Embrace Beer: A Girl’s Guide to Craft Brews

Maybe you already have a favorite beer, in which case hopefully you’ll find out about something new you’d like to try (Wells’ Banana Bread Beer, anyone?). Or maybe you don’t like alcohol at all which is cool too.  Own your preferences with pride! But I feel like there is an audience for this because I have come across enough women around my age (mid to late 20-something) who tell me they don’t like beer.

It makes sense when you’re younger when beer is associated with unfortunate keg parties where the variety is tasteless to downright gross, and the sheer volume makes more than enough party-goers do regrettable things. I used to dislike beer as well. In my early twenties, none of my friends drank anything interesting or befitting of my palate that prefers sweet and coffee flavors.

But now when craft brews are more popular than ever, not liking beer is like not liking music; there are so many different types and so many different distinctions among those types. It’s comparable to the wide spectrum of wine available and in that sense it can be difficult to approach—the choices and terminology are overwhelming. But I also feel like a small part of being a beer connoisseur as a girl can be the feeling of breaking into a boy’s club. Craft brews are more commonly associated with men and made by men. Let’s get rid of that stereotype, and get to tasting! With most bars offering tasters of something you haven’t had before or flights, ordering a new type of brew isn’t any more of a risk than trying a new flavor of ice cream.

The writer and her husband at Pour 24 in Las Vegas, NV

The writer and her husband at Pour 24 in Las Vegas, NV

Stouts, Porters and Brown Ales-

I’ve had a few bartenders ask me if I’m sure that I want the stout beer I ordered. “It’s a dark one,” they’ll warn me. The darker, the better in my book of beer favorites! Maybe it’s because of my introduction to Guinness as a newly 21 year-old in Ireland during my study abroad. But more likely, it’s because I love coffee. If you like coffee and chocolate flavors, a creamy stout or porter might be the right beer for you. Guinness is of the dry stout variety which is good too. Some of my favorite stouts are Granite City’s Oatmeal Stout and Infusion Brewing Company’s Coconut Coffee Hawaiian Stout.  Brown Ales are in the same vein as stouts and porters, but a lighter overall.  They are very approachable with nuanced flavors of chocolate, nut, and slightly sweet malty flavors. Brown Ales are becoming more and more popular.  Nebraska Brewing Company’s Brunette Nut Brown Ale and Rogue Brewing’s Hazelnut Brown Nectar are great examples of this style.

Fruit Beers-

A fruit beer can range from super sweet to subtle hints of fruit flavor. If you want super sweet go with Fruli, a Strawberry Belgian beer or Dominion’s Cherry Blossom Lager. For subtle fruit flavor, try Lucky Bucket Brewing’s Belly Flop Strawberry Blonde Ale or Samuel Adam’s Cold Snap brewed with plum and orange peel. They can be seasonal too. Nothing like a great pumpkin beer during fall! My favorite pumpkin beer is Nebraska Brewing Company’s Wick for Brains Pumpkin Ale. This is also the category for Well and Young’s Banana Bread Beer which is sure to delight anyone who loves the namesake food. My favorite fruit is pear and my home brewer husband made me a Pear Wheat beer.    

Ciders-

Bubbly and easy drinking, ciders can be either sweet or champagne style and dry. For a dry cider, try Crispin Browns Lane Natural Hard Apple Cider. If you want sweet, try Fox Barrel Pacific Pear cider or Ace Perry Cider that comes in the following varieties:  Apple, Apple-Honey, Pear, Berry, Pineapple, and Pumpkin.

Altbier-

Altbier is a unique German hybrid between an ale and a lager. And what is the difference between an ale and a lager? Paul and Nick on “New Girl” hilariously argued about the distinction and Mike and Ross on “Friends” studiously debated it out of boredom. There is ale yeast which is typically fermented at a warmer temperature and there is lager yeast that ferments at a cooler temperature and thus has a longer maturation time. I found out about altbiers when I had Zipline’s Copper Alt and loved it so much. Its malty goodness with hints of chocolate and hazelnut are impressive. Grimm Brothers’ Little Red Cap is also a good one as well as Upstream Brewing Company’s aptly named Ctrl + Alt + Del beer.

Belgian Style Beers

This might be the most wide ranging, and most interesting category of all.  Belgian style beers get their unique flavors from the Belgian Style Yeast used to ferment the beers.  They are often fermented at higher temperatures than normal, yielding very complex and flavorful beers.  A few of the styles include: Belgian Wit – a wheat beer with orange and coriander flavors (Blue Moon is a commercial example).

Belgian Saison – a delightful Belgian wheat beer with a wide variety of subtle flavors of citrus, melon, fruit, spice and black pepper.  Funkwerk’s Saison is an award winning example.  Also, give any saison imported from Belgium a try!  Abbey Ale – a malty beer similar to a brown ale, but the Belgian yeast changes the flavor profile entirely.  Slightly spicy with caramel undertones, the yeast adds hints of banana and clove.  New Belgium’s Abbey Ale is a great one to try.

IPAs and Pale Ales-

This is a category that isn’t my personal favorite, but I can appreciate a good IPA (India Pale Ale) or pale ale when I try one thanks to many a taste test with my husband. IPA’s get their name from the days when refrigeration didn’t exist and England would ship beer all the way to their soldiers in India.  In order to survive the long, harsh ride, they had to add a ton of hops to the beer – hops are a natural preservative!  Today, IPA’s have become one of the most popular beer styles in the US.  The only IPA that I will enjoy a full pint of is Deschutes’ Fresh Squeezed. It’s bursting with citrus flavors that outshine the bitterness of the hops. If you like the bitterness of hops, try a piney brew from O’Dell’s like their St. Lupulin Pale Ale, Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA, or Stone’s Go To IPA.  If you can track down the fabled Russian River Pliney the Elder, jump at the chance to try this rare gem of an IPA.

Now that you’ve entered the world of beer tastings, be sure to check out the free Untappd app on your smart phone. You can look up any beer to see ratings and reviews other beer aficionados have given it, and it’s a great way to track beers you’ve had and breweries you like. You can even earn fun badges like the Heavy Weight badge for drinking five different dark beers and Fruits of Your Labor badge for drinking five different fruit beers. Cheers! And don’t forget to show your local breweries some love and support.