Top Five Recommended Beer Styles Countdown: #1

This is it! You’ve made it all the way to today’s post, which is the final in my series of recommended beer styles. If you’ve missed the previous posts, you’ve clearly been living under a rock! Click the link below to see the first four.

This post is part of a mini-series – See all posts in this series

And the winner is…


#1: Porters, Stouts & Imperial Stouts


I find that a lot of beginner beer drinkers are put off by these dark beers because it doesn’t look like the Coors or Bud Light they’re used to seeing and drinking. There’s a lot of misinformation spread about dark beers that make people think they won’t like it: they’re too thick, too high in alcohol, and too high in calories. Maybe some are, but these characteristics certainly do not apply to all. Open your mind and don’t let yourself miss out on a good thing!

Let’s dive right in to each of these related styles. The first time someone asked me what the difference was between a porter and a stout, I was stumped. I have since researched the answer, only to find there are several theories. Feel free to come to your own conclusion, but the answer I choose to go with is that a stout is simply a stronger version of a porter. In a sense, that means all stouts are porters, but not all porters are stouts.

A porter is a style of dark beer which was first developed in London in the 1700s. They are brown in color, but usually will have some degree of clarity in comparison to the other varieties below. They often reveal notes of chocolate, caramel, and nuttiness, and are usually fairly low in ABV (around 4 to 5.5%).

Stouts are, as we now know, a stronger version of a porter. Usually ranging from 5.5 to 8% ABV, these beers have flavors of roasted coffee and dark chocolate. They’re usually very smooth and rich, and can often have a creamy mouthfeel, especially when served on draft over nitrogen (or “nitro”) instead of the standard CO2 line. Stouts are usually very dark brown to black in color and opaque.

Finally, there’s the imperial stout (my personal favorite of the bunch). For any beer style, if you see the word “imperial,” know that you’re getting a (relatively) strong beer. Similarly to the traditional version, imperial stouts are almost completely black in color, but clock in with an even higher ABV that’s typically between 8 to 12%, but can reach much, much higher. You can bet that imperial stouts also share the same coffee and chocolate flavors as stouts, but are richer, robust and intense.

When cellared correctly, a quality imperial stout can hold up for years to come, which is why I like to stay stocked up! Next time you find one that’s especially tasty, try buying two bottles—one for now, and one for later. The flavors and aromas of imperial stouts can change, and like a fine wine, become even better over time. Stouts marked as “barrel aged” evolve exceptionally well. With proper cellaring (and quite a bit of patience), the noticeable presence of alcohol can fade into the background, giving way to smooth, subtle flavors of the barrel it once lived in.

Now, with your newfound expertise on all things dark beer, impress your friends and order one with confidence!

May I suggest…

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Porters:

  • Karl Strauss – Peanut Butter Cup Porter
  • Founders – Porter
  • Bottle Logic – Cobaltic Porter
  • Deschutes – Black Butte Porter

Stouts:

  • AleSmith – Speedway Stout
  • Barley Forge – The Patsy
  • Firestone Walker – Parabola
  • Founders – Breakfast Stout
  • Bottle Logic – Ground State
  • Highwater – Campfire Stout

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Imperial Stouts: 

  • Goose Island – Bourbon County Brand Stout
  • The Bruery – Black Tuesday or its variants (Grey Monday, Mocha Wednesday, Chocolate Rain)
  • North Coast – Old Rasputin Imperial Stout
  • Deschutes – The Abyss
  • Great Divide – Yeti
  • Founders – Imperial Stout

Cheers and thanks for reading! I hope you’ve all enjoyed this series on my recommended beer styles.

Comment below and let me know which porters and stouts you like, and what else you’d like to learn about in future posts!

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram or subscribe below. New beer adventures and posts are always in the works!

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Top Five Recommended Beer Styles Countdown: #2

If you’re just joining us, you’ve found yourself in the midst of my series on beer recommendations. Be sure to check out my previous posts:

This post is part of a mini-series – See all posts in this series


#2: IPAs & Pale Ales


Today we’ll be talking about IPAs: what they are, where they came from, and some common lingo. Let’s get right to it!

