Whether you are hesitant to drink a craft beer or maybe had one you weren't so thrilled about, a little Beer 101 could lead you into the wonderful world of flavorful, fresh local brews you may have once pushed aside for your "old standby."
Craft brewing in America became a serious business about 30 years ago. Beer enthusiasts creating their own batches, tinkering with flavors and searching for the perfect pint, began to branch out into small breweries.
What's grown out of that is a multi-million dollar industry of craft beers from all over the country. Conferences, meet-ups, festivals draw local and distant fans more and more every year.
According to Tamre Mullins, beer lover, advocate and connoisseur, it's better to start off with some of the milder beers before you jump in headfirst. Don't go straight for the Double IPA if you've never had a hoppy beer. Believe me, your taste buds aren't ready for that kind of flavor just yet!
Mullins also emphasizes that now is the time for adventure and to seize available opportunities.
"There are some really wonderful beers out there now. People are just really starting to care about what they are drinking and what they are brewing."
What's even better, says Mullins, is that not only are there many breweries for almost anyone to try, almost all major cities have at least one local brewery. They are usually deeply immersed into supporting local events and charities, as well as offering tastings, parties and brewery tours.
The next step is finding them, which a quick Google search would remedy. After that, you need to know which beers are best to start off your taste experience.
Mullins and I had shared a flight at an Indianapolis pub specializing in craft beers, all fresh, some seasonal and all on tap. She picked three for our flight that are all brewed year-round and quite accessible, and perfect for anyone who's ready to switch out your college keg beer to some real, honest-to-goodness grown-up brew.
What we tried:
A traditional German beer, this light-colored, filtered brew is perfect for a newbie. There isn't too much of a yeasty flavor, but instead counters your taste buds with a lighter, sweeter, and crisp experience.
Kölsch also makes a great pairing with salads, fish and other seafood. Not only is it perfect for pairing with lighter dishes, it is also a great addition to marinades and dressings. It's the perfect beer for a summery afternoon on the patio.
What we tried:
Bloomington Brewing Co. Ruby Bloom Amber:
From fruity to nutty, ambers are the most flexible of craft brews. Their aroma is mellow, not overwhelming, and usually smells like what they are flavored with more than beer.
"People are doing some really cool things with ambers, " Mullins says. "Collaboration beers are coming out from many breweries. It's just one type of beer you can really tweak anyway you want."
"Ambers are the perfect movie-night beer," according to Mullins. And once you taste one, you'll know this is true. Her favorite pairing, especially with a creamy, nuttier amber like the one we tried, is Parmesan and black pepper popcorn.
What we tried:
Brooklyn Brewery Sorachi Ace:
With one whiff you can smell the fermentation of this brew. Created with wild yeast, and rare Sorachi Ace hops, this beer screams flavor.
With quite a bit more ooomph than a kolsch or an amber, a saison allows the fermented flavor to blend nicely with the added lemongrass and lemon zest Brooklyn Brewery uses. These additions give this ale a wonderful, bright taste that's backed by a hearty, yet clean maltiness.
Mullins says it's surprisingly good with Pasta Carbonara, a tip she learned from brewmaster Garrett Oliver, who owns Brooklyn Brewery. For more on him, and more great beer info, check out Food & Wine's Master Series' feature.
The most important tip Mullins gives for delving into the world of craft beer is to not be afraid.
"Don't order an entire pint if you are unsure. Go to tastings. Try samplers. Do a little research before you head out and ask a lot of questions. There really is a lot of really good beer being made out there."
- Tamre Mullins, shown above, is a Cicerone Certified Beer Server from Indianapolis, Ind . She has spent the last 10 years as an advocate for the craft beer industry. Tamre shares her knowledge through volunteering for breweries, teaching classes and writing for various craft beer publications around the country.
Twinkle VanWinkle was born in a small town in Mississippi. A life-long lover of music, media and food, she grew up following those three things along her path. She has almost 20 years of professional cooking under her apron strings, feeding thousands of friends, family and other folks while working in restaurants and bakeries in Oxford, Miss. She baked 300 apple pies for the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and appeared on "The Best Of..." in the same year. Along with producing dynamic entertainment content for LIN Media, she is a mother, musician and social media fanatic.
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