Sunday, March 25, 2012

If you like Blue Moon you may also like...

For many people, beers like Blue Moon are their introduction to craft beer. Beer snobs will gnash their teeth and point out that Blue Moon is not a real craft beer (which is true, it's actually made by Coors), but I say, so what? The important thing is that these folks have opened up to beers with more flavor than Coors Light or Bud Light or whatever. They obviously realize beer can taste like more than carbonated malt, and they like that idea. That's great! So what do you try next if you've had and enjoyed Blue Moon?

It's not as easy as "have some Arrogant Bastard!" You may think you're an awesome craft beer dude who knows the best beers there are, but chances are your friend/relative/whoever will hate the intense new craft beer you're trying to introduce them to. As I've argued before, most people are bad at making recommendations. If Blue Moon is someone's gateway beer, you can lead them further into excellent craft beer with some well-chosen recommendations. Here are my suggestions (tailored towards beers available in the Northeast):

  • Allagash White - Same basic style as Blue Moon (Belgian-style witbier), but not as sweet, with a rich bready banana aroma. Also one of the best witbiers out there. This is a top-shelf beer. You can serve it with orange like Blue Moon, but I wouldn't recommend it.
  • Harpoon UFO Raspberry Hefeweizen - Personally I'm not a huge fan (heck, I've brewed better), but someone who likes Blue Moon may enjoy this fruit-fueled hefe, a style nicely comparable with witbiers. It's a pleasant drinking beer with nice fruit overtones.
  • Sierra Nevada Kellerweis - A light-but-tasty hefe that only has a mild yeasty taste; quite refreshing. Can be served with orange, if you're into that, but drinks nicely on its own. Great bridge from Blue Moon to better craft beers. This is an amazing early summer beer.
  • Samuel Adams Blackberry Witbier - A fruity witbier. The blackberries are front and center; it drinks dry for the style, though (which is to say, it's "crisp"). Not among their best, but it may be appropriate for the taste of someone who enjoys Blue Moon, which is fruitier than you'd expect for the style. (This can also be swapped out for Sam Adams' Coastal Wheat, a pretty basic but nice drinking wheat beer).
  • Southhampton Double White - A knock-you-on-your-ass beer compared to Blue Moon, this is a higher alcohol than usual witbier with lots of flavor (6.7% ABV compared to Blue Moon's 5.4%). It might be too "heavy" for someone who swears by Blue Moon, but it's worth trying if they appear ready to plunge into bigger bears. Similar aroma, less citrus-sweetness, but in the same general style ballpark.
  • Magic Hat #9 - I'm also not a fan of this one, but Blue Moon fans may be. It's an apricot-centric pale ale that a lot of people really enjoy, especially during the warmer weather. It's widely enjoyed by beer people everywhere. This is worth trying if Blue Moon introduced you to craft beer. (As an alternate, swap in Leinenkugel's Sunset Wheat.)

Most of these will win you no major beer snob awards, but who the hell cares? The most important thing is that at least one or two will hit the spot for folks who got introduced to better beer via Blue Moon.


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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Quick Sips: Founders Centennial IPA

Michigan may have given us Detroit, Kid Rock, and Davie Coulier, but they've more than made up for those sins with Christie Brinkley, Col. Potter from M.A.S.H., and Founders Brewing Company, for my money one of the better widely available breweries operating today.

Centennial IPA is their flagship IPA, single-hopped with Centennial hops (duh) for a distinct, clean-but-potent bitterness. I've posted before about hops, and have even posted about some single-hop beers. This beer is one of the better showcases of using a single hop instead of the traditional two-to-four hops used in most beers. (Interestingly, Two-Hearted Ale the flagship beer of Founders' Michigan neighbors, Bell's Beer, is also single-hopped with Centennial.)

The nose on the Founders give you a nice, floral burst of pine. It's not pungent and resiny, it's crisp, dry and clean. A medium body and subdued malts mean the hops take center stage. The beer is strongly bitter. Folks who don't like hoppy beers will be put off by this one. Those who do should enjoy it.

I wouldn't call this an essential pickup. Founders does better beers. But anyone who enjoys a good IPA is likely to enjoy this one.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Quick Sips: Sixpoint Resin double IPA

Want to be punched in the face with pungent hops? Look no further than Resin, a double IPA from New York's Sixpoint brewery.