I’m well aware that IPAs are not exactly a “beginner” beer style. They usually tend to be hoppy, bitter, and often aggressively so. If you’re looking for something to help ease you into the world of IPAs, do yourself a favor and start with a beer simply labeled as a “Pale Ale” (not India Pale Ale!), which can be described as a toned-down version of the IPA.

IPA stands for India Pale Ale and was first developed by the British to supply the market in India. High temperatures in India meant bad brewing conditions, so the British needed to create a beer that was hearty enough to survive the long six-month journey at sea. In the 1780s, a brewer from London named George Hodgson started exporting his beer via Bow Brewery, located near the Middlesex-Essex border by the East India Docks. The strong hop profile in these beers primarily served as a preservative which kept the beer fresh during the voyage. Other breweries began imitating Hodgson’s beers, and eventually the IPA evolved into a weaker, lighter version we know today as pale ales.

Since then (especially so in very recent history), the IPA has gone through a true renaissance, returning to a profile of massive hop flavors and plenty of experimentation. There are several distinct qualifying terms you will see and hear regarding the style, such as Imperial (or Double) IPAs, Triple IPAs, Black IPAs, West Coast IPAs, New England/East Coast/Hazy IPAs, and even Brett IPAs.

So what do these names mean? A West Coast IPA tends to be the hop-forward, filtered, dry ale most people associate the style with. An East Coast IPA, however, tends to have a hazy appearance, pronounced fruit aromas and flavors, plus a balanced, more mellow hoppiness. Also, these geographical names are primarily to describe where it was first made popular—it’s less about where the beer was made, and more about how. A few minor (but fundamental) tweaks to the recipe can easily turn your West Coast IPA into an East Coast, or vice versa.

Next up, the black IPA, is exactly what it sounds like: dark in color. The hop profile remains intact, but the typical lighter malt is substituted for a darker, more roasted variety. The Brett IPA is another twist on the original, which uses a wild yeast called Brettanomyces to bring funky characteristics into the mix, similar to some Belgian beer styles.

When considering the ABV, IPAs are usually classified as “single” IPAs. When you see an IPA marked as “Imperial IPA,” “IIPA,” “Double IPA,” or “DIPA,” you can assume that it will be higher in alcohol content, although not actually double that of a single IPA. The same can be said for Triple IPAs, which are even stronger, though not necessarily three times that of a typical IPA.

When it comes to recommending an IPA, the best one is ultimately the freshest one! Hoppy beers are always best drank fresh because they will lose the flavors and aromas imparted by the hops over time. Do not age, cellar or otherwise forget about your IPAs! Naturally, your best bet is looking for IPAs on tap right at their source: your favorite local brewery! Alternatively, check for a date stamp on the bottles or cans you plan to buy on your next beer run. If it’s more than 90 days old, it may be a good idea to try something else!

Now that you know what to expect from the ever-popular IPA, go try some of my favorites!


May I suggest…

  • Tree House – Julius (East Coast)
  • Russian River – Blind Pig (West Coast)
  • Russian River – Pliny the Elder (West Coast Imperial)
  • Bottle Logic – Double Actuator (West Coast Imperial)
  • Monkish – Smarter Than Spock (East Coast)
  • Latitude – 33 Blood Orange IPA (West Coast)
  • Modern Times – Neverwhere (Brett)
  • Anything from Stone (who specializes in IPAs)

Hop heads: leave me a comment below with your favorite IPAs! Cheers!

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I’ll reveal my number one recommended style! In the meantime, follow me on Instagram or subscribe below!

Top Five Recommended Beer Styles Countdown: #3

Hello again beer lovers! Today’s post is all about Belgian beers and what makes them unique. If this is the first post you’ve read, I suggest reading the previous posts about Sours and Lagers!

This post is part of a mini-series – See all posts in this series

Belgian beers are actually what converted me into the world of craft beer. They have a distinctive “funkiness” to them that I really enjoy. I’ve even been lucky enough to travel to Belgium (aka the Beer Mecca) to experience their beers first-hand. This may not be everyone’s favorite style, but I certainly enjoy it!


