beer cocktails

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.

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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.

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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.

Shandy – the easiest, most refreshing beer cocktail ever!

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Is there anything more refreshing than an ice-cold lager on a hot day?

Yep! How about an ice-cold shandy instead? We promise this super-simple beer cocktail will have your tastebuds tingling in no time at all.

A shandy is the easiest mixed drink ever to make. Just two ingredients. Beer and lemonade. In equal parts. That’s it! 

Its simplicity is what makes a shandy both so delicious and so versatile.

Four steps to a perfect shandy.

1.    Take a bottle of your favourite beer. A lager is your traditional choice.

2.    Half fill a glass. Any glass will do.

3.    Top up with lemonade. That’s the soft drink, carbonated, fizzy soda type of lemonade.

4.    Enjoy! 

Did you know that shandy has different names depending on whereabouts in the world it is served?

In Germany you would order a “radler” - literally meaning “cyclist” in German. The refreshing mix of lager and lemonade is a popular refreshment for hot and sweaty cyclists.

In France, Switzerland and Belgium a shandy is know as a panache (pronounced pan-a-CHAY). It’s simply French for “mixed”. Self-explanatory but, as with most things French, sounds sophisticated and rather gourmet.

Twice as good - Tinker your shandy

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If you’re like us at Tinker Tailor you’ll want everything to be twice as good. So naturally we recommend you try two versions of a shandy. One Tinker-ed and one Tailor-ed! 

Your Tailor-ed shandy is classic and refined. Take our refreshingly crisp Lager and simply add the best lemonade you can find (we recommend Foxton Fizz). And that’s it.

For your more Tinker-ed, slightly experimental version you’ll love to use our Vienna Lager. A Vienna Lager is not your typical lager and it makes for an amazing shandy. Firstly, you get to admire the glorious red-copper colour that is characteristic of this style of beer. And secondly, the malty flavour of a Vienna Lager combines perfectly with the sweetness of lemonade. Add a slice of whatever citrus takes your fancy to the side of the glass for a jaunty garnish. 

Four more ways to pimp up your shandy

Now you’ve got a shandy in your hand you’ll probably start thinking about ways to change it up a bit. To Tinker with it!

The beauty of making your own shandy (or any beer cocktail really) is that you are in total control of the end result. A little bit more or less of either of the key ingredients, or changing or adding ingredients and you’ve created a drink custom-designed for your tastebuds.

Here are a few of our favourite variations:

Change the ratio 1

For a lighter, sweeter and even lower alcohol version try adjusting less beer and more soda. 25:75 works really well. Or maybe even just a splash of beer in the top of a tall glass of lemonade. Known in the Netherlands as sneeuwwitje (snow white) for the white, foamy top the beer creates.

Change the ratio 2

If you want your shandy to be more beer-y you simply, (you guessed it!) increase the amount of beer. Congratulations you’ve created what is referred to in England, Scotland and Wales as a lager-top.

Go more alcoholic

Give your classic shandy a bit of a kick by adding a shot (or two) of spirits. With a dash of Grenadine we’ve made a Biere Monaco. Or why not try a Southern Shandy by adding a shot of peach brandy. My personal favourite is a Campari Shandy. Just as it suggests – with a wee tipple of Campari and a wedge of lime.  

Change the mixer

Lemonade is the traditional soda of choice for a lager, but why not experiment with ginger beer or ginger ale to create a Shandygaff (another name for a ginger shandy). Use cola as the mix to create a Colabier or Diesel (with or without a shot of whiskey!) Add a nip of blackcurrant cordial for a bitter, sweet and tart concoction.

That should give you plenty of inspiration.

Remember you can always keep it really easy by going back to the tried and true, original shandy.  

Half beer. Half lemonade. Twice as good!