The Snobby Girl’s Guide to Craft Beer

It’s officially fall, which means if you’re still sipping margaritas and rosé every chance you get, it’s probably time to move onto something a little more…autumnal. And while cider is great, why not use the cooler weather as an excuse to explore the wide world of beer? I know, I know, the word conjures up memories of lukewarm cans of Bud Light consumed in sticky frat house basements, but beer has come a long way since your college days. In fact, the craft beer industry is booming. Unfortunately, the culture surrounding it can be complex and intimidating, with a ton of choices and a lot of foreign terms. We could spend all day going over the differences between porters and stouts, but that’s kind of boring and if anything should be fun, it’s drinking, right? So follow our guide to what kind of beer to try based on things you already know and like.

If you like sour things…

If you gravitate towards tangy fruit candies instead of chocolate when it’s time to indulge, you’ll love the refreshing kick of sour beer. While there are many different types of sours, one of the most popular is gose, a traditional German-style wheat beer with a sour taste that has recently experienced a renaissance thanks to breweries like Anderson Valley Brewing Co., Fremont Brewing Co., Terrapin, and Second Shelf Beer Co. Other kinds of sour beer include Flanders Red, Lambic, American Wild Ale, and Berliner Weisse. If you’re new to craft beer, sour beers can be a great place to start, due to the fact that most of them are not bitter and thus very drinkable. Some, particularly those in the Wild Ale family, could even pass for wine!

If your BYOB is Blue Moon…

Beers like Blue Moon, which is mass-produced but still considered a cut above your average light beer, are often a gateway to the more nuanced flavors of small-batch craft beers. If you like Blue Moon, a witbier that’s sometimes served with an orange slice on the rim, you’re likely to enjoy other light, crisp witbiers like Allagash White, St. Bernardus Wit, or Ommegang Witte. When in doubt, remember that if it has the words “white,” “wit,” and “ale” in the title, you’ll probably dig it.

If you crave chocolate…

If that post-dinner nibble of chocolate is a must for you, why not use that as your guide for beer exploration? There’s actually a surprising amount of chocolate-infused beers out there, including Yards Chocolate Love Stout, Duclaw’s Sweet Baby Jesus, and Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout. If you’re looking for a beverage to enjoy along with your chocolate, keep in mind that stout beers typically pair well, as many of them contain notes of cacao or espresso, but that IPAs will usually clash with the intense flavor of chocolate. According to CraftBeer.com, some of the best options for chocolate pairing include Left Hand Brewing’s Milk Stout Nitro and Good Juju Ginger Ale, Avery Brewing’s Hog Heaven Barleywine, and Sierra Nevada’s Kellerweiss.

Photo: Revolution Brewing

If you’re obsessed with rosé…

If you just can’t bear to part with your pink wine, there are plenty of beers with a similar vibe that are just different enough to make you feel like you’re being adventurous. Plenty of the aforementioned gose beers are taking cues from rosé, including the aptly named Goses Are Red. Rosé de la Vallee, a hybrid beer from a New Zealand brewery called The Garage Project, even includes doses of Pinot juice. Or try Revolution Brewing’s Rosa Hibiscus Ale, a golden ale steeped with hibiscus flowers, which has a tart flavor and a slightly pink hue—just like your favorite wine!

If you’re pleased by cheese…

Sure, wine and cheese go together like peanut butter and jelly, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mix it up every now and then. Plenty of beers pair nicely with your favorite sharp cheddar, and Serious Eats has even created a beer and cheese pairing cheat sheet to make it easy. The general idea is that you’re looking for a balance of intensity, so if you’ve got a strong, powerful cheese, you’ll need a beer that can keep up. For example, nutty, aged cheese do well with amber ales like Troegs Nugget Nectar or Lagunitas Lucky 13, while lighter, fresher cheeses pair best with witbiers and pilsners.

If you’re into art…

If you don’t know anything about booze, it can be tempting to walk into a liquor store and buy whatever has the coolest package. Hey, we’ve all done it, and sometimes, it can be a great way to discover someone you would have otherwise never tried. If you’re keen to judge a book by its cover, some of the breweries known for having truly A+ cover art include Flying Dog Brewery (their cans and bottles are illustrated by Ralph Steadman, an illustrator best known for his association with Hunter S. Thompson), Left Hand Brewing, Half Acre Beer Co., Huyghe Brewery (home of the iconic Delirium beers and their pink elephant mascots), and 21st Amendment Brewery.

If you’re a coffee lover…

Yes, coffee beer is a thing. And no, it’s not for everyone. But if you regularly hang out in cafes, don’t balk at spending $6 for a high-end cup of joe, and find that your morning cup is the highlight of your day, it’s definitely worth a try. Most coffee-flavored brews are made by adding coffee beans to a stout beer, which results in an intoxicating (and lightly caffeinated) blend of two of the world’s most beloved beverages. According to this Thrillist article on the topic, the best coffee beers out there include Goose Island’s Bourbon County Brand Coffee Stout, Avery Brewing Co.’s Tweak, Ballast Point’s Victory at Sea, and Local Option Bierwerker’s Mourning Wood.

If you want hops…

You’ve probably heard about hops, the green, cone-shaped flowers that give beer its unique flavor. Hops contribute to the bitterness that some people dislike about craft beer, but hoppy beer can also be great. If you’re up for it, some of the hoppiest craft beers out there include Russian River’s Pliny the Younger and Blind Pig, Lagunitas IPA, and Ballast Point’s Sculpin. IPAs and Imperial IPAs are typically very hoppy tasting, so if hops are what you’re after, start there.

If you like easy drinking…

If you’re staring down the barrel of a long afternoon of beer sipping, you probably don’t want anything too strong or intense in flavor. While you might be tempted, in this case, to reach for a good ole Bud Light, craft brewers have created a better solution to this problem. It’s called “session beer,” and it comes in a variety of flavors and types, with the defining characteristic being drinkability and refreshment. Most session beers are labeled as such, and favorites in this category, according to the beer critics at Paste magazine, include 21st Amendment’s Down to Earth, Saranac’s Gen IV Session IPA, Maine Beer Co’s Hop Program Beer II, and Urban Chestnut’s Schnickelfritz.

If you’re just here to catch a buzz…

Sometimes, you’re just trying to get your buzz on, taste (and impending hangover) be damned. But don’t reach for the vodka just yet: Believe it or not, there are plenty of beers that are as strong or stronger than liquor. In fact, the world’s strongest beer, something called Snake Venom, clocks in at 67.5 percent alcohol by volume. For comparison’s sake, Grey Goose is just 40 percent. Snake Venom is brewed in Scotland, costs $80 per bottle, and is probably not something you should actually buy, but there are plenty of other, more accessible options for strong beer, including Avery Brewing Company’s Rumpkin (18.53 percent ABV), Dogfish Head’s 120 Minutes IPA (18 percent), and Flying Dog’s Double Dog Double Pale Ale (11.5 percent). Just make sure you have a designated driver on hand before sampling these bad boys.

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