You may already have a favorite drink – wine, whiskey, gin & tonic – or you don’t even have one of those, but you know you’d like to try out beer and don’t want to proceed blindly. You’ve come to the right place. Having a favorite drink will allow you to have a sort of starting point with this guide, but you won’t need one to confidently apply these tips the next time you choose a beer.
Great Tips for Beer Beginners
On light-colored beer.
I feel like it’s easy to say “I don’t know beer, give me that pale one, it looks unassuming” when you’re starting out. Many pale beers are often very light in flavor too, though. So, if you mean to drink a beer that catches your attention, that’s not the way to go. If you only wanted something flavorless, cold, fizzy, and refreshing, I’d tell you there’s plenty of carbonated water to go around.
When it comes to hop bitterness (I specified bitterness instead of just “hops”, because, as you’ll learn, hops do a whole lot more than just bittering), it’s best to start on the maltier side of the spectrum. You can move toward hoppier things, finding your edge as you go. I just don’t want you do grab onto a Double IPA to start and assume all beer has hop bitterness that kicks you in the teeth. Pilsners and Lagers can be a great place to start as their IBUs (International Bitterness Units) tend to fall around 26-45 – around the middle of the road. If you are already confident that bitterness will not appeal to you, Brown Ales are an excellent choice. Brown Ales taste of roasted nuts and buttery caramel. They’re malt-forward so you won’t be wincing at bitterness.
On starter beer styles.
Pilsners are also a great place to start because their subtle, biscuit-like flavor is approachable for beer fans and newbies alike. I would also say that Hefeweizens are an excellent starter, but their creamy, sweet, banana and clove flavor can be a turn off for folks without a sweet tooth when it comes to their drinks. German and Belgian wheat beers serve well as starters because the yeast and unique spices in them leave the greatest impression, instead of an intense hop flavor or roasted malt – in that regard they are not typically “beer-y.”
On alcohol by volume.
ABV is another factor when first trying out beer that can deter people if it’s too overwhelming at first sip. ABV is tricky because not every beer with high ABV tastes “boozy,” so it might creep up on you. The only real reason I caution against a particularly alcohol-heavy beer to start is that many will begin to numb your mouth and tongue a bit. If you’re just getting acquainted with beer, you might not be keen on this tingling and numbing sensation to start.
The Non-beer to Beer Guide
If your usual drink of choice is…
- Those who prefer a full-bodied red will do well with a Flanders Red Ale or Lambic, these two sour ales have the acidity and dark fruit flavors (cherries, plums, raspberry, prunes) of a red wine.
- The dried fruit and malty sweet flavors of a Trappist Dubbel are also sure to suit the palate of a red wine drinker.
- Red wines occasionally have a dark fruit and coffee flavor, and for those who enjoy that roasted coffee taste, a dry Stout or Doppelbock is a smart choice. Those who like a sweet coffee flavor should go with a Milk Stout, which has more of a silky latte taste to it.
- Those who love the lightness and acidity of white wine will find something similar in tart, fruity Lambics and sour beers/Wild Ales, like a Berliner Weisse.
- Wine drinkers who enjoy the clean, crisp, and slightly fruity flavors of a white wine will enjoy the delicate balance of a Kölsch.
- Fruit notes like pear or Meyer lemon can often be found in Saisons, which roughly resemble a Sauvignon Blanc. Their unique yeast brings a tartness which cider and wine drinkers will find familiar and appealing.
- Belgian Tripels and Strong Golden Ales also boast a spicy and fruity character fit for white wine fans.
- The dryness and light spice of a Belgian Witbier or Saison are sure to please a cider drinker.
- For something bright and playful, cider fans can also try out a Radler – a Bavarian beer cocktail that is 50/50 beer and citrus soda (often lemon or grapefruit).
- Barrel-aged beers are a great start for a whiskey drinker. Sipping beers, like bourbon-barrel aged stouts, will carry the warmth and smoothness that Whiskey drinkers favor.
- Tart and salty German Gose is a smart starter beer for Gin drinkers, as citrus peels and coriander seed serve as aromatics for both drinks.
- The lightly sour, but mostly fruity flavor of a Lambic will keep the transition from sweet, fruity mixed drinks to beer pleasant for any cocktail fan. Framboise (raspberry) Lambic especially is a great beer to start with.