Where to start in the craft brew world.
The world of craft beer is a confusing place to a newcomer. Where does one even start with over 100-plus styles and dozens more that are hybrids and combinations of styles? Discerning which flavor is for you can be overwhelming when dealing with all the amazing aromatic robust flavors. Even worse, choosing the wrong beer can turn you off to the idea altogether.
A Bitter Beginning
Ales, pale ales and IPAs surround themselves in aromatic citrus, pine and floral flavors, but are also quite bitter depending on the amount and types of hops used. Amber and dark ales tend to lend themselves more to the sweetness of the malts and have a lesser bitterness than the pale ales. They still keep alive the pungent flavors of the hops, but are tempered by the caramel sweetness of the malts. Pale ales and IPAs have a high-end hop character that often add exceptional fruit or pine flavor but have a much more astringent finish.
Porters and stouts take full advantage of coffee, caramel and chocolate malt-driven sweetness. Porters are derived from medium and dark malts that offer a sweet caramel flavor and silky mouth feel. The sweetness is balanced by floral or piney undertones from the hops giving it just a slightly bitter finish. Stouts are distinct in their coffee or chocolate forward essence and smooth finishes. The existing hop additions is subtler and flavor is dominated by roasted barley and malts.
Don’t Forget Your Grains
Hefeweizens, weisse and witbier all have one common ingredient that distinguish them from all other craft brews, wheat. Wheat beers are light in color and present a bready sweetness. There is a very low hop bitterness associated with these brews, and in the case of witbier no hops are used at all. The flavors can vary a good deal depending on the type of wheat used. Malted wheat suggests the caramel sweetness of a porter, while using unmalted wheat hints at banana and clove characteristics.
When in doubt try one of each, although maybe not all at one time as the alcohol content is usually much higher than in domestic beer. You just might open up a world of savoriness you never knew existed!