beer for beginners

If you’re reading this blog, odds are you either really like beer already or you are stalking me. If it’s the latter, while I am certainly flattered, I’d rather you just focus on the beer. I’m not worth stalking.

However, there may be some of you out there that haven’t quite acquired a taste, or perhaps you know someone that insists, “I don’t like beer.” As Charlie Papazian said in his book, The Complete Joy of Homebrewing, “to generalize and say, ‘I don’t like beer’ is like saying ‘I don’t like food.'” (p. 363) My theory, as is his, is that you haven’t found the right beer. I hope to provide some tips in this post that will help you bridge the gap.

When I question those that say “I don’t like beer” and ask what beers they have tried, the most common response is, “Well, I’ve tried a lot! Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, PBR, Natty Light, blah, blah, blah.” Well, no wonder they don’t like beer! They’ve only had one style of beer, and in my opinion, it’s the most bland and least interesting style.

That type of beer is made to sell boatloads to the masses, and since everyone has different tastes, what is the only way to sell to the most people? Take away all the taste and aroma so there is nothing left to offend. It’s the same concept behind pop music, McDonald’s and television.

So, what should you do if you haven’t found a beer that you like? I think a lot of people are intimidated by the vast number of styles and varieties of beer and would rather stick with what they know, even if it isn’t good. If you aren’t willing to experiment, then I can’t help you. Sure, you’re going to waste $4 on a beer now and again, but think of the great beer you might discover with your next pint.

If you are looking for a safe place to start branching out, start thinking about the flavors you like in general and the styles of beer that match. Do you like sweet drinks, like juice or soda? Do you prefer bitter, like coffee? How about sour or citrus, like grapefruit juice? Chocolate? Do you like wine?

I’ve divided up the following suggestions based on the flavor profile you enjoy in other beverages. If you can’t find these exact beers, ask for something similar within that style. Odds are a good tap room or beer store will have something similar.

For those that like sweet juice, try a cider or fruit-flavored beer:

  • Woodchuck cider – This is actually what bridged the gap for me years ago. Believe it or not, there was a time I didn’t like beer at all. I did like apple juice, so I tried some Woodchuck. After a few months of getting used to it, I was able to make the jump to light beer. The rest is history.
  • Abita Purple Haze – Raspberry-flavored beer. The raspberry flavor is definitely apparent, but it isn’t overly sweet. It has enough raspberry flavor to satisfy those with a sweet tooth, but moderate enough to be enjoyed by those who prefer traditional beer.
  • Sweetwater Blue – Blueberry-flavored beer. I haven’t had this myself, but I have had several people swear by it.
  • Buffalo Bill’s Orange Blossom Cream Ale – A favorite of the Big Gnome, it’s like drinking an orange creamcicle.

You like light beer, but want something more. Try a hefewiezen or a wheat beer. These beers have a light body and mild flavor, but tend to have a slightly citrus flavor. These are the most common beers that traditional non-beer-drinkers tend to like:

  • Blue Moon – Actually a Molson/Coors product, this is the most common wheat beer available. Not the best, but a really good cross-over beer. It has that familiar “macro-brew” twang of the big light lagers, but with a much better flavor.
  • Hoegaarden – A true belgian wheat, this is a far step up from Blue Moon and is available at many good bars and beer stores.
  • Franziskaner – This is a traditional hefeweizen, or German wheat beer. Excellent citrus flavor and it has a nice, creamy body. They also make a “dunkel” version, which is German for dark. It has a similar flavor to the “hell” or light, but it is slightly sweeter if I remember correctly. It’s been a while since I’ve had the dunkel.
  • Left Hand Haystack Wheat – If you really want to get crazy, this is one of the best wheat beers I’ve had. Wonderful citrus flavor, great body and all-around amazing beer.

If you’re just getting into beer, who says you have to stay light? Maybe you should just go for the gusto and get yourself an imperial stout! There are a lot more stouts than just Guinness. If you like dark chocolate (bitter chocolate, in other words) or coffee, try one of these:

If you like wine, but haven’t found a beer that suits you, try a barley wine. Barley wines tend to be very high in alcohol content, usually around 10-12%, which gives it a heavy body and alcohol bite similar to wine. They are also very sweet and have very little, if any bitterness. They are fantastic as after-dinner beverages:

  • Flying Dog Horn Dog – Big, dark and sweet. Being a family oriented blog, I can’t insert a joke here.
  • Rogue Old Crustacean – Haven’t gotten my hands on one, but it got great reviews and Rogue is always a solid choice.

