Tips for Navigating the Beer Universe

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A short guide to the world of beer. (Usplash/Meritt Thomas)

HISTORIC TRIANGLE — There is no shortage of beer options in the Historic Triangle. Between Williamsburg, James City and York counties, there are five craft breweries with at least one more currently being built.

On top of the places that make beer, there are dozens of bars with scores of taps, many of them reserved for beers from small and or local breweries. For those who are not regular beer drinkers or perhaps drink beer but only specific kinds, the large variety of styles available can be overwhelming. With that in mind, here is a guide to some of the more common styles found in brewery and brewpub settings.

Here is a list of some of the more common styles you will find in a craft beer setting.

  • India Pale Ale (IPA)– There is perhaps no other beer style that garners as much passionate feeling as an IPA, either for or against it. The flavor tends to be a complex mix of spice, fruit and bitterness from the hops used to make it. If you want a more juicy, fruit-forward flavor, ask for a New England IPA. If you prefer a more bitter or piney shock to your palate, be on the lookout for West Coast IPAs
  • Kölsch- For those who are devoted to lager beers, a kölsch is about as close as you can get to one without it actually being a lager. The aroma gives off a bready smell but the flavor is refreshing, with a hint of hops on the back of the palate.
  • Lagers- Lagers are the cornerstone of the American beer market. This is the style that the Budweiser, Coors and Miller fans are looking for when they walk into a taproom.
  • Pilsners– This kingpin of the lager family is known to be clean, crisp and refreshing. There are a few different varieties such as German and Czech style pilsners and they each offer a unique yes subtle difference. Across the pilsner board the alcohol by volume (ABV) tends to be on the low to middle range, which makes it a delightful beverage on a warm day.
  • Sours- This is a good style for anyone who has a hard time drinking beer to begin with. Sours are tart and refreshing, often times with a specific fruit flavor. They have a few subsets. If you are in the market for something tart, be on the lookout for terms like Berliner weisse, gose, wild ale and lambic.
  •  Saison- This Belgian style ale is perfect for warm weather, though most fans of the beer will gladly drink it all year. With a peppery, sometimes citrusy aroma to go along with a crisp finish, this low ABV style makes it an ideal beer for socializing.
  • Stouts– Stouts, as well as its cousin, the porter, can be intimidating to look at. They are a dark brown and thick. While they can be quite hearty, the flavor profile is roasty and rich, with a delightful creaminess. Several breweries have entire stout series in which they are aged in bourbon, wine or syrup barrels to give even more distinct flavors. Though be warned that while it makes them more flavorful, it also can hike the ABV up quite a bit.

Do not be afraid to ask the people behind the bar questions about the beer. They are subject matter experts. If you see a beer that piques your interest, most bartenders, or beertenders as the case may be, will gladly give you a sample. If you see several beers you would like to try, most establishments have sampler options.

This list is just the tip of the beer iceberg. There are dozens and dozens of different styles out there and there is beer for every palate. The key to enjoying beer tasting is keeping an open mind.

 

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