beer styles

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.

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.

A short history of the Vienna Lager

Once upon a time there was a brewer

Anton Dreyer, who inherited a brewery when he was just 10 years old, is the brainchild behind the Vienna Lager. In the 1820s Anton was travelling Europe on what was officially a kind of apprenticeship, but sounds suspiciously like a years-long brewery crawl.

Along the way Anton met up with another young brewer, Gabriel Sadlayer, and they joined forces and headed off to England. Remember, that in this period of brewing history, English brewers were all about creating ales, while in the German-speaking countries in Europe, it was all about lagers. Also at the time, a new technology was emerging in England. Instead of using direct heat to to dry malts, brewers were experimenting with using dry air.

Why does this matter?

More control over the colour of the malts means less ‘smokiness’, and gentler, more subtle, delicate malts.

What happened next?

Anton and Gabriel proceeded to steal samples of their hosts’ malt in canisters they had designed especially for the task. Gabriel is reported to have said “It always surprises me that we can get away with these thefts without being beaten up.”

Anton and Gabriel survived, apparently scot-free, and headed back to their respective breweries, in their respective hometowns (Vienna and Munich).

Gabriel used this contraband to create a Munich malt resulting in the creation of style we know now as Märzen or Oktoberfest. That’s a another story for another day, so for now, we will say auf wiedersehen to Gabriel.

Back in Vienna...

Now at the helm of the Klein-Schwechat Brewery, Anton continued to experiment with the English way of kilning and created a slightly caramelised amber malt that he christened Vienna Malt. He combined that with traditional German lager yeast and in 1841 the Vienna Lager was born.

For about 60 years the Vienna Lager was popular, and gold-medal-winning, in Austria and other parts of Europe. Then it mysteriously disappeared completely after World War I. No one really knows why.

But don’t worry

In the early 20th century the style popped up again in Mexico. Yes, Mexico! Far from its European origins, the style was lovingly nurtured by Austrian brewers that immigrated to central America. Using local ingredients such as corn, the Mexican version is considered to be more robust than the original, but just as delicious. You’ll probably even heard of some of the more popular examples such as Negro Modelo and Dos Equis Amber.   

That’s not the end of the story

As these beers were exported across the border Vienna Lagers were quickly embraced by pioneers in the US craft beer industry. These days hundreds of American craft breweries, including big names such as Samuel Adams, Sierra Nevada and The Boston Beer Company all have a Vienna Lager on their books.

And in New Zealand a small number of craft brewers, including the team here at Tinker Tailor are spearheading the Kiwi-comeback of the Vienna Lager.

Vienna Lager craft beer in a glass

What is a Porter and how is it different to a Stout?

craft beer porter or stout in a glass

A Porter is traditionally a dark style of beer, developed in London, made from brown malt and usually well-hopped. Apparently the name Porter was first recorded in the 18th century and is thought to come from its popularity with street and river porters. One reference from 1802 claims that the beer was “very suitable for porters and other working people”. Whatever that stereotypical statement implies!

So what's the difference between a Porter and a Stout?

The short answer is there isn’t one.

While it is possible that historically there may have been some difference, no one seems to be able to agree what that was, or is. Some suggest a stout was simply a stronger version of a Porter. Some say that Stouts traditionally contained roasted barley. Some hypothesize a difference in the type of speciality malt used.

It looks like we can safely conclude that the names are used interchangeably now days. But, hey, if you’ve got some further insights, or just like studying old beer recipes, then let us know.