Drinking beer is a luxury for some, a hobby for many, a way of life for acolytes of Dionysus. Refining a beer palate takes time (and money). There are so many brews out there — with nearly 3,000 breweries in the United States alone. So let’s dig a little deeper, past “where to start” and toward “where to go next.”
I sat down with my beer sherpa — Joe Stange, author of Around Brussels in 80 Beers — and we chatted about some “must drink” beers. These 10 picks will serve a “next steps” in the process of building your beer palate and broadening your horizons. Not every single style is represented — that would take days to even contemplate, much less write — we just listed ten really good beers for advancing your love affair with suds.
BERLINER WEISSE — BEAR REPUBLIC TARTARE
Berliner Weisse (or Berliner Weissbier) is a rapidly ascending style of beer. It’s usually bottle conditioned (that’s when the CO2 is allowed to form naturally in the bottle). These beers have a sharp-citrus-y, acidic, sour, tart taste with very little hop flavor.
Bear Republic’s Tartare line is a fantastic American representation of the style. Importantly, they appropriately keep the ABV (alcohol by volume) in the session beer area at 4 percent. Expect a lot of funky yeast notes and intense sour.
DOUBLE IPA — PLINY THE ELDER
The double IPA is often referred to as an IPA on steroids. And it’s all in the name. It’s a doubled up version of a standard IPA — that means more hops and, thereby, more bitterness with stronger notes of citrus, pine, or hop depending on how the brewer hopped the boil and fermentation.
Pliny The Elder is the standard bearer of American double IPAs (sometimes referred to as Imperial IPAs) and clocks in at a hefty 8 percent ABV. It’s a very ‘west coast’ craft beer. Expect lots of hoppyness with equal parts citrus and pine notes, which makes many a beer geek consider it the perfect beer.
STOUT — OLD RASPUTIN IMPERIAL STOUT
The Russian Imperial style of stouts and IPAs were made by British brewers currying the favor of the imperial Russian court with local beer styles amped up to 11 for the Russian palate. So imagine everything you know about stout but bigger, bolder, and stronger in every way.
Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, like the imperial IPA counterparts, is a big beer with an ABV of 9 percent. Usually in beers with that high of an ABV, the alcohol flavors would start to drown out the notes of chocolate, vanilla, brown sugar, and coffee — but not here. It’s incredibly well balanced, but you have to be careful, since that ABV will catch up with you very quickly.
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PORTER — BLACK BUTTE PORTER
Porters distinguish themselves from stouts by leaning more into the smokey malts. Then add in barrel-aging and you have a whole new beast entirely. Especially if that barreling is done in a old bourdon cask.
Black Butte Porter is an American classic. It has a good middle-of-the-road ABV at 5.2 percent making it very quaffable for a night of reverie. It has a dense roasted malt, chocolate, and coffee — with a creamy texture that maintains a nice yet subtle hoppyness.
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IPA — JULIUS
The American IPA is one of the most popular beers for craft beer aficionados and casual beer drinkers alike. The American malts and hops allow it stand out from the English counterparts with bigger hoppyness, florals, and citrus.
Julius is a great example of what America can do with the popular English style. It’s heavily hopped and brings out big fruit notes of passionfruit, mango, and citrus with a strong 6.8 percent ABV. All that fruitiness makes it refreshingly drinkable.
CASK PALE ALE — FULLER’S LONDON PRIDE
English Pale Ale is where the ales we know and love today all started. The style is classic and definitively subtler than the big American ales that it birthed. The hard English water aquifers, English grains, and cellaring make this beer a must for beer lovers.
Fuller’s London Pride is near the top of the Pale Ale power ranking. It falls into the session beer area — at 4.7 percent ABV — meaning you can drink it all day down at the pub. Expect some earthiness, caramel malt, honey, a little hoppy, and maybe a hint of sweet buttered toast. If the publican has cellared the casks well it should be very smooth and crisp without too much fizz.
GUEUZE — GIRARDIN GUEUZE 1882 BLACK LABEL
A Belgian gueuze is a blend of Lambics that have been bottled then aged for two or three years. This aging process produces a drier and more sour version of the already sour Lambic. Expect citrus, cilantro, and sour sans hoppyness.
Girardin Gueuze is one of the best examples of the style. It’s from a tiny farmhouse brewery in the Belgian countryside that’s been making beer since 1845. This one is only 5 percent ABV which makes it very drinkable. Expect notes of blue cheese, apricot, heavy tart citrus, and a hint of farmhouse funk.
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SMOKED BEER — AECHT SCHLENKERLA RAUCHBIER MÄRZEN
Rauchbier, or Smoked Beer, is an old German style dating back to the 1500s at least. What makes this one unique is the process of drying green malts fresh off the shaft over smoke from beech wood. This gives the beers a very intense smokey flavor that takes you straight to the fire.
Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier is intense. It’s so smokey that your face might warm up like you’re sitting next to a campfire. This bottom fermented beer (that’s when the yeast sinks to the bottom during fermentation) has a very earthy, smokey taste with a huge caramel sweetness, making the 5.4 percent ABV beer very drinkable — especially if you’re also smoking some meat or cheese.
CZECH PILSNER — PILSNER URQUELL
Add some Saaz hops to a soft water of the city of Plzen you have yourself a Pilsner. The beer that launched some of the most popular lagers in the world is a fairly simple blend of hops and malt.
Pilsner Urquell is where it all started. This beer is still the flagship beer that everyone should know. It’s light with a sharpness of spicy hops, citrus, and creamy malts. It contains multitudes in each glass. And with an ABV of 4.4 percent you can drink this elixir all damn day.
FARMHOUSE ALE — SAISON DUPONT
The farmhouse ale is a very traditional style dating back eons. Generally, farmers would brew beer in the winter months with harvested excess grains that gave them beer to drink all summer long. The yeasts were naturally occurring from the air and the flavors were earthy and tart.
Saison Dupont is a top fermented (the yeast floats on the top) beer that is still brewed in a farmhouse during the winter in Belgian by the family Dupont. They’ve been doing it since 1844. That’s special right there. The 6.5 percent ABV beer is earthy, citrusy, and has a spicy yeast hint which gives it a nice and dry and floral complexity.