Beginner’s Guide to (Craft) Beer

LOVE craft beer!

I didn’t always feel this way. I hated beer up until I was 25 years old. Why? Because like many people, I thought all there was out there was the horrible piss clear beer that came in cans marked “Molson Canadian” or “Budweiser”. One wouldn’t think to look around for alternatives when the only ads you see are for the big beer giants. Companies which exist only to get you drunk. Plus when you consider that the price of a pint of beer can be anywhere from $5-10 and that usually the alcohol percentage by volume can be as little as 3% ABV (though as much as 10% ABV), you start to think you won’t be getting much bang for your buck, compared to spirits or cocktails where you get 1 oz of 40% ABV for the same price as your pint. However, 40% only sounds like a bigger number. When you compare ABV to # oz, even 3% at 20oz gives you 0.6 fluid oz of alcohol in a pint versus 40% at 1 oz gives you 0.4 fluid oz of alcohol.

Now that we’ve determined that beer is worth the investment, let’s dig a little deeper. The beer that is sold from the big beer giants is automated to produce a large quantity of a product, which means that profits are a bigger priority than quality. That isn’t to suggest that profit is bad or that a small batch craft brewer won’t be making any money, but it does mean that if your comparison standard comes from the big beer giants, then you are missing out on a world of flavour and diversity. Not to mention that it’s incredibly difficult to find small batch spirits distillers (depending on where you live), and if you are interested in “helping out the little local guy”, then the best way you can support this is by drinking locally produced craft beer.

A trip to an establishment that has an extensive craft beer selection can be overwhelming if you don’t know what you like yet. You have to be brave and have knowing some general guidelines will help. Here’s a colour chart to get you started. I prefer to start by thinking of beer in terms of body or heaviness.

Beer Colour Chart

A modified chart obtained from here:

What this picture shows is a beer’s body in comparison to its colour and also gives some examples of beers that fall into each colour category. In the summertime, establishments will tend to have the lighter beers in abundance whereas in the winter, establishments will tend to have the darker beers in abundance.

Other common terms, tips & tricks:

  • Lighter bodied beers tend to be more “bubbly” – their sparkling effervescence will tingle all the way down
  • Heavier bodied beers tend to be more like a dessert – sweet and challenging to have more than 1 or 2 at a time
  • Lighter bodied beers tend to accompany light meats, seafood, and salads quite well
  • Heavier bodied beers tend to accompany dark meats, potatoes, and stews
  • IPA: India Pale Ale is a bitter beer. This is because of the hops chosen. Hops are a component of most beers however, IPAs and their related friends (IPL = India Pale Lager, Cascadian Dark Ale/Lager) will feature the hop flavour first and then choose a malt, yeast, and brewing style to complement the hoppiness. Some IPAs taste quite floral and some just make you stick your tongue out. While it comes down to personal preference, the combination of hop varieties and concentration will make a huge difference. The best kind of establishment will list all their beers with % ABV as well as in IBUs (International Bitterness Units). The lower the IBU, the less bitter the beer is but remember, the type of beer it is will change the perception of how bitter it tastes. A lighter bodied beer will showcase bitterness better than a darker beer.
2 Flights From Spinnakers' Brewing

Go with a friend! Then you can taste 10 beers at once! Taken at Spinnakers’ Brewing in Victoria, BC, Canada. 2014.

The absolute best way to find out what you like is by trying everything, and trying that variety more than once as each brewer’s interpretation is as unique as their fingerprints. Most establishments that serve draught craft beer will sell beer flights or tasting glasses. This means that you can choose either a set amount of beers to try or any amount you want, and each glass is only 4 oz. This comes in especially handy if you think you might enjoy a fruit-flavoured beer or a coffee-flavoured beer; some brewers include those components into the brewing process, and some brewers add those flavours later after the fermentation process is complete. You’ll begin to notice some similarities among certain varieties, but you’ll also begin to appreciate the smaller nuances and the huge variances as you train your palate. ;)

Links for further reading:

  1. Standard Reference Method – Wikipedia
  2. Beer – Wikipedia
  3. CAMRA Vancouver – Craft Beer advocates

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