Your Crash Course in Becoming a Craft Beer Expert
So much beer; so little time. Here’s how—and where—to learn about the endlessly creative Western microbrew scene
Stop sourcing supermarket six-packs and join the West Coast craft-beer boom, wherein indie entrepreneurs are refining inventive new styles and reinterpreting classics. Every pint, can, or growler supports local businesses and cuts out the carbon waste of cross-country shipments. Here’s how to dive in.
See these cans? They’ll be gone by the time you read this. Today’s best brewers experiment, iterate, and evolve based on available ingredients and previous releases. Not to worry: Scout new styles and taproom specials by following local breweries on Instagram—it’s the preferred platform of the biz and a boon for beer knowhow, launch dates, and conversations.
Go to School
Tasting-room menus can be sparse on info. The best teacher is a bored bartender, so visit your local craft-beer taproom during a slow shift to learn by the glass. If it’s slammed, download Untappd, an app that reveals ratings, hop varieties, tasting notes, and more. Two seconds of research can save you from sixteen ounces of meh.
Rule of thumb: The more hops in a beer, the sooner you should drink it. Flip the can to check for a brew date. Anything older than six weeks should be avoided. Over time hops can oxidize, so be more vigilant with IPAs and double IPAs in particular.
Know Your Hops
There’s been an explosion of creativity within the IPA category, even among lagers and pilsners, thanks to new hop species. Innovative methods of brewing deliver even more hop flavor and aroma to beer, whether via “double dry hopping” (called DDH on many beers), or cryo-hopping (adding flash-frozen hop powders).
Sour beer used to mean traditional lambics, gueuzes, and other European-influenced styles. But now sour beers—from low-ABV Gose to kettle sours to sour IPAs—are just as likely to show up on tap-room rosters. Matured on everything from blackberries to white peaches, these styles can offer a refreshing, flavor-packed profile.
Respect the Elders
Bourbon barrels, sherry casks, and other types of wood can add depth and complexity to age-friendly releases. These often attract the highest ratings and longest lines, but for your time spent waiting you’ll be rewarded with something special for the cellar.
Beer festivals offer the opportunity to get to know new brewers. Many craft breweries hold annual invitationals that draw beer peers from other cities, and independent promoters such as Hop Culture hold events throughout the West.