beer 101

What beer style should I try first?

So its Saturday night and your mates have coaxed you in to the hippest craft beer bar in town. Or, maybe a weekend visit to your local breweries isn’t your idea of fun, but your partner reckons it is. Or, maybe you are curious about craft beer but have no idea where to start.

If, like me, you’ve been “that” person who orders a G and T while everyone else is imbibing IPAs then this is the article for you. At the Tinker Tailor cellar door we regularly get craft beer enthusiasts accompanied by their long-suffering, yet inquisitive, spouse/friend. 

The common denominator in all these scenarios is the essential question “what beer should I try first?”

I’m firmly in the camp that while not everyone will like every beer, there is definitely a beer out there for everyone. Yep, even the most vehement declarer of “I don’t like beer”. Here are some handy hints for finding your gateway brew.

craft beer flight.png

Why tasting paddles are the go

Any self-respecting craft beer bar will offer tasting paddles and this is an excellent place to start if you’re just venturing into the world of craft beer. You’ll receive usually between four and eight small glasses of different beers served on some kind of wooden carrying vessel that may be shaped a bit like a paddle – that’s where the terminology comes from.

Tasting paddles are a low risk, relatively low cost way of trying several different brews. It also means you can compare and contrast in real time.

Which beers to choose though? If the thought of selecting any, let alone multiple, beers from an extensive menu is just too hard (I’m with you on that) and/or you simply don’t know your lagers from your lambics (yet!) then I recommend asking the bartender. Just let them know you’re a first timer and ask for their suggestions. Try to end up with a range that includes something from lighter offerings, right through to the dark side.

Another place for great beer tasting experiences is a brewery’s cellar door. Generally breweries will offer free (or charge a nominal fee) tastings. This alone is a fabulous reason to check out your local. Cellar door staff tend to be very knowledgeable – heck they might even be the actual brewer! At the Tinker Tailor cellar door we give visitors the chance to tailor (pun intended) their tasting to suit – maybe you want to try the whole range, or just two or three ‘entry level’ beers to start off with.

But what if you just really like wine?

A great approach if you are a wine-lover looking to ‘transition’ to craft beer is to first think of your favourite alcoholic drink. Then start by examining the flavours that you love. Next look for a beer with similar characteristics.

beer and wine.jpg

Some examples – if you like drinking sauvignon blanc then you might enjoy a light, crisp, dry Pilsner. Or if you prefer sweeter, fuller-bodied wines like a riesling why not try the maltiness of a Vienna Lager. Or if red wine is more your thing, a darker beer such as a porter or stout could be right up your alley. Beer has more bitter notes that wine so my suggestion is to steer clear (at least intially) of hop-heavy styles like some of the more full on IPAs. Having said that though, if you are a coffee drinker then bitterness is familiar for your palate so why not jump right on in! 

And what about sours? I’m told that the fruity flavours, and familiar acidity and dryness make sours a great first beer for wine and cider drinkers. 

Personally I like my drinks a little on the sweet side. So my recommendation, if you happen to end up in a Belgian bar, is to try the Leffe Brune. Trust me on that one.

This might sound a little crazy...try a beer cocktail

If your go-to tipple is a mixed drink then, in my opinion, its a short hop, skip and a jump to a beer cocktail.

The classic, simple option is the shandy. Yep that perennial lager and lemonade combo. I know for me that a shandy was my introduction to drinking beer – the bitterness of the beer perfectly offset by the sweetness of bubbly lemonade. I confess that I still love  good shandy, especially on a hot summer’s day. I think shandies are totally underated ad I’m on a bit of a personal crusade to “bring back the shandy”. But I digress...

beer cocktail

Another option if you go down the cocktail route is a Campari IPA spritzer. Oh, yes, this is a thing! Since putting this deliciousness on the menu at Tinker Tailor Bar at the Brewery events its become a firm favourite for many. I’ve smile to myself when someone orders it only because its the only alcoholic option that isn’t a glass full of beer. And then they come back for another. And then put in a request for the recipe. Well here it is. Ice. Couple of shots of Campari. Fill up half the glass with IPA, then top off with a sparkling orange soda. I choose Foxton Fizz Cocktail as its vivid pink sparkling sweetness is the perfect foil for our bold, tropical IPA.

