If you are thinking about getting into craft beer or getting a friend addicted to craft beer, there are a lot of steps to go through. Craft beer can be daunting with a variety of beer styles and hundreds of different beers to choose from. It is very similar to getting someone to enjoy wine where without a little knowledge it is very difficult to know how to get into the craft beer scene. You must always start light and work your way into the more challenging flavours. From personal experience it takes anywhere from one to three years to full embrace craft beer and every beer style available.
Beer education usually starts by drinking light macro beers such as Budweiser. Everyone will joke that it is nothing more than flavoured water and in many ways this is true. Beer is definitely an acquired taste and as with any acquired taste you need to ease into it. The first thing you need to do is look for the light beers. Going for a Farmhouse Ale is one way to quickly hate craft beer but if you start with Pilsner Urquell you will definitely be able to enjoy good quality beers. Pilsner Urquell is not a craft beer as the brewery is currently owned by Asahi but it is a good starting point to what beer should be.
Once people grow to enjoy light macro beers, it is then time to introduce them to light craft beers. Any Golden Ale, Lager, or Pilsner will be a good way to show them that craft beer is equally as good as any macro beer. It is important to avoid fruit beers, unless they like fruity flavours. Generally the differences in tastes will be minimal, but the quality of ingredients and the full flavoured malts will be a game changer.
The next step into craft beer is the Pale Ale. This is a very broad spectrum of beers and it is important to avoid any beer that adds a prefix or suffix to the words Pale Ale. Session Pale Ale is an exception and a good starting point but any plain Jane Pale Ale will do. They will almost always be more full bodied than a light beer and the bitterness and sweetness is generally not overpowering. Choosing the right Pale Ale is very important as sometimes they can be too bitter or too sweet. Something in the middle of the road is what you are looking for.
For part two of Pale Ales you need to start looking for the hoppier and sweeter Pale Ales. You will need to learn a few new words such as “hoppy”, which is basically an adjective to describe the taste of hops, a flower cone on a vine that is used to add bitterness to beer. The step of going to hoppier beers needs to be done carefully. You cannot jump straight into a double IPA or a beer with an IBU (International Bittering Unit) of 80. Doing so will turn anyone off on this style really quickly. Depending on whether you like sweeter beers or more bitter beers will determine the next step. The next step has two roads but they end back at the other pretty quickly.
Now that you have graduated elementary school by learning about light and basic beers, it is time to learn more about the intricacies of beer. Having more full bodied beers that become sweeter, nuttier, more roasted, and with more coffee tones is a quick way towards loving beer.
Amber and Brown Ales are beers that tend to be sweeter and nuttier than Pale Ales. They have a stronger body and are more filling. It is a bridge to going to dark ales such as Stouts and Porters. Amber and Brown Ales are a good beer to get into after Pale Ales if you enjoy sweets or roast flavours.
Once you have grown used to Ambers it is time to become a senior by getting into Stouts and Porters. These can often be full meals in a glass as they are very heavy at times. They are not always heavy but the complex flavours mean you need to get used to drinking a slightly warmer beer. Stouts and Porters are generally not as good when freezing cold. It is good to get a cold dark beer but take your time and enjoy it. You will notice all of the malt flavours coming out over a long slow session with a single pint and you will appreciate it a lot more.
University – Bachelors
The awkwardness of puberty and high school has ended and it is now time to become more mature. The University of beer-education requires that you learn and understand hops and yeast. For many, the following beers can be a love or hate relationship but it is necessary in order to grow and understand beer. Like any education, you don’t have to go to university but any beer snob will shun you if you didn’t at least try. We don’t judge.
Indian Pale Ales (IPAs)
IPAs are the craft beer nut’s favourite beer, or at least the majority of craft beer lovers will say that. It is where most people go after they tire of Ambers and Stouts. It is a good way to go if you prefer bitter beers as IPAs tend to be at least twice as bitter as regular Pale Ales. They can get extremely bitter with some breweries having friendly competitions to see who can brew the bitterest beer around. IPAs are a very complex beer as they use a variety of hops. The aromas coming from an IPA is vast, as are the bitter flavours. You can spend years trying to understand every subtlety in the hops or just enjoy a refreshing IPA on a hot day.
Saison or Farmhouse Ales are basically sour beers. This is where craft beer snobs love to hang out. Saisons are sour beers because they are fermented with wild yeast, or specific yeasts that have been cultivated for specific sour levels. Beer should not be sour but Saisons and Farmhouse Ales are designed to have a specific good sour flavour. If you loved Sour Patch Kids growing up you may enjoy Saisons. Some people will never love sour beers and some will actually hate them. If you want new and unique flavours coming from beer, this is one of the last areas where you can still be surprised after many years of beer-education.
- AJB (Various Sours or Saisons)
- Kyoto Brewing Company – Ichigo Ichie
- Yo-ho Brewing – Boku Beer Kimi Beer (Seasonal)
University – Doctorate
Becoming a professional craft beer lover requires you to drink beers that you originally thought were not beer. Being open to beers that do not taste like beer is a challenge and most breweries avoid making these beers because the market is too small for them. While most people never care to become a doctor, it is always fun to learn about this range of beers but it may not be your thing.
People who do not know craft beer always consider Fruit Beers to be fake beer. This is farther from the truth as a good Fruit Beer can make a huge difference. The problem with a Fruit Beer is finding the right balance. It is easy to either put too much or too little fruit flavour into the beer. While you can easily get into Fruit Beers at any point along your craft beer education, it is best to do it towards the end when you can appreciate the difficulties that go into making it. It also prepares you for a world of terrible fruit beers that taste only of juice.
- Blue Magic (Various Fruit Beers on Tap)
- Fukushima Michinoku – Peach Ale
- Ise Kadoya (Various Seasonal Fruit Beers)
Spiced Ales are beers that are hard to quantify. They can be very spicy, like heavily spiced eggnog, or they can be very light and refreshing to the point you never knew it had any spices added at all. I would recommend getting into Spiced Ales any time after you get used to Stouts. It is usually a hearty high alcohol beer with a lot of spices added but recently there are many that are lightly spiced. It is very unique and not for everyone but a joy to experiment with.
- Aoi Brewing – Sweet Desperation Grass Wheat Ale
- Hitachino Nest – Commemorative Ale
- Shiroyama Brewery – Herb Ale Lemongrass
Barley Wine is basically a very high alcohol beer. It takes at least a year to age a Barley Wine for it to taste good. You can drink a Barley Wine early but it usually has a very strong alcohol flavour. You need to be very careful with these beers but they generally taste better with age.
Note: Not all beers are available year round. Some beers are seasonal or out of production. We did our best to find beers that are available year round for recommendations.
*Brimmer Brewing – Porter photo courtesy of Brimmer Brewing