How to order beer at a bar without feeling clueless

Hi everyone! I hope your having a lovely (3 day!) weekend so far.

So today I thought I’d discuss beer (an appropriate weekend discussion, I think).

The thing is, I LOVE beer now, but this wasn’t always the case. For a pretty long time, I thought only of this when the topic of beer came up:

which has its time and place of course....

But this past summer, I learned that a whole world of beer exists outside the big names of Miller, Coors and Bud…. craft beer.

I used to be really intimidated by these “fancy” beers. How do you know what you like? What do you order from a draft list of 10-20 beers that you have never heard of? What is the difference between an IPA, a pale ale and a  stout?

In order to gain some knowledge about this, I took matters into my own hands and did what any clueless, information-seeking person would do. I read Beer for Dummies.

So while I am still no expert and still have much to learn when it comes to beer (which is part of the fun!), I believe I have figured out enough in order to know how to order a beer at a bar without feeling completely clueless. Since I don’t think I am the only one that has ever felt that way, I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned, and lend some advice as to how I decipher beer/draft menus. (Note: I am not an expert. I am just a beer loving 23-year old trying to help out any future beer lovers. This is just a compilation of tips that I find to be helpful in a bar setting.)

How to decipher a draft list and look somewhat knowledgeable about beer

1. Be aware of the different types of beer

There are usually a few types of beer you will find when you look at a draft list. The most popular ones you will see include:

IPA

Pale Ale

Brown Ale

Wheat Ale/Hefeweizen

Seasonal Ales (right now you probably will see Winter/Christmas Ales)

Stout

Beers can have crazy names, but they will usually include their type at the end (for example, Dogfish Head Chicory Stout, Troegs DreamWeaver Wheat Ale). Sometimes they won’t (Victory Storm King), but if you’re first staring out in the beer world, I wouldn’t worry too much about this.

2. Be aware of certain flavors/tastes

Beer is made of 4 ingredients: water, yeast, hops and grains. All beer contains these 4 ingredients, the difference in taste results from how the ingredients are combined, or in the balance of how the ingredients are used (There is much more to it than this and it is a much more complicated process, but that is the basic jist of the process).

There are lots of ways to describe a beer, but the main “technical” terms I tend to keep in mind are: hoppy and malty

hoppy = a bitter taste that can sometimes taste a little fruity, sometimes a little spicy

malty =a caramel-y taste,  can be sweet or dry

Other terms/ways to describe a beer include: fruity, crisp, yeasty….

I have found that beers tend to follow this pattern:

hoppy: IPA, pale ales

malty:  brown ales, a lot of winter/Christmas seasonal ales, darker ales (like stouts – they taste like coffee!)

other: wheat beers I find, taste lighter, and “yeasty,” which  is more of a fruity, lighter taste

There are a lot of different breweries out there and a lot of different variations of beer types, so not all IPAs or pale ales, for example, will taste the same. I like to put the difference types into these categories to make it a little easier to remember, but keep in mind that variations do exist. I like to think thats part of the fun though……. there is always something new and exciting to try!

3. Don’t be afraid to  ask questions and try new things!

If you aren’t really sure if you will like a certain kind of beer, ask! Bartenders tend to be very knowledgeable about beer (who would of thought?) and are very helpful. I know I like IPAs and hoppy beers, so I often will ask a bartender what they recommend I try. Sometimes you can even get lucky and they will give you a sample.

Once you kind of get the taste basics down (hoppy, malty, a balance of hop/malt, fruity… really there is no wrong way of categorizing a beer), you can use it to your advantage. If you know you like IPAs with that are more fruity/citrusy you can ask for a recommendation. If you like lighter, more crisp beers, a bartender can offer advice as well.

So there you go. I hope this was somewhat helpful. If you happen to be reading and happen to be feeling adventerous at the bar this weekend, I challenge you to not order the Miller Lite and try something new!… and then promise come back here and tell me what it was (I love trying out new beers!).

Questions: Any other beer lovers out there with more tips for navigating a beer menu?

What is your favorite kind of beer? It depends on my mood/the season but I am currently loving Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA and Troegs Mad Elf (SO GOOD)


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2 responses

  1. Pingback: Post-Run Beer? « Apples and Optimism

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