Why eating can help you with beer-drinking

Why not try beer with your food as a way of really appreciating the complexity and versatility of craft brews.

When we think food matching we tend to think of wine, but beer is even better I reckon! Especially for some dishes that don’t really have a traditional wine companion.

I’m thinking fish and chips. The carbonation and maltiness of an Amerian Pale Ale (APA) will cut through the fat and salt of deep fried potatoes and batter. The fruity notes will complement the light, white flakey fish.

I’m also thinking Indian curry. The bubbles of an IPA will clenase your palatte and allow the spiciness of a curry to really shine through. The hoppiness of this beer style will cut through the heat and spice and really intensify the experience.

Try it out for yourself at home, or look for restaurants that include beer, as well as wine, matchings on their menus.

Four craft beer acronyms you need to know

If you are reading this in Wellington you’ll no doubt have at least a passing familiarity with the language of central government. Even if you don’t you’ll at least have overheard you fellow commuters stringing together entire sentences of very nearly only acronyms. “Did you hear that the DCEs at MfE and DIA are sending the RISs for the LGA and RMA to DPMC?”*

Until recently that was me! Now I’m adventuring in the beer world I was not at all surprised to discover that craft beer has its very own set of three lettered abbreviations. You’ve probably heard a few of those too and might be wondering “what do all those acronyms stand for?” Here are four that you need to know. 

What’s the deal with IPAs?

craft beer bottles

IPA stands for Indian Pale Ale and refers to one of the most common beer styles. You’ll probably have seen IPAs on beer menus as just about any self-respecting brewery will have an IPA in their portfolio. 

IPAs have what beer nerds refer to as a “hoppy finish”. To the uninitiated this means you’ll notice quite a bitter taste which comes from, you guessed it, hops. Hops were after all the reason why IPAs came to exist. I discovered many versions of the IPA origin-story but the one that came up most frequently and, to be really honest, appealed to my romantic notions of the adventure of centuries past word travel. It goes like this…

When English brewers tried shipping their pale ales to troops stationed in India the beers did not survive the long, hot, and refrigeration-free trip. What the brewers needed was a preservative. So brewers added more hops. The beers not only lasted the journey, but tasted amazing as well.

Ok, then what about an APA?

American Pale Ale APA craft beer tap badge

APA also refers to a beer style, and if you’ve already spotted the pattern, its another pale ale. This time an American Pale Ale. The history of this beer is much more recent. Scene – the fledgling craft beer industry in the US, mid-1980s. Craft beer pioneers started creating traditional pale ales but using American-grown hops with their distinctive citrusy, and pine flavours. Other early leaders started dry hopping their pale ales. This basically means adding in extra hops after fermentation. And thus, the American Pale Ale, or APA as it affectionately became known, was born.

Side note – as both these styles have similar origins there tends to be quite a lot of overlap between IPAs and APAs. I’ve witnessed quite vehement discussions about whether a particular brew which holds out to be an IPA, is in fact an imposter and should be an APA. Intriguingly these discussions can get quite heated! 

Its also one of the most common questions I get from visitors to the cellar door – what is the difference between the APA and the IPA. With apologies to brewers and the more beer-articulate I also have a rather imperfect and somewhat simplistic stock answer. IPAs tend to be more hoppy (bitter) and APAs tend to be more fruity. IPAs also tend to be higher in alcohol. There, I told you it was imperfect and simplistic, but, in my opinion, it is also a good (enough) general guide.

Ah, and a nice lead in to our next definition…

What does ABV stand for?

ABV. Or alcohol by volume. It refers to the amount of alcohol (ethanol if you want to be precise) in a beer, or any alcoholic beverage. It is expressed as a percentage. You’ll definitely have seen ABVs on labels and tap badges as its an important component of both the taste, and, well, booziness of a beer. Its pretty simple really – the higher the percentage the more alcohol it contains. Beers tend to fall somewhere in between 3% and 13%. With most beers concentrated around 4-7%.

What the heck is an IBU? And does it matter anyway?