Finally, we get to the Belgians. Belgian ale is truly unique among beers. Many beers in this style tend to be high in alcohol content, have a spiced fruit flavor and a lighter color. Not the type of beers you’d throw down at a football tailgate, but certainly ones that can be sipped on enjoyably for a while.

  • Chimay Blue – Ridiculously good, just ridiculous.
  • Unibroue Fin du Monde – A Belgian trippel style, this beer has a spicy aroma and flavor. Not like pepper spicy, but more of a fruity spice. Just try it.

I think I’ve given you enough homework for this week. I hope this gives you some good ideas for beers to try if you’re looking to branch out, or perhaps some suggestions if you’re out with someone that doesn’t know what beer to get. For you guys, this can be especially useful on dates if your date doesn’t typically drink beer. She’ll think you’re all sophisticated and not some Natty Light-drinking slob.

Welcome to the wonderful world of beer. Enjoy!

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About Brian

I like beer.
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7 Responses to beer for beginners

  1. I’m seconding your Storm King Imperial Stout recommendation, and also wanted to say: Hells yeah on the Unibroue! :) They’ve got a terrific apple-based summer ale called “Ephemere” for those who want to try lighter-coloured, sweeter, fruity beers. And for true hefeweizens I adore their Blanche de Chambly, which is hard to find but totally worth it.

    Another great, easy to find hefeweizen? Franzikaner, which unlike the Blanche de Chambly is pretty easy to find. Paulaner, too. Not only are they really two of the best examples of the style, I’ve found that they’re great intro beers, too.

    (Is Blue Moon labeled as a hefeweizen? The last time I checked, it hadn’t been bottled with the yeast in, which really negates the whole lovely, cloudy, yeasty point of a hefeweizen.)

  2. Brian says:

    Great recommendation on Franziskaner. I totally forgot about that one, and it is really good and widely available. I’m going to edit my post and add that one.

    And yes, you are correct. Blue Moon is classified as a Belgian white, so it’s a misnomer to call it a hefeweizen. It is brewed with white wheat, so it can still be classified as a wheat beer.

    Great catches, and I’ve updated my post to reflect them. Thanks!

  3. Super Babe says:

    I’m not quite your stalker, but I’ve been following your blog for a while thanks to my husband (who was in Sumter High with you and has been practicing the perfect pour ever since watching your video)… I think this post was really good, it reminded me of some years ago when I decided that I was going to give beer a shot.

    I, and I apologize in advance, don’t care much for beer myself, but some years ago I figured, like your post says, that I should try before I kept saying I didn’t like it… so I had a list done with some decent beers in there (sure, I didn’t care for beer but I had my dignity and was not going to try the ubiquitous ones!)… And there were some I even liked… Abita Purple Haze was missing from the sweet tooth list… and Yazoo makes some pretty good ones… my favorite one I have to say was Shiner Bock… though here in Berlin, my sweet tooth preferred Berliner Weisser mit rot Schuss (a berry flavored syrup – sure, it is an aberration almost like our Mexican Micheladas are to some beer lovers, but Germans don’t seem to mind) :)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelada

    I’m sure my husband will like seeing Franziskaner in the list – we get it pretty often here (I don’t drink beer, nor any alcohol for that matter now… but I like being informed and knowing about it :P… He, on the other hand, is the one that gets to try them all while we’re living in Germany!)…

    If you get a chance to come to Berlin sometime, I’d recommend you plan your trip around the first weekend of August… there’s a Beer Festival here that is pretty good and not as touristified as Oktoberfest…

    http://www.bierfestival-berlin.de/index.php?idcat=24

    • Brian says:

      Sorry Super Babe, your comment got stuck in my spam filter for a couple weeks and I just now saw it. Thanks for the input. I totally forgot about Abita Purple Haze! Great recommendation. That’s a fantastic raspberry flavored beer that isn’t too sweet, but has enough to satify those sweet tooths out there. I’m going to edit my post and add it.

      And it is on my life’s list of things to do to go to Germany for Oktoberfest, or perhaps even the Berlin Beer Festival. I’m hoping that in a few years I can find someone that will actually pay me to go :)

  4. nikki3bags says:

    As the craft beer world unfolded before me several years ago, Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar was a perfect stepping stone to beer enlightenment. It’s an easy-drinking brown ale with a rich, hazelnutty flavor and aroma. Thank goodness it does not have the “fake” taste of bad hazelnut flavored coffee or other foods. It’s usually available in reputable beer bars and stores.

  5. weezer says:

    Yeti Imperial Stout makes for a great ice cream float :)

  6. nikki3bags says:

    Indeed, my good man!

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