Your first beer is almost never the right beer. They’re rarely cold and they’re usually bummed from a friend, so they’re never what we would have chosen for ourselves. I’m a firm believer that there’s a beer for everyone. You just need to find your gateway beer.
It’s a liberating thing when the beer world opens up for you. You can find something to drink at even the dingiest dive bar and you don’t have to lug a bottle of wine to every barbecue — you can confidently dig through the cooler and come up with a beer that you know you’ll love.
Here are five tips for finding your gateway beer.
1. Know Your Palate:
We all gravitate towards certain flavors and while it’s possible to expand the tastes you enjoy, it makes sense to start with what you know.
Think about the snacks you reach for and the other drinks (alcoholic or non) that you already enjoy. Do you prefer sweet or sour? Rich or refreshing? Mellow or bitter?
Take note of the flavors you love and hate. Coffee, citrus fruits, honey, chocolate, ginger and spices are common notes in beer and and asking questions — or carefully reading a beer’s description — can help you avoid beers you won’t like.
2. Find a friend with similar tastes:
If I’m not drinking beer, I’m drinking vodka gimlets, so the beers I love probably won’t appeal to someone who likes fruity umbrella drinks.
So when it’s time to figure out your gateway beer, call up your friend that you drink margaritas with or your Scotch-swilling buddies. If they like a beer, chances are you will too. And when you’re with friends, you can try their beers without committing to buying your own. Bonus!
3. Talk to the pros:
For real answers, go straight to the source. The employees at your local off-sale retailer, a beer-loving server or a brilliant bartender can be great resources, if they know their stuff.
How can you tell? The should ask you questions about your palate and what beers you’ve tried. Since you’ve done you’re homework (see #1) and brought a helpful friend (see #2) you’ll be able to fill them in. If they just rattle off a beer, they probably give the same recommendation to everyone and you should move on to another source — or move on to step #4. A one-size-fits-all solution is not what we’re going for here.
If you’re lucky enough to have access to a local brewery or a restaurant or bar with a cicerone (a beer specialist that is to beer what a sommelier is to wine), book a tour or pull them aside and put yourself in their capable hands.
4. Sample, sample, sample:
Figuring out which beers you like can take time, but it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. Take the financial stress out of the equation and get yourself to any beer sampling event you can find.
It doesn’t matter if it’s at an event center, a brewery, a local retailer or a friend’s house as long as there are several varieties for you to try and information on what you’re drinking available.
The samples are small, so if you don’t like one beer, just dump it and move on to the next one. Be sure to make a note of the ones you love, because after a few samples, it might start to get a little fuzzy.
If you don’t have access to any of these resources, find the bar with the most intimidating tap beer line-up in town and make friends with a bartender. Tell them the flavors you prefer and ask for a sample before you buy.
You can also get a beer flight, several small beers that allow you to try a variety of beers.
5. Try these crowd-pleasers:
Beers are made through a variety of processes with numerous ingredients and learning about all of them would take too long. Here’s the CliffsNotes version.
Words to avoid (at first): IPA, EPA or anything that says any variation of the word “hops” in the title or description. Stouts can also be a little much for beginning beer drinkers and sour beers can be tricky.
Words to look for: Drinkable, mild, sweet, crisp, session beer (which means most people can drink several in one session), mellow, balanced.
Need more specific info? Start with these varieties.
Shandy: I’ve had good luck starting non-beer-drinking friends with a shandy, a mellow, refreshing beer that’s brewed with lemonade, ginger beer, ginger ale, or apple juice. These are usually more readily available in summer, so your timing is perfect!
White Beer (or witbier): Brewed according to Belgian tradition, this smooth, sweet beer tastes like oranges and spice and appeals to most new beer drinkers. Some white beers are served with orange slices.
Fruit Lambic: This super-fruity beer doesn’t even taste like beer — all you’ll taste is the fruit (raspberry and peach are the most common) that is added. These beers are a little tougher to find — and more expensive that your average beer — but they’ll make umbrella drink fans very happy.
Hefeweizen: This cloudy, unfiltered wheat beer is sweet, mellow, fruity and complex in a way that appeals to classic cocktail drinkers. These beers are more full-bodied than some of the other beers on this list and sometimes have notes of cloves, bananas and bubble gum. A more accessible filtered version is sometimes served with lemon slices.
Lager: Lots of the big national and international brands are lagers and their crisp, clean taste makes them a consistent favorite worldwide. Of all the beers on this list, they do have the most stereotypically “beer-y” taste, so start with another beer if you’ve tried a domestic beer in the past and found it to be too bitter. A pilsner is a good type of lager to start with.
Brown Ale: The dark color sometimes worries new beer drinkers, but brown ales are a great choice for drinkers who prefer something more complex than a lager. These beers might be nutty or malty, but they’re usually smooth, with hints of bread, chocolate, coffee, and fruit flavors that wine drinkers will appreciate.
Doppelbock: Rich, smooth and malty, these beers are dark in color, but don’t have the bitterness of a stout or a porter. Some taste of apples and figs, which makes a dopplebock a great choice for red wine drinkers.
Want to try a few beers with me this afternoon? Join me at the Fargo Craft Beer Tour from 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. I’ll be photographing and live tweeting my favorites, so follow me on on Facebook, on Twitter @PrairieStylFile to see what I’m drinking!
(Just so you know, I’m working with the Fargo Craft Beer Tour as a marketing partner. Thanks for helping me make a living promoting awesome local events!)