#3: Belgian Ales


The Belgian beer genre can be a bit complicated, so stick with me here. There are several varieties, including dubbels, tripels (or trippels), quadruples, and more. Some breweries—most of which are in Belgium—can also be qualified as Trappist, but in order for a beer to be labeled as such, it must meet the following criteria set forth by the International Trappist Association:

  • The beer must be brewed within the monastery, either by the monks themselves or under their supervision
  • The business practices of the brewery must reflect a monastic way of life and be recognized as having only secondary importance
  • The brewery is not for profit: its income can be used to cover living expenses and maintenance costs, with the balance being donated to charity for social work or otherwise to help those in need

There are currently only 11 breweries on earth that produce certified Trappist ales, so when you see a beer with the Authentic Trappist Product mark, you can guarantee its authenticity and compliance with the rules above.

As far as the individual styles go, there is much hearsay about how dubbels, tripels and quadrupels earned their names, but think of it loosely as an indication of strength. To easily mark the beers, Trappist Monasteries would mark the beer with a series of X’s to indicate strength – X for a weaker beer, XX for a moderately strong beer, and XXX for the strongest beer. Alternatively, some historians believe that the names could have come from the corresponding ABVs, roughly 3%, 6% and 9% (yes, technically Belgian singles do exist, but it’s a relatively unpopular style). Either way, let’s not focus on the naming convention. Just know that it generally indicates the strength of the beer, but the styles themselves are very different, so let’s talk about what to expect when you see these names.

The dubbel was first brewed by Westmalle in 1856, and by 1926, they had changed the original recipe and released Dubbel Bruin, a beer which after much success, was imitated by other breweries around the world. A dubbel is typically a deep reddish-brown color, and fairly strong in alcohol content (approximately 6-8%). Classically brewed with caramelized beet sugar, these beers have rich, complex flavors of malty sweetness and can include hints of dried fruit, clove and banana-like spices. They’re smooth, chocolatey and caramel-like and contain minimal hoppiness.

Now you might be expecting a tripel to be a stronger, darker version of a dubbel, but that’s not exactly the case. Like the dubbel, Westmalle pioneered the modern tripel that we have come to know and love today. Tripels can be closely compared to Belgian Golden Strong Ales, and usually have a beautiful golden hue, with an ABV ranging from about 7.5 – 9.5% (although some can exceed 10%). The high alcohol content is usually well hidden, making these beers surprisingly easy to drink. Similarly to the dubbel, tripels are brewed with beet sugar, but without the caramelization. The sugar raises the ABV, but keeps the pale golden color from the lightly kilned malt. Flavors and aromas may include a citrus or banana-like fruitiness, or a clove-like or peppery spice.

Last but not least is the quadrupel, sometimes also referred to as a Belgian Strong Dark Ale, plus some additionally being classified as a Grand Cru. Stronger and heavier than the styles above, quadrupels are essentially a ramped up version of a dubbel. With higher ABVs averaging around 10-12%, quadrupels are packed with rich flavors characterized by their spicy, ripe fruit flavors like plum, fig and raisin. The hoppiness is nicely balanced by the malty sweetness, revealing hints of molasses with an underlying bread-like flavor.

No matter which Belgian style you choose, keep in mind that most are traditionally bottle conditioned, meaning the yeast is very much present in the bottle, so remember to pour carefully!

May I suggest…

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Dubbels:

  • Westmalle – Dubbel
  • La Trappe – Dubbel
  • Chimay – Premiere
  • Affligem – Dubbel
  • Russian River – Benediction
  • Lost Abbey – Lost and Found Abbey Ale

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Tripels (Belgian Strong Golden Ales):

  • Westmalle – Tripel
  • La Trappe – Tripel
  • Bernardus – Tripel
  • Chimay – Cinq Cents
  • Affligem – Tripel
  • Huyghe – Delirium Tremens
  • Duvel Moortgat – Duvel
  • Unibroue – La Fin du Monde
  • Victory – Golden Monkey
  • North Coast – Pranqster
  • Russian River – Damnation

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Quadrupels (Belgian Strong Dark Ales):

  • Brouwerij De Sint-Sixtusabdij van Westvleteren – Trappist Westvleteren 12
  • Abbaye Notre-Dame de Saint-Rémy – Trappistes Rochefort 10
  • St Bernardus – Abt 12
  • Bierbrouwerij De Koningshoeven – La Trappe Quadrupel
  • Brouwerij Van Steenberge – Gulden Draak 9000 Quadruple
  • Chimay – Grande Reserve
  • Lost Abbey – Judgment Day
  • Russian River – Salvation

Authentic Trappist Beer

Leave a comment below to let me know which Belgian beers are your favorite!

