A while back a friend of mine asked for beer recommendations. I thought about it and I gave a generic list of beers that might be of interest. Beers that a novice might not find too intimidating but wouldn’t be too boring either. In other words, it was a list of micro and craft brews with nary a Miller, Coors, or Bud on the list.
Now, months later, I’ve thought about the question and it strikes me that someone without any reference asking for a beer recommendation would be a lot like someone from another planet asking about ice cream.
What flavor would you recommend? Would you recommend what you liked? Or recommend maybe a lighter flavored ice cream because well, tutti-fruiti might be too intense for their alien taste buds. Do they like chocolate, or nuts? Do they like fruit or are they plain vanilla?
That’s the dilemma we run into when someone asks what beer to try. There are dozens and dozens of beer styles and they each have their own characteristics.
For example, there are the vanilla beers, the American-style lager. Pale in color, weak in bouquet, more carbonation than flavor, these are known as Miller, Bud and Coors.
Now I can’t fault people who drink them. Some don’t know any better. Some are just stuck in their ways. Some are afraid to experiment. Some honestly like the taste, what there is of it.
As I said, I can’t fault these people. I enjoy vanilla, too. And I like the occasional Pabst. Sure, its still an American-style lager, but it has a hoppier taste to it in my opinion (I won’t even mention that it won Gold for best American Style lager two years running at the Great American Beer Festival). And on a hot summer day, after mowing the lawn, nothing (except maybe water) quite hits the spot like a lighter beer. You certainly wouldn’t want to guzzle a stout at that point.
How did you learn what your favorite ice cream flavor was? Did you just eat what your parents ate? Did you just eat what your friends all ate? Did you just sample one or two varieties, settling on chocolate after deciding vanilla and strawberry just weren’t for you?
Or did you sample lots of ice cream? Did you try new flavors, like Jerry Garcia, or Moose Tracks, or Rocky Road? Did you go to a local ice cream shop and experiment?
To appreciate beers, that’s exactly what you must do. I’ve known people who drank the Blatz their parents drank. They drank the Olympia their friends drank. And in many cases, they drank that same beer for decades.
Appreciation comes with experimentation. If you don’t like a pale ale, then try an IPA. Don’t like Scottish ale, try an amber. The bock is too heavy? Try a wheat beer. How about that chocolate beer?
Those of us who love beer hardly ever drink the same beer, at least not like our parents did, where they’d drink nothing but Schlitz day in and day out, year after year.
Even if we were brand loyal, the microbrews and craft brewers don’t just have one or two beers, they sometimes have nearly a dozen.
So the fun of drinking beer is trying something new.
I’m not sure when beer came to mean a blue-collar drink, one that was pale yellow in color and tasteless, maybe sometime after the Prohibition and World War II.
Prohibition put a lot of brewers out of business. Prior to that America had as many varieties of beer as there were countries brewing different styles. America was the melting pot of beer, too.
But Prohibition wiped out a lot of brewers. Then WWII came along and all the men went to war, leaving the women home to take care of the home front. And the brewers, to lure the women in (and to save money) watered down the beers, added adjuncts and created a new, weaker, boring style of beer.
Interested in experimenting? Want to learn more about the different styles? Find a brewpub near by. They often have samplers. Try a few until you find the styles you like.
Or do what I did. Find a bar that has 70 or 80 different beers from around the world and try to make it around the world. The bar I hung out called the event, “Around the World in 80 Beers.”
I lost track of where I was, but I closed Wolski’s.
However you do it, a different six pack at a time, a 12-pack sampler, a brewpub sampler, or around the world at your local watering hole, the fun about beer is in the sampling. And in the talking about the sampling.
After all, how much discussion does a Budweiser generate? But pull out a Flying Dog with Ralph Steadman graphics and you’ve got a conversation.
And a party.
America is about freedom, freedom of choice. Bud has turned us into automatons believing America is about tasteless beers. Break free and discover what American beer was at the height of the first beer revolution in the late 1800s.
Lagers and ambers and ales. Oh my.