I am often asked “What is your favorite beer?” or “I am new to beer and I don’t know what I like, where should I start?”
While I have my favorites, I always have something new in mind that I’ve never tried before. That’s part of the adventure of being a beer-lover, the seemingly limitless varieties. Now keep in mind that mood, season, weather, and occasion are just a few variables to think about when making a beer selection. You might not enjoy a thick, rich, merciless stout on a scorching summer’s day, as much as you would after shoveling the driveway of snow on a chilly winter afternoon.
So where do we begin our search for beers we like?
First of all, you won’t know what you like until you try something new. So skip the mass-produced mega-brewers, we’ve tried them before. They pride themselves on consistency and creating a product that will appeal to a wide audience, which means they usually lack any true character that veers from the “norm”. We call these "session beers". You can slug back more than a few of them without much thought. There are noticeable structural similarities in most of these mass-produced brews in terms of texture and body, which are crucial characteristics to defining a beer. Usually, they are pretty light and often watery. However, there is always a time and place for them; I don't see them serving a high alcohol imperial stout at the hockey games anytime soon.
I remember the first time I tried a beer outside my comfort zone (it was Unibroue’s Fin du Monde), and I hated it. It took me awhile to coax my palette into accepting these new flavors that I didn’t even know were beer. But after experimenting a few times and trying different varietals (at the time I couldn’t tell you the difference between an IPA and a Hefeweizen), I began to decipher every beer I tried. Finding new hidden flavors in highly complex beers with rich and blooming alcoholic flavors becomes euphoric and sought after.
Try not to let a bad beer ruin your relationship with a particular style. Depending on the hops, yeasts and malts that are used and how they are implemented in the beer can be a deciding factor of whether you enjoy it or not. You may discover a love for American craft IPA’s, but not so much for a Belgian style IPA. Also, you’ll notice certain qualities that will be consistent by region. For instance, the Belgians are notorious for their highly alcoholic, fruit forward yeasty beers, whereas the American crafts have a tendency to be crisp, hoppy, and often floral (this is a generalization however).
Don’t judge a beer by its label.
Sometimes I’ll come across a wonderfully crafted beer with an unfortunate label, or worse, a label with broken promises such as “well hopped” or “premium”. But then again, my conception of a well hopped beer is my personal taste.
We all know that feeling when you are expecting something to taste a certain way, only to have our senses overwhelmed by an unexpected flavor… It’s not always a pleasant experience, so educate yourself on what to look for when trying something new to help open your mind to new and exciting beer tasting experiences.
Use your sources.
If you're knowledge of brewers is limited to what you see on TV, or you are buying a beer simply because you recognize the label, grab one you don't know. It can be a bit of a shot-in-the-dark situation, but sometimes you have to jump in the deep end to get the ball rolling.
The Web is also filled with devout beer bloggers and beer rating websites that can help lead you in the right direction. Remember, the world is at your fingertips.
Or ask! At Bottle Jockey Burnaby, our knowledgeable staff is always eager to help you find an exciting new beer out of our growing diverse selection of fine craft brews.
It may be difficult to wrap your head around now, but to a large group of die-hard beer drinkers in the world, good beer drinking experiences are akin to tasting fine wine or a well aged single malt scotch. For some, liking the taste of beer might have to be an acquired approach, but it can grow on you as you develop a better understanding of which beers taste better (to you), and how to experience each beer to it’s fullest potential.
Be valiant, be steadfast, and hold yourself with an air of aristocratic nonchalance as you embark into the boundless realm of beer, as a connoisseur of your own taste.