I’ll be back tomorrow to reveal pick #2. So you don’t miss out, follow me on Instagram or subscribe below!

Top Five Recommended Beer Styles Countdown: #4

In case you missed the first post, this is the second post in a mini-series focused on my top recommended beer styles. If you haven’t already done so, go back and read my previous post: #5: Sours – Lambics, Gueuzes & Wild Ales!

This post is part of a mini-series – See all posts in this series

I think too many of us (myself included) get comfortable with a certain style or beer and tend to ignore other styles that don’t appeal to us as much. When I look at a beer menu, I generally find myself ordering ales, not lagers. But when the right moment comes along—like a hot day at the beach or the perfect food pairing—I will drink a lager. So why am I writing a whole post recommending lagers when they’re not my go-to beer?

First of all, it’s not all about me. This post is for you. And your friends who want to learn to like craft beer (and maybe some who don’t!). This series is also about branching out and expanding your palate, and I can’t think of a better way to do that than to write about a category that I’m still expanding on myself.

I’m constantly trying to find and drink new beers that I haven’t had before, including those of which are styles I typically don’t gravitate towards. And let me tell you, I’m usually pleasantly surprised with what I find! The moral of this story: if you can set aside your preconceived notions, you will begin to open your mind (and palate) to new options.


#4: Lagers


Although I’ve already admitted that lagers aren’t personally my beer of choice most days, I can appreciate them for what they are. Easily described as clean, crisp and refreshing, these beers work great for those long summer days, and are by far the most popular choice at any given sporting event. For those of you with friends that swear by Coors, Bud Light or any of the other crappy big-name beers, craft lagers make for an easy and welcoming upgrade to their world of possible beer choices.

Lagers are fundamentally different than ales. Brewed with different yeast strains, ales are “top-fermented,” and require a warmer temperature to ferment. Ales are also quick to ferment, usually ready for bottling in just 1 to 2 weeks. Lagers, however, are “bottom-fermented,” require colder temperatures, and can take up to 6 weeks for fermentation to complete. Ale yeast is generally hardier, meaning it’s more conducive to the production of high ABV beers. By comparison, the slower, more fragile lager yeast typically produces less alcohol.

Now for some brief history. Lagers were first brewed in Bavaria, Germany in the early nineteenth century. The word “lager” comes from the German lagern, meaning “to store,” which makes sense when you think about the prolonged period of cold storage needed for fermentation. Before refrigeration was conceived, German brewers would store the beer in caves filled with ice from nearby lakes and rivers to keep the beer cold during warmer months. They would also plant chestnut trees to provide shade to the area, a concept which developed into the modern beer garden.

To say lagering is an artistry would be an understatement. There’s a huge range of both domestic and imported lagers to choose from. Some of the most popular varieties include Bocks, Doppelbocks, Helles Bocks, Munich Dunkels, Pilsners, Schwarzbiers and Vienna Lagers.

img_2385By now, I hope I’ve inspired you to go out pick up at least one new lager on your next beer run! If so, may  I suggest…

  • Bottle Logic – Lagerithim
  • Maui Brewing – Bikini Blonde Lager
  • Weihenstephaner Original
  • Gordon Biersch – Schwarzbier
  • Gordon Biersch – Blonde Bock
  • Great Lakes Brewing – Eliot Ness

Lager lovers, comment below to let me know what your favorites are! Who knows, it could end up being the subject of a future post!

Come back tomorrow to see what my #3 recommendation will be. Until then, follow me on Instagram or subscribe below!

