One of my goals with these articles on beer is to show there’s a beer for every taste, every occasion and every reader of this column. I do this by describing a particular beer’s aromas, flavors and food-pairing possibilities. But either I’m failing miserably or some folks just take more convincing than others.
I was recently out with some of my wino (and proud of it) friends, when one of the women said she and her husband didn’t like beer. Period.
Call me crazy, but felt offended. This couple knows I know my wine, and I’ve introduced them to quite a few good bottles it over the years, so I wondered what they thought when I chose to drink beer. I’ve gone slumming? I’ve suffered a lapse in taste?
I also wondered how anyone could say they “don’t like” such a broad range of beverages comprised under the simple header “beer.”
This column is dedicated, therefore, to anyone who thinks they don’t like beer, or to anyone who has friends silly enough to say they don’t like it. Beer isn’t monolithic — some is pale, some is dark; some light-bodied, some heavy; some malty or hoppy; fruit-flavored or smoked or just left alone. Saying you “don’t like beer” makes about as much sense, I think, as saying you “don’t like color.” Maybe fuchsia doesn’t grab you, but with the rainbow’s full spectrum arrayed before you, how can you not find one eye-pleasing color?
My (perhaps frighteningly extensive) personal experience is that good beer is every bit as good as fine wine or aged whiskey, and if you haven’t yet found a beer you like — then you haven’t yet tried enough beers. I truly believe you’re missing out on some enriching experiences (taste enjoyment as well as cultural heritage) by not drinking beer. Women, especially, trouble me when they claim they dislike beer — like when they say they can’t do math, but I digress….
There probably is no better place to conduct beer research than at a beer festival, and I’ve just been to a great one — the St. Louis Microfest, held annually on the first weekend in May. I go to festivals because it was at just such an event where I first learned how flavorful, and how diverse, beer could be — and I can’t recommend them enough. My own epiphany took place at London’s Great British Beer Festival many years ago and — seriously — whenever I plan a trip somewhere, I check to see if there’s a beer festival in town.
So how do you learn about beer at a festival? Step one, get the program. Proper beer festivals publish a program listing the participating breweries — usually with a little blurb of history on each, a list of the beers they’re offering and, hopefully, a map of the festival grounds. St. Louis’s Microfest featured 80 breweries and I had only three hours to explore, so preliminary program-based triage was essential. Once I got oriented, I could sail right past Sam Adams, Goose Island and all the (admittedly fine) beers I already knew and target “Fermenterra Incognita” — my Land of Unknown Beers.
Step two in building beer knowledge is to understand yourself. With wine I know I like citrus and fresh apricot flavors — as in Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier — so if you know something similar about your own tastes, start by seeking out beers having flavors similar to the wines or other beverages you like. (I personally also gravitate toward dark beers that have coffee notes, doubtless because I love coffee.)
At a festival, the beers’ brewers are often the same proud souls manning the taps and they’re more than glad to tell you about their little labors of love. They’ll describe the flavors before you try, then let you taste all you want. Even when they’re busy, they still want to talk — so ask if they have a citrusy beer, if you like citrus.
I tried O’Fallon Brewery’s 10-Day IPA, for example, which led with a distinct hit of Satsuma. Its bouquet was lightly floral, giving an overall impression of a cool spring breeze. O’Fallon is a small brewery located near St. Louis, but it ships bottles to Mobile and I recommend them heartily.
My Microfest favorites were two beers from Deschutes Brewing Company, based in Bend, Ore. I liked their Twilight Summer Ale for its light body and low alcohol (5.0 ABV), fused with hoppy-malty flavors. Some summer ales tread dangerously close to macro-lager territory, but not Twilight. I also enjoyed Deschutes Black Butte Porter, which was surprisingly light while tasting of vanilla-chocolate mousse.
Sometimes people who think they “don’t like beer” think they really, really don’t like dark beer — but I bet almost anyone who likes chocolate would like Black Butte Porter (or any porter with chocolate notes, if you can’t find Deschutes).
Other fine Microfest discoveries included Cascade, a single-hop IPA from Urban Chestnut Brewing Company — recently founded by a former Budweiser brewer. Urban Chestnut reportedly has the largest brewing capacity of any St. Louis craft brewery, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they have expanding markets on their minds. Cascade was softly aromatic and easy drinking, showcasing its hops rather than bombarding you with them. In stark contrast, Heavy Riff — St. Louis’s newest microbrewery — was pouring their American Slang APA, so hoppy you see “POW,” “BLAM” and “ZOWEE” comic strip bubbles before your eyes. I was happily blown away, but I’ve learned over the years I’m a Hop Head.
If you find yourself disliking hops, then redirect toward malty mixes like Rye on Rye from Boulevard Brewing Company (Kansas City, Mo.). It offers truly sweet, maple-malt aromas followed by almost sticky caramelized flavors like crème brulee’s top layer. This is a tongue-coater, possibly best suited for December or January in Mobile, but with flavors sure to please anyone with a sweet tooth or a love of toasted pumpernickel. Boulevard is America’s 10th largest craft brewery and its beers are usually stocked by better package stores.
Now, do you have to drink beer? Is it the end of the world if you don’t? No, of course not. My point is to give it a try — a serious try. You’ll miss so much, otherwise. And for my beer-drinking friends who “don’t like wine,” well, you’re equally silly in reverse. A word to the Hop Heads: try Sauvignon Blanc!
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