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.