you drinking an IIPA?). The higher the percent the more alcohol there is in the beer.

Examples of IBU rating for beer

The IBU of this beer is 52

IBU stands for International Bittering Units. The higher the IBU the more hop flavor it will have. This is important to take note of if you do not like an overly hoppy beer… or if you’re like me, you look for high IBU’s. The scale is from 0 to 120 with 120 being the highest. Beer will have some sort of IBU. Even our friends over at Budweiser pull in a 12 IBU with their Bud Light which is a pretty low hop beer.

SRM stands for the Standard Reference Method, or in simple terms what color rating the beer has. Beer colors range from “straw” to “black”. Your “straw beers” would be your Pilsners, “deep golds” would be some Pale Ales, “browns” like an English Brown Ale and the “blacks” are your Imperial Stouts or my current favorite Black IPA.

Now that you have some of your questions answered let us move on to the two types of beers.

Lagers:

Lagers are typically lighter, although not always, in color and tend to get a bad wrap if you are from the United States as they are most often associated with the “The Big 3”, Miller, Coors, and Budweiser. If those three brands make you shutter know that they do in fact serve a purpose. They spend a lot of money supporting NASCAR and for that, I thank them 🙂 Note that Lagers are not just brewed in the United States as many European countries make Lagers as well.

Although I said Lagers are typically lighter in color, they are not always. There are Black Lagers that are dark and rich in color. Also, a Lager is the Pilsner. Pilsners were developed in what we now call the Czech Republic. They tend to have a more hoppy flavor than a Lager, which is one reason I would recommend a Pilsner over a Lager.

Me enjoying the "high life"

Me enjoying the “high life”

I will say that I am not a fan of Lagers (despite what the photo above may look like). It will be obvious once you get to the Ale part of this post as it is much more robust in descriptions and recommendations. I never really have been big on Lagers with the exception of once a year – Oktoberfest. Oktoberfest beers are traditionally Lagers. They are darker in color and do not have the skunkiness flavors that some Lagers have (ie Becks, Heineken). I would also recommend trying out an Oktoberfest if it is brewed as a Lager.

I know that there are Lager drinkers out there and maybe even some who are reading this. Please feel free to add a comment below to plead your love for the Lagers. Recommendations are welcome, however, save it if you recommend any of the “Big 3” 🙂 I do have a saying when it comes to beer “I believe if you don’t like beer, it is just because you have not found the right one yet”. Perhaps that can be true of a Lager as well.

Ales:

Ales come in an array of colors and styles. I will mention again – I will list what I am familiar with, not all the different styles… it would most likely be impossible to list every beer style anyways…

Let us start with the most well-known styles of Ales:

Blonde: Traditionally lower in alcohol content this is a great transition beer for non-beer drinkers or even Lager drinkers looking to try Ales. In addition to the lower alcohol content, they are most often lower in hoppy bitterness as well.

Pale Ales: This is the next step up to hoppiness. I always recommend a Pale Ale to a novice beer drinker. It has agreeable flavors, nothing intrusive or offensive. Alcohol contents and hop flavoring can be all over the board but nothing too wild.

Amber Ale: Much like the Pale Ale. It will be darker in color (like its name) but again nothing shocking when it comes to hops or alcohol. Malty in flavor and a great starter beer.

Hefe-Weizen: Also referred to as a “hefe”. We can thank the Germans for creating this wheat beer. It is often unfiltered and garnished with a lemon or orange (I prefer the orange). Hoppiness is mild and is also another great starter beer.

Zion Canyon Beer

Zion Canyon Brewery’s IPA

India Pale Ale (IPA): Although India is in its name, this beer originated in Great Britain. As India was being colonized by GB, the British ran into a slight snag while transporting their beers to India. The journey was too long for the beer and had spoiled by the time it got to India. Britain’s solution was to add more hops which stabilized the beer and made it last throughout the transit. This is not a style of beer I recommend often as many do not like overly hoppy flavors. I use to be one of these people. I now drink IPAs often but I will say approach with caution as it is an acquired taste.

Irish Red: My one true love. These are not too high on the hop scale and they have a nice malty flavor to them. This beer will be more sweet than tart. This would be a good beer to try if you are not huge on hops.

Stouts: This beer varies in styles within this style of the beer. Probably the most well known stout beer is Guinness. Stouts are dark and malty with flavors of chocolate and roasted notes. They are generally lower in alcohol content unless they’ve got “Imperial” attached to their name, which gives them a boost in ABV. These beers can also be found being served at room temperature. Not my favorite thing in the entire world, a warm beer, but it is a nice treat on a cold winter day!

Porters: This beer is similar to the stout style. Malty, dark and roasted flavors. You will see a lot of coffee and chocolate flavors. I am cautious with this style as I do not enjoy the flavor of coffee – but a chocolate porter is pretty palate pleasing!

Lastly a few shout outs for the lesser well-known styles. If you see them I recommend giving them a try!

ESB (Extra Special Bitter): if you like malty and hoppy flavors give this one a try!
Saison: Originally from Belgium this beer has similarities to the Hefe-Weizen. If you like a wheat beer try out the Saison. Make sure you say it fancy like I do “saaay-Zon”
Winter Warmers: darker beers that are filled with fun spices that “warm” you from the inside
Sour Beers: Pucker Up Buttercup! I was not a fan of these when they first came out, but just like the IPA, I now love a good sour beer!

This post was long but I hope you followed it to the end while finding some useful information that will help you select your next awesome beer.

Drop me a line in the comments about what your favorite kinds of beers styles are or your favorite breweries.  I am always looking for new breweries to add to my travel plans!  

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4 Responses to Beginner’s Guide to finding a Great Beer

  1. Mmmm – beer is my favorite. Especially IPAs. Love Dogfish Head, 90 minute the most right now.

    • Awe Dogfish is great! We had it for a hot second in Idaho and then for some reason they are not allowed to distribute in our state anymore… so sad. Crossing my fingers it changes soon!

  2. Sammi says:

    Ok, if you’re ever in Dorset in the UK go to The Digby Tap. They have the BEST beers from all sorts of local places. Really good selection, kept beautifully. My favourite of all the beers is Butcombe, which is local ish to here.

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