IBU. International Bittering Units. Not international beer units as one particularly insistent, self-proclaimed beer expert tried to mansplain to me once. He was in fact, so insistent, that I did have to go and double check. And that is how I know for sure that while B is for beer, belligerent and bloody-minded (oops I digress), in this instance B is for bittering.

craft beer bottles on bottling line

So, as you can deduce IBUs are a measure of the bitterness of a beer. The range starts at 0 and heads on upwards to mouth-puckering 100 plus. There are plenty of charts around if you want to geek out. [link]Some styles, such as Lambics are down the bottom with relatively low IBUs, with your super-hoppy double imperial IPAs heading off the charts. Your mainstream commercial lager is around 10 IBUs. Guiness is around 60.

Most sources I read were at pains to point out that IBUs are only a guide to how actually bitter a beer tastes. I discovered that this is because IBUs are a technical measure of the amount of isohumulone or iso-alpha acids in a given beer. Don’t worry this is not going to morph into a chemistry lesson – the last time I sat in a science class I was 15 years old! Bear with me for one more minute. Isohumulone is the stuff (see told you I’m not scientific!) that is in hops that make them and, subsequently, your beer bitter. But that is not the only factor that determines how bitter a beer actually tastes. According to the experts malt also plays a big part, and can basically mask bitterness. So a malty beer that has a high IBU might taste less bitter than a lower IBU, but less malty style.

Fun fact 1: Humans do not innately have an affinity for bitter tasting foods. Most sources seem to think this is because of some genetic, built-in defence against accident poisoning – lots of things that are poisonous taste bitter. But the good news is that we can train ourselves to increase the amount of bitterness we like. 

 Fun fact 2: Humans can’t discern IBUs above around 110. In other words something with an IBU of 110 will taste the same bitterness-wise as something with an IBU of 100. It’s all mouth-puckering when you get to that level!

*For those of you who’ve been just desperate to know here’s that imaginary sentence decoded. “The Deputy Chief Executives at the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Internal Affairs are sending the Regulatory Impact Statements for the Local Government Act and the Resource Management Act to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.”

Why you should drink craft beer from a glass

craft beer pouring in to a glass

Imagine this - It’s a hot day. You’re thirsty. You crack open a bottle of your favourite craft beer. The satisfying whoosh as the cap releases. The refreshing cool of the droplets glistening on the outside of the bottle. You bring it to your lips, tilt the bottle, and….

Wait, stop right there.

If you want to get the most out of your craft beer, please, please, please, don’t drink it straight out of the bottle. If you take the time to pour your beer into a glass, and to pour it properly, you’ll maximise your beer drinking experience.

Why? Well, the taste of a beer is only part of the enjoyment. We drink with all our senses. First our eyes, our noses, then our tastebuds. Even our ears come into play.

By pouring your craft beer into a glass first of all you’ll be able to appreciate the colour and clarity of the beer. Brewers have put a lot of thought into these aspects of a beer. It allows you to ask yourself questions – is this true to style, or is it not what you were anticipating. Is the colour what you were expecting?  Excellent examples of some beer styles are particularly recognised for being pristine and clear e.g. a pilsner, others are deliberately hazy e.g. an East Coast IPA. Either way you’ll want to get the full appreciation.

craft beer glass

By taking time to look closely you’ll also get some clues as to how the beer might taste. The texture and thickness of the head suggest how creamy the beer might be. The amount and vigour of visible bubbles will hint at the level of carbonation.

Turns out the bubbles are super important. The tiny bubbles are all releasing little puffs of delicious aromas from the hops and malts. Essential to the whole experience of tasting. The act of pouring also breaks up some of the carbon dioxide in the beer making it easier on your tummy. Yep, that’s right. If you drink straight out of the bottle the carbon dioxide will be released in your stomach. The result is that bloated feeling you can sometimes experience.

And last, but not least, just like your mother told you, it’s just good manners to use a glass!

Looking after your brewery-fresh beer

cellar door pouring beer.jpg

Congratulations! You are now the proud owner of a rigger of fresh craft beer. Now what? The obvious answer is to head home, down to the beach, or over to your mates and drink it. Straight away. Yum.

