Sep. 20, 2012 at 2:06 PM ET
Finding delicious new craft beers that you’ll adore can be harder than it sounds. When I was just starting my journey as a beer geek, I would freeze up when I walked into the beer aisle. Confronted by a wall of choices, many of which I knew little about, my eyes would glaze over and I’d grab for anything familiar. This is not a great way to expand one’s horizons.
Over time, I’ve developed a few tricks that have helped me find new beers to love without kissing too many frogs. As I’ve grown more experienced, they have also kept me from falling into a craft beer rut.
This was my earliest method of trying new beers while also ensuring I took home something I liked. I’d pick one six pack of something safe and familiar, and one six-pack or a 22-ounce bomber of something interesting that I’d never tried before. I have used this tactic for years, and it has turned me on to so pretty nice brews. And if I pick a clunker of a six-pack, I just save the five leftovers for company!
Why bother buying a whole six-pack when you can purchase an individual bottle of beer? Some larger craft beer stores offer a selection of 12 ounce bottles, or “singles,” which are a great way to cover lots of ground without having to invest in a six-pack of something that you might not like. You’ll pay a small premium for each single beer you buy, but it’s worth it for such a low-risk way to explore new beers.
Buying a pre-mixed pack of beers takes away the control you get when buying singles, but it also opens you up to discovering beers you might never have tried on your own. There are two flavors of these variety packs – a mix of beers from a single brewery, and the packs put together by your local beer store or distributor. The mixed packs from the breweries are generally of good quality, but everything within them usually follows a singular brewing philosophy, for better or worse. Riskier, but always more interesting, are the store packs. The risk is that they’re using the mixed pack to get rid of old stock. The reward is that you get a more varied selection of beers from different breweries, put together by someone who knows their stuff. I find these hard to resist.
Pintley is sort of like a dating site for craft beer – it’ll help you find your perfect match. You are presented with a selection of beers, which you rate on a scale from one pint (blah) to five pints (love!). The site then queries a massive database and offers up suggestions for other beers you might love, based on what other reviewers who share your taste have rated highly in the past. It took me a couple of rounds rating the beers on Pintley until we were on the same wavelength, but once we were the results were pretty impressive. They even have apps for mobile phones so you can pick your pints while you’re out and about.
User-powered review site RateBeer is an indispensible tool for finding out if you’ll make a love connection with a beer before ever taking a sip of it. Clicking on the “Raves” tab on the Rate Beer homepage shows the latest super-positive user reviews. It’s an ever-changing assortment of beers that have made other people happy, including tasting notes describing what’s so great about each one. Below each “Rave” post is a link to additional user reviews of the same beer, which provide even more worthwhile feedback. Just Google “RateBeer Raves” on your phone while in the beer aisle, and presto: crowd-sourced recommendations while you shop.
Tap into the unknown
I will always choose a craft beer I haven’t had before from a restaurant’s tap selection, even if it’s something I suspect I won’t like. Even better is a flight of beers, a selection of sample-sized pours that allow you to taste several beers in a sitting without drinking yourself under the table. Again, choosing stuff you haven’t had before should be the priority. Be warned though – some restaurants do a poor job of maintaining their tap lines and serve up beers that taste like dirty plumbing. Don’t blame the beer, especially if all the samples have a little skunk funk – blame the bar!
You know those other creatures in the beer store or bar with you? They’re called humans and they might know something about beer – ask them! I’ve spent many a shopping trip being guided through the beer aisle by store employees (or even fellow shoppers) who were just as excited about craft beer as I was, and had more experience than me. One of the great things about being a beer geek is meeting fellow beer geeks; most are approachable, friendly and truly helpful. Use this to your advantage!
I still find myself easing back into my comfort zone, even after years as a hardcore beer geek. It’s human nature to gravitate to what you like, and it’s good to have a handful of beers you revisit time and again. But the universe of craft beer is vast and ever expanding – never stop exploring!
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