You drink Bud Light. Always have, always will. Or maybe it’s wine. You have studied the varietals, contemplated the years and developed a sophisticated palette. You tell yourself that craft beer is not your thing. It is a fad…that you like to stick with what you know.
But in Southern California, craft beer is as ubiquitous as the sunshine. No matter how determined you are to remain loyal to your drink of choice, you admit you are intrigued. The names on the beer taps grab your attention. They are titillating, whimsical and sometimes daring.
Giving into temptation, you decide to order a craft beer and take that first sip. But with so many to choose from, where do you even begin?
Jeff Kiser, an award winning home-brewer and graduate of the University of California San Diego’s brewing program, said newcomers should look at two things. First, consider the International Bitterness Unit, or IBU, which measures the bitterness of a beer on a scale of zero to 100 and sometimes beyond. A beer gets its bitterness from the hops that are used in the brewing process, Kiser explained, meaning that hoppy beers like IPAs, Double or even Triple IPAs will have an especially bitter bite to them. For the unaccustomed beer drinker, Kiser recommends trying a lighter ale, pilsner or wheat beer with a low IBU measurement as a starting point and going from there.
The second thing to look for is the alcohol by volume, or ABV, measurement. Most domestic beers have ABV measurements that hover between 4 and 6 percent, for example.
“You want to get closer to something you have tried, and you only want to step up a slight bit to something that is maybe 5.5 or 6.5 percent range,” Kiser said. “Most breweries are going to have their starting beers around that range, but a lot of their beers go way past that at some point.”
Looking at a beer menu, you can narrow down the list of beers you want to try by the IBU and ABV measurements, but what about those strange notes and aromas following the beer names? One beer is described as floral and juicy. Another is described as citrusy and tropical. There is even a beer described as dank. This is simply a brewer’s way of describing the types of aroma hops used to give a beer flavor, Kiser said.
“Everyone has a different palette, some people may be more curious and willing to try out something new” said Ben Fairweather, president of Culver Beer Co.
As more people are introduced to the craft beer world, breweries are recognizing the need for basic consumer education. At Culver Beer Co., for example, beers are color-coded on the brewery’s tasting room menu, helping customers find beers they may like. Ale Houses like 83 Degrees in the Village update their selection “chalkboard” daily and as kegs run out or “blow”.
If you do not want to commit to drinking full pint on your first order, most bars will understand. Simply ask for a sample or two to test out your taste buds, Kiser said. Alternatively, you can order a flight of beer, which is a sampling of several beers of your choosing.
San Diego County is home to some of the world’s best breweries. With Kiser’s tips, you can enter any one of their tasting rooms and find something to your liking. Have a conversation with the person behind the bar, ask them questions and let them draw you in to the world of craft beer.
Who knows, you may end up becoming a craft beer connoisseur yourself.