Sometimes that just isn’t possible (Mum turns up, the dog needs to be walked, or it’s your turn to drive the kids to netball) and you find yourself with an unopened vessel of beer.

You may be wondering how long will my rigger of fresh beer last? Well, that depends on how thirsty you are! Or how many friends you are sharing it with. Seriously now folks, we recommend enjoying your beer within one to two weeks, if you can wait that long.

If you know in advance that you want to keep a rigger for longer than that ask your local craft brewery if they are able to purge the container with carbon dioxide first. Some breweries can do this if they have the right equipment. The carbon dioxide minimises the amount of oxygen in the rigger. You definitely don’t want your beer to oxidise – according to the experts it will begin to taste like wet cardboard, or even sherry!

craft beer riggers at Tinker Tailor brewery

Once a rigger is opened it is best to consume it within a day or two to keep optimal carbonation and flavour.

You may also be wondering does my rigger of fresh beer need to be stored in the fridge? The short answer– YES.

The long answer - beer maintains its freshness when it is kept cold – ideally from the brewery right through to glass in your hand. This is especially important for beers with lots of hops in them so that you maintain that delicious well, hoppi-ness. Think IPAs and some APAs. If in doubt check with the team at your cellar door.

Does your beer have the X factor?

extra pale ale craft beer

Have you noticed that XPAs seem to be popping up everywhere? If you’re anything like us we couldn’t help but wonder what exactly does that X in XPA stand for?

It seems most people agree that the X in XPA stands for “extra”. But extra what is the real question? Is it extra pale? Or does the extra-ness refer to alcohol, flavour, or hops?

Depending on what school of thought you subscribe to you end up describing very different types of beers.

Here’s why we are definitely in the XPA is extra-pale Pale Ale camp!!

Delicate in colour, refreshing and easy to drink XPAs tend to be lower in alcohol making them great for enjoying at say a summer BBQ, or while you are hanging out with your mates watching cricket say.

The paler colour can be achieved by playing around with the grain bill– going lighter on the caramel and sweet malts, but still with plenty of hop flavour. The result in a crisper beer that leans towards a pilsner, but still with hoppiness of a Pale Ale.

Tinker Tailor XPA craft beer label

Quaffability is the aim. Reduce the alcohol but don’t sacrifice the flavour! An XPA normally sits around below the five per cent mark, making it possible to enjoy more than one. XPAs are a definite counter move away from “one-and-done” super hoppy offerings that demand all your attention.

An XPA is super versatile when it comes to food matching. A fine XPA pairs well with your favourite spicy Mexican dish, a simple grilled chicken salad, or even fries.

At Tinker Tailor, we’ve developed a fantastic XPA that’s a more session-able version of our popular American Pale Ale. Extra pale in colour, you'll love its fresh-crushed lime character. Combined with the white-wine fruitiness of honey dew melon and strawberry this is a perfect beer to drink on a slow relaxing day with your mates.

IPA secrets...uncovered!

IPA. India Pale Ale. It’s the favourite style on every craft beer lover’s list. Ever wondered more about exactly what an IPA is? Or, are you already one of the style’s devoted followers?

We’ve put together a list of fascinating facts about this ever-changing style with its characteristic bitterness, fascinating flavour possibilities, and awesome aromas.

hops for craft beer

1.     With an IPA its all about the hops. These magic green bullets are responsible for the making IPAs bitter and refreshing, produce the distinctive range of citrusy aromas, and make for interesting, and seemingly endless, fruity, flavour combinations.

2.     There is some dispute, and many stories, about how and why the IPA was invented. Indeed the development of the style reads like an international geography lesson – IPAs originated in England, for shipping to India, then to be reinvented and perfected on the West Coast of America.

The most popular theory is that when English brewers tried shipping their pale ales to troops stationed in India the beers did not survive the long, hot, and refrigeration-free trip. What the brewers needed was a preservative. So brewers added more hops. The beers not only lasted the journey, but tasted amazing as well.

3.     The almost cult-like obsession with IPAs makes it the most popular selling style of craft beer in the US at around eight per cent of sales. In New Zealand IPAs are the favourite of both professional judges, and drinkers alike. IPAs consistently win the top awards in craft beer competitions, and head up the lists of most highly-rated beers on forums such as Untappd and RateBeer.

