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Find the Craft Beer That's Right For You

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If you like Piña Coladas and getting caught in the rain, Emily Vikre knows just the beer for you.

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Although we run a distillery, the town we live in is really a beer town—in a serious way. For a population that hovers right around 80,000, there are more than a dozen craft breweries in the area, churning out everything from oatmeal stouts, to golden IPAs, to kaffir lime-infused Belgian beer. We hang out with a lot of brewers, and when they start to wax philosophical about beer styles, I don’t understand half of what they’re talking about. But I take it as a scientific indicator of the health of the craft brewing movement, which we must all admit is booming.  

In 1980, there were only 8 craft breweries in the U.S. Now there are thousands and thousands. As far as the growth of an industry goes, that’s almost as crazy as personal computers!  

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And where there was once just “beer,” and said “beer” was a pale, relatively tasteless, somewhat alcoholic carbonated swill, now there are dozens of styles of beer, many bursting with actually absurd amounts of flavor. And new styles are being invented by the day, born out of the minds of intrepid brewers.  

To help you guide your exploration of beer drinking beyond pale ales, lagers, and brown ales, here are 7 of my particular favorite, somewhat lesser-known styles of beer that you might find worth looking into:

1. If you like rosemary-black pepper shortbread, funky cheese with stone fruit compote, and Mayday celebrations....

Try a Farmhouse Saison. The Saison is an ancient Belgian style of beer brewed at warmer-than-usual temperatures. The warmer temperatures create more aromatic compounds (called esters), resulting in spicy, herbal, fruity, and floral aromas. In the wrong hands, warmer fermentation can cause nasty foul-smelling compounds, but somehow the Belgian monks have figured out how to do it right.

2. If you like burnt toast with marmalade, the smell of pine resin and molasses, an all-American "rules be damned" attitude, and cranking up the volume on your stereo...

Try an American Black Ale. This style of beer is also know as a Black IPA, and with good reason: It is precisely a cross between a dark beer and an American-style, heavily-hopped India Pale Ale. This means the beer has the dark, malty toasted grains of a porter, but with hefty amounts of grapefruit-y, piney hop flavor. They’re not a set of flavors that seem like they would necessarily work well together, but the best versions of this style bridge the divide absolutely beautifully.

  

3. If you like grapefruit, coffee, spice cookies, and acerbic humor... 

Try a Rye IPA, also known as a RyePA. This style of beer is not too far off from the American Black Ale—it simply adds rye to the mix of grains that go into the fermentation process. This gives this hoppy, malty style of beer the hit of peppery spice and dryness (with a tiny hint of floor varnish, in, um, a good way) that's characteristic wherever rye shows up in drinks.

4. If you like tons of foam, tiki drinks, and lounging by the pool in a hammock (and seriously, who doesn’t?)...

Try a Weisse. Examples of the larger Weisse style include Heffeweissen, Berlinerweissen, and Witbier or Belgian Wit. These beers tend to be German or Belgian and favor malted wheat as a significant part of their mash bill, which makes them lighter, smoother, and more citrusy. As with Saisons, these beers are fermented at warmer temperatures, aiding in the creation of complex flavor compounds—here, with the distinct aromas of bananas and cloves. If you can get past feeling like you’re drinking fermented bananas, these refreshing and remarkably complex beers are fascinating to sip and especially wonderful for warm weather.

  

5. If you like a little of this and a little of that (most especially a little maltiness and a little bitterness), a stiff upper lip, fish and chips, and living life with a supreme sense of balance...

Try an Extra Special Bitter. This style of beer (called ESB for short), is a classic British style and one of my absolute favorites. In a nice ESB, all the elements are in harmony. The sweet (but not too sweet) toasty flavor of the grain balances the bitterness (but not too much bitterness) and aroma from the hops. There’s not too much citrus, or too much malt. Everything is in balance just so, and "just so" happens to be just the way I like it.

6. If you like kombucha, balsamic vinegar with blue cheese, red wine, sourdough bread, taste bud confusion, endorphin rushes, and letting nature do her thing... 

Try sour beers. Sour beer is still relatively new to the craft beer scene—at least in the U.S.—but its popularity has surged exponentially from its complete obscurity just a few years ago. Sour beer isn’t a single style but actually a larger category that encompasses a variety of beers that all rely on wild strains of yeast for creating remarkable arrays of mouth-puckering, fruity flavors. Examples include lambics, gueuze, and Flemish Reds.  The presence of wild yeasts in the fermentation process can create funk and flaws, so introducing them is considered a breach of security in most breweries. But, for the daring who do want to tangle with nature at her finest, the results can be remarkable. I once fell in love with a man because of his stellar sour beer, though it didn’t work out for myriad other reasons. But, lesson learned: Beware the power of wild yeast.       

  

7. If you like campfires, barbecues, bacon, Islay Scotch, and Germany... 

Try Rauchbier. Rauchbier is German for "smoked beer," so guess what this style of beer tastes like? Smoked malted barley imparts wafting tendrils of smoke and butch, chewy aromas of barbecue to this style of beer. For the smoke-averse, these beers are a travesty, but if you’re a smoke junky, then welcome—the party is just getting started.

These are just my personal favorite styles of beer, and by no means an exhaustive list.

How about you? What style of beer is your favorite? Share in the comments!

Tags: beer, beer styles, alcohol, craft beer, lists