Essential to learning to love the suds is unpacking all the various styles that exist. Just like when a sommelier brings out a miles-long wine list, looking at a menu with dozens — or sometimes hundreds — of beer choices can be intimidating. While finding your favorite brew involves a bit of trial and error, a good starting point is finding a general category that suits your tastes and experimenting from there.
"I would recommend that anyone who thinks they do not like beer should wait to make that judgement until they have tired as many of the available styles as possible," says Brandon Skall of local brewery DC Brau. Quick tip: "Newcomers to craft beer might find the hoppier styles a bit intense at first." Translation: Don't dive in with an IPA.
The 920-page Oxford Companion to Beer identifies over 90 distinct beer types — and each type is comprised of a wide range of varieties. Talk about overwhelming, right? To simplify, Meridian Pint's Mike Aloi, a certified Cicerone® (sometimes called the beer equivalent of a sommelier), suggests six styles to try out:
Want to step up your beer game, but stick with a lighter drink that's perfect for a hot day? The German beirgarten classic Kölsch may be calling your name. This style is light in color and body, but with a pronounced hop character that means it will be a little bitter — but not overwhelmingly so.
Try: Gaffel Kölsch
Also known as white beers, wheat beers, or bièrs blanche, depending on where your selection was brewed, these often have a distinctive cloudiness in the glass (on purpose, of course!) and have been popular since the Middle Ages. In addition to the wheat, they often have citrus, spice, and sweet notes.
Try: Ommegang Witte
Saison beers were first created in French-speaking Belgium in the cooler "season" — hence the name. Though modern saisons often contain wheat, they tend to be drier and higher in alcohol than other wheat beers, and are typically spiced with coriander, orange peel, and other flavorings.
Try: Stillwater Stateside Saison
This golden-hued style has been brewed up by Belgium's Trappist monks for generations, but was only commercialized for the outside world starting in the 1930s. Expect something with sweetness, but not too thick or heavy. Note: These beers can pack a punch, thanks to a higher alcohol-by-volume content (generally around 9%).
Try: Allagash Tripel
Traditionally from Brussels, lambics are often tart, sour, and more rustic in their flavor profile. They're often the first beer that wine enthusiasts fall for — and they're just about the best thing to pair with cheese. Within the lambic category, there are many sub-styles, but we recommend skipping the cloyingly sweet mass-produced framboises and choosing a more sophisticated brew.
Try: Lindemans Kriek
Chocolate, roasted nuts, coffee, caramel, and just a touch of smoke. Sound tasty to you? Then order a porter. The best ones are balanced with a drier finish and not too much bitterness or burnt flavor. The style is open to a pretty wide interpretation, though, so you may want to try a few to find your favorite version.
Try: Great Lakes Edmund Fitzgerald Porter
Photographed by Shira Karsen
- 1 of 4