4.     The IPA is so popular there is even a day dedicated to the style! The first Thursday in August is IPA day. Mark it in your calendar.

5.     IPAs are best served at between 10 and 13 degrees Celsius. Achieve this by leaving a bottle out of the fridge for a few minutes before consuming. If you can that is!

And don’t forget to serve in a specially designed IPA glass. Yep, you read that correctly. A team of beer and glass-making experts have teamed up to create a glass that enhances the aromas of IPA styled beers, complete with a wider opening so the drinker can “nose” the beer easily.

6.     This is the style brewers most like to experiment with. Complex and varied taste profiles are possible by mixing up the ingredients, and working that interplay between malt and hops. Brewers have also been known to add all sorts of additional ingredients to IPAs – everything from grapefruit and spices, to lychees and jalapenos!

IPA craft beer in a glass

7.     But mostly brewers, and beer lovers alike, like to experiment with hops. In fact, a whole new beer style was invented out of the quest for hoppier, stronger, more bitter, higher alcohol, and more aromatic IPAs. Pushing the boundaries has brought us the imperial, or double, IPA. High in hops, taste, and alcohol this style is not for the faint-hearted. If you are new to craft beer, it might take a while for your taste buds to deeply appreciate a truly bracing double IPA.

8.    That’s, right – the taste of an IPA is an acquired one. Bitterness is not a taste that we are hard-wired to like. From childhood we all love the taste of sweet, but you need to learn to like bitter. You need to give your taste buds time to recalibrate that bitter does not always equal bad.

9.      Kiwi brewers like experimenting with New Zealand grown hops, as well as the more traditional varieties from the Yakima region of America. So is this a new style – the NZPA? I’ll leave that up to you...

10.  IPAs work well when paired with strong, spicy foods. It is the classic for enjoying with a curry. Be warned though as the bitterness of hops tend to accentuate the chilli-ness of, well, chillies. You can also use the bitterness of an IPA to balance rich foods. Think bar snacks, fries, and burgers.

A beginner's guide to Märzen (or Oktoberfest) beer?

Have you been wondering what on earth a Märzen style beer is?

Marzen Oktoberfest craft beer in a glass

We certainly have, so we set out to find out all about this style of beer. Here’s what we discovered.

Märzen literally means “March”, or more specifically a German beer brewed in March. Oktoberfest, as you are no doubt aware, is the huge German beer festival held every autumn. Although interestingly usually in September, rather than October as the name would suggest.

So a Märzen (or Oktoberfest) style beer is one that is brewed at the end of winter (March in the northern hemisphere) for consumption months later at Oktoberfest.

Before there was refrigeration or sophisticated brewing equipment, making and storing beer over summer was a risky business. Once spring arrived wild yeasts made it harder to control fermentation. Warmer temperatures over summer could also spoil beers that had already been made. So German brewers basically took a sabbatical from about March through to September. Brewing stopped and the March beers (Märzens) were stored in cold caves. They lasted just long enough to be enjoyed through until September when Germans celebrate with gleeful mass consumption of the remaining beer, as well as the start of the new brewing season in the colder months.

Luckily these days you don’t need to wait to enjoy a Märzen. Although some breweries promote them as a seasonal offering, we reckon their versatility means they are great all year around.

Okay, but what does it taste like?

Märzens have a sweet, lightly-toasted maltiness, sometimes with a little hint of caramel. Hop flavours and aromas are usually very subtle. Not too dissimilar to a Vienna Lager we reckon. In fact Märzens, Oktoberfest beers, and Vienna Lagers are often collectively thought of as belonging to the same small family of European, amber lagers. As the title suggests these beers are red, amber, or copper in colour.

Marzen Oktoberfest craft beer and food

But wait, there’s more

As well as common characteristics Vienna Lagers and Märzens also share a common history. Read about the intriguing scullduggery that links these two beers styles together.

Similar to a Vienna Lager, the maltiness of a Märzen pairs well with grilled, or roasted meats. The toasty flavours these methods of cooking bring out perfectly complement the malt-forward flavour of a Märzen. Or, for the full Oktoberfest experience, pair with traditional accompaniments such as soft pretzels, crumbed pork schnitzel, or a selection of German sausages (with sauerkraut of course!)