Hopheads will love this beer. The aroma is all earthy, heavy pines, very damp and musty. You could roll this smell up and smoke it, that's how pungent it is. The taste is a blast of bitter, bitter hops laden with forest pine. Your mouth is so flooded with cleansing hops it feels like mouthwash (in a good way). Let me say again, hopheads will LOVE this.

And holy crap, this beer is 9.1% ABV? You would never know. I've had many Double IPAs, but few that have masked their alcohol content as well as this. It is so well-hidden it's scary. The malt backbone avoids being sticky sweet like you'll find in many double IPAs, but has a nice, full body that works well with all that hopping. Frighteningly well-balanced and drinkable.

For fans of the style, I can't recommend this beer enough. It's one of the best double IPAs I've had in some time. Seek it out. You'll be glad you did.

Friday, March 2, 2012

How to make great recommendations

Everyone who loves great beer wants other people to love great beer, too. Well, not counting beer snobs who want to keep great beer their little secret so they can lord their superior knowledge over others. But those ridiculous types are for another post...

Anyway, let's say you enjoy better beer but can't seem to sway your friends and family. Hey, it happens. Most Americans know beer as fizzy yellow swill that usually comes in cans. Most don't realize what a varied, amazing beverage it can be, and balk at anything outside the norm. Hard to shake away many years of training in that regard.

So how to convince them?

The trick is, you can't force it. All you can do is introduce people to beers they otherwise wouldn't drink on their own and see what clicks. I try not to push people, I merely offer what I have available and let them try what they want. No, "try this imperial stout!" Rather, "are you interested in a taste?" I don't say, "come into this house of beer," I say, "the door is unlocked if you want to come in; enter at your leisure."

That's because most people don't like things pushed on them, nor do they like to feel as if they're being "instructed." Think about it: What adult wants to be "taught" (which is what it often feels like) by another adult?

But if you merely make clear that your great beers are available for them to try whenever they want, checking out an array of great craft beers becomes THEIR idea. It's THEIR choice. And that's a LOT more powerful and will leave a MUCH bigger impression on them.

So don't be obnoxious. Don't comment on someone else's beer and don't ramble on and on about yours. If someone shows interest, take it from there. Otherwise, shut the hell up.

Beer pornography

The other thing to remember is that most people are bad at making recommendations. They really are. You see this all the time on Internet message boards. People recommend the beers they like, not the beers the person in question might like.

"If I like X, they will like X, too!"

It doesn't work that way. What you want is to gauge the other person's tastes. What sort of drinks appeal to them? Why? And what do they dislike? Okay, so we know what they like and don't. What beers have some the characteristics of what they like and none of what they don't, and further, what have them in an approachable way? Or maybe this person likes aggressive foods and drinks, so you don't want approachable, you want eye-opening and challenging.

Obviously it's an art, not a science.

But some basic common sense applies, as well as some experience understanding the variety of flavors beer can offer. If the person thinks a given beer is too bitter and it's not actually a bitter beer compared to other common beers out there -- maybe they think Sierra Nevada Pale Ale is way too bitter -- recommending an IPA would be stupid even if you think it's the best IPA ever. If they enjoy a Blue Moon, you don't hand them an Old Rasputin, you recommend witbiers that don't rely on a slice of orange for taste (Allagash White, etc.). If they enjoy the harsh bitterness of an IPA, don't start wandering the roads of Belgium; show them more hoppy beers! If someone likes the roasted coffee aspect of an entry-level stout like Guinness, you don't show them a hop bomb Pliny the Elder. Duh.

Yet so many people do this! They insist on recommending what THEY like rather than what the other person may like. That's a shitty way of getting people into beer. Show people high quality beers that feature the tastes they already like and expand from there.

When it comes to making recommendations, I've found that there is no one sure thing beer to recommend to people. No set route into craft beer and no formula to getting people into it. It's going to vary wildly depending on the individual. I've known some people whose entry into craft beer was bold IPAs, others who took the slow route of comfortable wheats and wits, some who needed the offbeat experiments of Dogfish Head to have their eyes opened, and a recent guy who went from MGD64 right to Trappist ales practically overnight, recommendations based largely on what other beverages he liked and why. In that case, I even took his taste in cigars into consideration, knowing he preferred Earthy, musty cigars with hints of soft wood over cigars with a sharp, bright bite to them.

None of that matters. What matters is, know your friend well and let who he or she is guide your recommendations. Their likes come before the beer, not the other way around.

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