Spring is nearly here and it is a time for renewal, growth, cleaning, and warmer weather. It’s the perfect opportunity to renew your ideas about beer and to clean out old misconceptions by exploring craft beer in new, different, and creative ways. If you want to make this Spring the season to seek out new craft beer experiences, I have outlined ten different ways below.
As we get older our tastes change. What you may not have liked in the past, you might like now. Beer that you once thought was too bitter might now be just right. Before you dive in head-first, identify what it was about the style or particular beer that you did not like. Then, find a similar beer where that flavor is not intense. For instance, if you do not like hoppy IPAs because they are too bitter, find a sweeter tasting IPA like Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA. If you don’t like stouts because they are too roasty, find a creamy sweet stout or a stout made with fruit or herbs.
Great craft beer is made all over the country, including your backyard. Make a goal of seeking out and supporting your local breweries. Keep an eye out for new breweries opening in your area, follow them on social media, and check them out when they open. The Brewers Association reported that, as of December 31, 2011, there are 919 breweries in planning, so the chances are pretty good that there is a new brewery planned for your hometown region. If you really want to help upstart breweries, look for a Kickstarter project for new breweries in your area on contribute directly to opening a brewery.
The one thing that accelerated my beer knowledge more than anything, including blogging, was home brewing. When you start working with the raw ingredients — malt, hops, yeast, and water — you really start to appreciate the specific ingredients that go into your beer. If you brew a stout, you’ll learn that most recipes contain black patent malt, roasted malt, and chocolate malt. But even more than that, you’ll be able to feel and taste those ingredients and really know what each means. It also educates you about the various attributes of the wide variety of hops out there. The hops you use in an American IPA might not be the same as an Irish Dry Stout.
Another less hands-on way to learn how beer is made is to go on a guided tour of a brewery. Most areas throughout the country and the world have a brewery nearby that offer guided tours. Some places might even have samples of malt and hops for you to taste and smell, but be warned: raw hops, especially the pellets, are extremely bitter. Best of all, most tours begin or end with sampling the brewery’s beer. Jay Brooks has put together a wonderful list of 81 different beer weeks.
Go to the best beer bar in your area, don’t look at the menu, and ask your server for a recommendation. Maybe give them a little background as to the types of beer you like and that you’re looking for something new to try. Most good beer servers will not only be able to accommodate your request, but will also provide a small sample of the beer they have recommended. If you don’t like it, don’t be afraid to say so, but be sure to let your server know specifically why you didn’t like it. The first time your try this, I recommend going at a time when it is a little less busy at the bar so that both you and your server don’t feel in a rush to make a decision.
All sorts of beer events happen all year round that can help expose you to new craft beer and new experiences. Beer festivals are a great way to try a little bit of a lot of different beer. Beer dinners are a great way to experience creative and masterfully combined food and beer pairings. You might be blown away at how much better beer pairs with food than wine. Other events to look out for include special beer release parties, meet-the-brewer nights, or brewery birthday celebrations. If you want to experience all of this in a short period of time, find out if your nearest large metro area has a Beer Week at any time during the year.
Sharing craft beer with friends is a great way to try several beers in one sitting and discuss which beers you enjoyed and why. Tasting parties can be as simple as a free-form bottle share, where you ask everybody to bring a bottle or two of something special. Alternatively, if you want a little more structure to your event, you can ask everybody to bring a beer or two from a particular region, like Belgium or North Carolina. Finally, if you really want to learn about a style, a blind tasting is a great way to pick out the differences and similarities within a style. You might be surprised how different pale ales can really be. Read all about my Pale Ale Blind Tasting Party for inspiration.
If you enjoy cooking, then try cooking a meal or a desert with beer as an ingredient. Beer can add more complexity to a dish or just a subtle nuance, but it be a lot more challenging than it seems. For instance, cooking with a beer that is too bitter than the recipe called for can ruin your meal. If you want to get started with using beer as an ingredient in food, I suggest starting with a recipe for the first few time before experimenting on your own. And don’t forget to save some of that beer, it will pair wonderfully with your dish. For some great recipes, check out the website of Sean Paxton, The Homebrew Chef. I also have numerous articles about cooking with beer as well as beer deserts on my blog, Beer 47.
There are two categories of making a mixed drink with beer. The first is simply mixing or layering two beers together. You can have a black-and-tan or a half-and-half, but why stop there? Try a creamy stout and a raspberry lambic. JMB Brewcraft has a great list of 14 different creative “layered” craft beer recipes. The second category is making cocktails with beer as a major ingredient. Have you ever tried a fresh IPA-rita? It’s a margarita made with American IPA, and it is delicious. Along with some other bloggers, Ashley Routson recently launched a blog dedicated to this new craft called Beer Mixology.
This one is simple. If you really want to learn about beer, read something. There are volumes of books and hundreds of beer blogs. For a comprehensive encyclopedia, check out The Oxford Companion to Beer. If you’re interested in knowing more about beer and food, then check out The Brewmaster’s Table by Garrett Oliver. If you’re figuring out what beer tasting is all about, try reading Tasting Beer by Randy Mosher. If you like reading blogs, the Beer Bloggers’ Conference website has a complete list of beer blogs. And, of course, you can learn more about beer by reading my beer posts on Menuism as well as Beer 47.
Editor’s Note: How do you plan to spread your beer wings in the coming months?
Dave Jensen is based out of San Francisco and is the primary writer and photographer for Beer 47, a blog focused on craft beer, beer events, brewery tours, cooking with beer, and home brewing. By day, Dave continues his work in the beer world as a software developer and founder of BrewOps.