Why your next favourite beer will be an American Brown Ale

You’re probably familiar with IPAs and APAs but have you heard of an ABA? The latest craft beer acronym to hit town, ABAs or American Brown Ales, are a hot topic of conversation amongst brewers and beer drinkers alike.

On the one hand there’s those who think  American Brown Ales are unfashionable and uninteresting. Perhaps it’s something to do with the name – let’s face it describing a beer simply by reference to its colour, particularly when that colour is so well, unfashionable and uninteresting, makes it easy to overlook brown ales in favour of more exotic sounding brews.

American brown ale craft beer in a glass

One (anonymous!) blogger even went so far as to rather uncharitably claim that ABAs “only really excite people who watch Coronation Street.”

However, in our opinion, an ABA is actually one of the most exciting, and timeless styles out there.

ABAs are subtle, rather than flamboyant - malty, smooth, satisfying, and full of flavour. Most of the flavour of an ABA comes from the malt. Depending on the brewer’s choices you might get toasty, roasty, malty, or caramel tastes. Some even have a hint of chocolate. The balance between malt and hops is also important in an American Brown Ale – even in the hoppier examples. ABAs emphasise the malty centre of the beer, rather than the hops.

Yep, you read that right – malt flavour over hop flavour. In a world full of hoppier and hoppier IPAs, an ABA is (literally) a refreshing taste.

So there’s lots to love about tasting an ABA. Brewers also love brown ales. In America, brewers judge other brewers’ skill by the quality of their ABA. In the words of one of Tinker Tailor’s brewers, who hails from the US of A “there’s nothing to hide behind when making a brown ale. The style is a celebration of good beer and good brewing.”

Another thing that’s great about ABAs is their versatility. As well as being an all-season kind of a style, an American Brown also works well with most foods. So if you are ever unsure about what beer to serve with a meal pick an ABA and you won’t go wrong. The caramel roastiness and substantial mouthfeel make it a good match for things like char grilled kumara (sweet potato) or a barbequed steak. Or try contrasting an aged cheese with the sweetness of an ABA.

American brown ale craft beer and food

An ABA won’t knock your socks off with hoppiness like a strong IPA, nor will it be as astringent as a dark beer. Not too roasty, not too hoppy but just right. American Brown Ales are very drinkable beers with lots of character suitable for anyone who enjoys flavour and maltiness.

As beer drinkers, and breweries, look to expand their horizons beyond a repertoire of IPAs, we here at Tinker Tailor predict a renaissance for the humble American Brown Ale.

Why we love Vienna Lagers (and you should too!)

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a craft beer that combined the flavour of an ale with the crispness of a lager?

Vienna Lager craft beer Tinker Tailor bottle

Turns out a beer style from almost 200 years ago is just what we are after. We’ll show you why we love Vienna Lagers and you should too.

Take an English-style, ale-malt making process, and combine it with the German lager-brewing technique – you've created the Vienna Lager. This traditional European-style beer may just be original mash- up!

"But its red..."

The first thing you’ll notice about a Vienna Lager is its gorgeous colour. Amber-red, almost chestnut, and beautifully clear.

“Hang on a minute” you’ll say as your brain does a bit of a flip-flop. “How can a beer that calls itself a lager be so dark? This isn’t what a lager should look like.”

But I can assure you - you haven’t been poured the wrong beer! The red colour is the result of a unique malting process that dates back to the 1800s. Vienna Lagers share a common history with the perhaps more widely known Märzen (or Oktoberfest) beer style.

The best part about a Vienna Lager?

It’s a great, easy-drinking style, usually around five percent alcohol. Malty, rather than hoppy, the flavours are delicate, caramelly, but with a complex toastiness. All delivered in a lovely, crisp, clean lager. Not too bitter, not too sweet. Just right we reckon.

That’s not all.

Vienna Lagers are a great food matching choice. The malty sweetness pairs superbly with all kinds of grilled meats – why not try a Vienna with a beef burger. Barbequed vegetables are also a great choice. Or honour its European heritage by serving it up with bratwurst and mustard.