Top Five Recommended Beer Styles Countdown: #5

Branch Out and Expand Your Palate

The first question I get from friends who are new to craft beer is “what kind of beer should I get?” I usually answer their question with a question. What have you tried before? Which flavors or styles do you like? Which flavors or styles don’t you like? Do you prefer a sweeter beer or a more bitter one? Something light or something a little heavier?

People who tell me they like everything scare me a little because chances are, they’re either very right or very wrong. But we all know that sometimes a big selection can mean a lot of confusion for those who aren’t so familiar with the world of craft beer.

This series will focus on my top recommendations, but if these aren’t your thing, hang in there—my goal is for you to confidently go out and try something new!

This post is part of a mini-series – See all posts in this series


#5: Sours – Lambics, Gueuzes & Wild Ales


When I encounter that one friend that swears by wine (and thinks they don’t like beer), I usually start them with a sour beer. Sours tend to be on the lighter, fruitier side which makes for a fairly close comparison to wine. Bonus points if you can find them a sour aged in oak barrels!

The term “sour” actually covers several styles: wild ale, lambic, gueuze, Flemish red, and Berliner Weisse to name a few. Most are tart, yet dry, making this a good substitution for the dedicated wine lover.

Lambic
I especially love lambics because of their tradition and unique style. Unlike most styles of beer, lambics are spontaneously fermented and exposed to wild yeasts and bacteria. This process is what gives lambics their distinct characteristics: dry, sour and sometimes fruity. With extremely low ABVs, these beers are easy to drink, also making them an ideal choice for those who prefer avoiding boozier alternatives.

Native to the Senne Vally and Pajottenland regions of Belgium, the spontaneous fermentation technique used in lambics is a practice that has existed for hundreds of years before the modern brewing process. Although the process is ancient, it’s not exactly simple—the result is extremely complex and divine. Fast-forward to May 20, 1965: This is when the E.U. enacted the first laws surrounding the production of lambics. Among other things, lambics must: contain a minimum of 30% unmalted wheat, use aged hops, employ spontaneous fermentation, and be brewed within 15 kilometers of Brussels, within the Senne Valley.

Gueuze
This is actually a blend of two or more lambics at different ages: usually a young (1 year old) lambic with an old (2-3 year old lambic), which is then bottled with additional fermentable sugars to be used for secondary fermentation. This blend creates a unique taste much different from more traditional ales and lagers. The wild yeasts create flavors and aromas that are dry, cider-like, sour, acidic and even barnyard-like, often generating comparison to champagne.

American Wild Ale
Like the previous two styles, wild ales involve exposure to wild yeasts and bacteria such as Brettanomyces, Pediococcus or Lactobacillus. Mash techniques can vary, but these beers are often aged in oak barrels and commonly have one or more types of fruit added during fermentation. No matter the technique, expect a funky, sour taste and aroma, complemented by possible notes of oak and/or fruit. I hope you’re not discouraged by this description though! It may sound unappealing and even harsh, but it’s a style preferred by many and is growing in popularity every day.

If you’re ready to take a leap of faith and try one of these “this is beer?!” beers, may I suggest…

Lambics:

Lindemans lambics

  • Lindemans
    • Peche (Peach)
    • Framboise (Raspberry)
    • Pomme (Apple)
    • Kriek (Cherry)
  • Timmermans
    • Framboise (Raspberry)
    • Peche (Peach)
    • Strawberry
    • Kriek (Cherry)

Gueuzes:

The Lost Abbey - Duck Duck Gooze

  • Cantillion – Classic Gueuze
  • The Lost Abbey – Duck Duck Gooze
  • Bruery Terreux – Rueuze

American wild ales:

Bruery Terreux wild ales

  • Lost Abbey – Framboise Amorosa
  • Boulevard Brewing – Love Child #5
  • Russian River – Consecration
  • Anything from Bruery Terreux, especially the Frucht line (my personal favorites are Frucht: Yumberry, Frucht: Boysenberry and Frucht: Blackberry)
  • Anything from The Rare Barrel

Sour fans: leave me a comment with your favorites! I want to know what beers you love and why (mainly so I can go out and try them myself)!

My #4 pick will be revealed tomorrow—follow me on Instagram or subscribe below to stay in touch!