A girl walks into a bar. No, it isn’t a joke, it was National Beer Day! If you cringe at the thought of an entire day being dedicated to the drinking of yeast-fermented malt, I get it. You’re not alone. I too loathed drinking beer and scoffed it off as another phase I must’ve skipped in college like pledging a sorority and chugging Jager bombs in the fall. Still, I couldn’t believe I had made it to 30 without ever properly enjoying beer out of sheer ignorance. Was I missing out on some universal secret everyone seemed to know? I had to find out. So armed with a pen and notepad, I learned, or rather schooled myself, on the art of tasting beer. See, it turns out that finding the right beer for you is a lot easier than finding that one person you’re meant to be with for the rest of your life. And while you will find that all the same rules apply, there is a lot more quality beer to select from than there are fish in the sea.
So here’s how to find the right beer for you:
- Be selective: That is, change out the grocery store for a tap room. If you hate beer as much as I used to, chances are you’ve had to stand in a freezing aisle, cold and confused, and then had to carry a heavy soggy carton of beer around a store hating your lot in life. As you grow up, however, you learn to switch out generic things for designer anything- and I soon learned, beer is no different. The old saying goes “craft beer isn’t cheap, and cheap beer isn’t craft”, so hit your local brewery with an open mind and taste buds as experimental as a freshman college student.
- Be Knowledgeable: Think of beer categories as a spectrum, ranging from lightest to darkest, from crisp and smooth to fruity and sweet, and from least to most hoppy. Then, I recommend you find a very knowledgeable bartender to provide you with samples from each category starting with lagers (the lightest and sweeter option) and ending with stouts (which are as dark and moody as your ex). Leave IPAs for last since they tend to leave a taste in your mouth that will counteract anything else and use peanuts in between tasting as a palette cleanser. Classy, right?
- Be mindful: If you decide to proceed with step #2, then you will be trying many different beers in one sitting. That means your taste buds will experience a smorgasbord of flavors you have probably never tried before. Some flavors you will hate, others will be refreshingly satisfying, and believe me there will be beers you will love. Close your eyes, try to think of descriptive words and find familiarity as you actually taste all the flavors and really live in the moment. Think of each sample as the first kiss in a new relationship. You may have to kiss many toads, but once you find your match, you will regret it if you weren’t paying attention to the moment you found the one.
- Be yourself: You already know what you like and don’t like in life. If you know you’re a whiskey or bourbon drinker, try a brew that has been aged in whiskey or bourbon barrels. If you love coffee (because, who doesn’t), try stout beers which tend to have strong hints of coffee. If you like tart flavors that make your lips pucker, chances are you will enjoy sours (more on that later). The point is, use what you already know about yourself as a frame of reference and try to find a beer that is aligned to your preferences because compatibility is as important in your choice of beer as it is in your choice of life partners.
- Be adventurous: There are certain specialty beers that belong in their own categories; watermelon ales, peanut butter and jelly beer, banana bread ale, and the latest emerging talent, an up-and-coming spring category in the U.S., sours. Once you’ve figured the kind of taste you prefer, start experimenting with these craft beers that lean more towards eccentric than anything else. Think of it as your rebellious stage dating that bad-boy ex, it may not lead to an everlasting love, but it’s worth the risk of tasting it at least once in your life.
When it comes to finding the right beer, you have one of three options. You could rule out beer altogether, but I warn you, you will be missing out and at a grave disadvantage at most venues. You could try some pretentious beer tasting event hosted by someone who couldn’t quite cut it as a sommelier. Or, you could be selective, knowledgeable, mindful and adventurous as you try to find your own beer. If you approach finding your beer as seriously as you approach the relationships in your life, I promise you will find “the one” beer tonight.