By Gear Patrol Reader Scott Mannear
You may have had your first taste of beer with your father on a warm summer’s day or you may have stolen your first sip from a less scrupulous friend (maybe you were that friend). Regardless of the occasion, most men remember their first beer. Chances are your first impression ran the gamut from mild dislike to complete disgust. However, more likely than not, this fermented, carbonated, ever so delicious concoction probably grew on you until it became mother’s milk. But what do you really know about beer? Are you still drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon or Natural Light (and aren’t in college)?
Even if you prefer wine or perhaps a mixed drink to beer (despite beer being the oldest and most widely consumed of alcoholic beverages), chances are you have friends, relatives and maybe even a significant other who enjoys the brew. This means that you, being the great man that you are, should have a basic knowledge of beer.
…being the great man that you are, should have a basic knowledge of beer…
Don’t get me wrong, I would never try to dissuade a fellow man from enjoying his favorite beer, even if their choice makes me cringe. If your favorite brands are Keystone, American, and Budweiser then good for you. If there’s one thing I despise more than a bad beer, it’s a beer snob (refer to bottom of the Gear Patrol site). What is there to debate about taste? I could argue for hours with someone about their favorite movies, music, and foods, but we would never reach a consensus. Like any preference in life, beer favoritism boils down to personal taste. However, I do ask that if you are stuck in a one-beer rut and have never considered the wide world of beer options, take a chance and branch out a bit. I promise you won’t be sorry.
Figure Out What You Like
The first step towards expanding your beer knowledge is to know what you like. In the broadest sense, beer taste can be broken down in a spectrum of hop profile vs. malt profile. Hops provide bitterness to beer, while malts provide sweetness to beer. Additionally, malt provides sugars for fermentation and nutrients for yeast, which in turn naturally carbonate beer. So, how do you like your hop profile?
The safest method to determining the bitterness of a beer is to determine its position on the IBUS, International Bitterness Unit Scale. Unfortunately, most beers do not provide this information on their bottles or websites (probably because of the intense math involved). So, below I have provided a list of more common beer styles ranked from highest hop profile to lowest. Because of the vast number of breweries these days, there are immense deviations from this ranking, but generally this is how it plays out.
High (may induce the bitter beer face):
- Indian Pale Ales (IPA)
- Extra Strong Bitter (ESB a bit self explanatory)
- American Pale Ales (APA)
- Pilsners (true pilsners not the American bastardization)
- Hefeweizen (wheat beer)
- Malt liquor (Colt 45, Kind Cobra..etc)
Research Beer, Yes Beer
Once you have decided what you like, do a little research. Enjoy a few different brands. I know it’s a hard job, but somebody has got to do it. Once you delve into the world of tasting, the differences between beers are astonishing. Mouthfeel, alcohol content, head, lacing, lightness, darkness (due to the roasting of malt or brewing additives such as chocolate or coffee), and aroma all can come into play. The easiest way to pinpoint your likes and dislikes is to take a few notes. No, you don’t need to chart and graph your data, but having a general understanding of what a styles you like and dislike will go a long way towards your personal enjoyment and your ability to recommend and discuss beers with friends.
The sheer number of beer styles, let alone actual beers, can be dizzying. When I’m struggling to make a decision I turn to the Beer Advocate website (this is particularly handy if you have a cell phone with access to the site). To be honest, some of the better beers can be pricey, and no one likes to waste money (especially these days). So, take a gander at this website and nearly any question you have about beer can be answered. Trying to decide between a Founder’s Kentucky Breakfast Stout and a Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout? Search their website and in a matter of seconds you can compare their stats along with a smattering of reviews by fellow beer lovers.
Seek Out And Explore
Finally, if you live near a microbrewery, take the time to try out their brews. Chances are they love beer, they love the craft of brewing, they love talking about their brews, and one day their beer may be a representative of your local area. The Beer Mapping Project is a good place to start for a brewery or brewpub near you, or you can search by city. Below is a listing of links to breweries in specific US regions:
Let’s continue the conversation. I am by no means an expert in beer, but I do love it. If you have any information or favorite brews that you think need to be exposed to the GP readers, please let us know!
Scott Mannear was was born and raised in Baton Rouge, LA (coincidentally, having attended elementary school with Gear Patrol editor Ben Bowers) and is currently a graduate student in New Jersey. Scott is a self proclaimed gastronome, travel addict, and technophile. Unfortunately, being on a student budget, he is not always capable of pursuing these passions the fullest. In the meanwhile, Scott thanks GP for keeping him in the loop.