Choosing The Perfect Craft Beer — A Guide For The Perplexed

By:
jtrapani@hushmail.com

Buying beer used to involve as much choice as shopping in a Soviet supermarket, and Budweiser and Miller loved it that xy. But these days, with the explosion in craft beer, the selection is overwhelming. Choosing a beer can be stressful enough to drive you to drink! Here are suggestions to help you find the right beer.

Style
Scientists recently concluded that the number of craft beer variations exceeds the number of atoms in the universe. There are more seasonal pumpkin ales alone than there are people in China. Not to mention more dubbels and tripels than in major league baseball, more porters than Stanley and Livingstone ever had, and more stouts than you can find in the food court at the Mall of America. If you’re stumped by the variety, ask the clerk for help. Through his smirk, he’ll happily recommend his favorite IPA, which retails for the bargain price of $18.99 for a four-pack. Enjoy. Note that after two sips you’re already hungover. Don’t worry — the heart palpitations will cease within 36 hours.

Taste
Beer taste is described by International Bittering Units. Don’t confuse IBUs with IOUs, IUDs or IBS, though too many of the first can certainly lead to the others. Think of IBUs as the beer metric system. And just like the metric system, no one understands it. Here’s the truth: remember the Hall of Justice from the Superfriends? It was based on IBU Headquarters, located in The Hague. Inside, in a secret room, sit a dour red-faced German in lederhosen, an Irishman bearing an uncanny resemblance to the Notre Dame mascot, and a smug bearded hipster from Brooklyn. After tasting each beer, they hold up cards with scores scrawled in magic marker, like judges at a local figure skating competition. The average score, multiplied by a closely guarded proprietary factor, becomes that beer’s IBUs. I hope this explanation helps!

Strength
The alcohol by volume of most beers is in the five to six percent range. But lately there’s been a trend toward stronger beers, with some beasts clocking in with double digits. Look out for these super-strong beers. It’s cheaper to guzzle a bottle of Popov, and the results will be pretty much the same.

Color
This one’s a nonstarter when you’re at the store. Unless you’ve got x-ray vision. Duh.

Learn More Online
If you’re still flummoxed, pull out your phone and check out a site like BeerAdvocate.com. Every beer you might conceivably buy has been rated by dozens of proud beer snobs — people who, if you met them in real life, you’d want to punch in the face. You’ll learn in excruciating detail about their beer-drinking experiences: the ambient latitude, longitude, altitude, barometric pressure and temperature to the nearest tenth of a degree Kelvin, what type of glass they drank from, what they had for lunch beforehand and the last time they got laid. They’ll also discuss features like “mouthfeel,” “palate” and “nose.” And provide narrative descriptions like “Tastes of strong spicy hops, slight pale caramel malt, clove, grassy citrusy sour, floral pine, hint of shoe polish.” It’s like Proust let loose in a brewery!

Visit a Brewery
Speaking of breweries, if you’re interested in exploring craft beer more deeply, you may wish to visit one. Simply head to the farthest corner of the bleakest, most godforsaken industrial area of your city and there, between the lead paint plant and the parking lot for municipal garbage trucks, you’ll no doubt find a brewery. Try as many of their 17 varieties of IPA as you like while sitting on a backless wooden bench and listening to the owners — two twenty-something guys with handlebar mustaches and tattoos on their calves — engage in a heated discussion about whether it’s better to utilize the rest of their rented space for hide tanning or manufacturing crystal meth precursor chemicals. Upon inquiring, learn that each month, on the first day of the waxing gibbous moon, a food truck from which you can buy raspberry crepes parks outside the brewery from 3:00 to 3:45 pm; besides this, there’s nothing to eat within three miles. Enjoy your experience at the brewery. Then go home and remain in bed for the next week until your massive headache dissipates.

Label Artwork
If you’re getting desperate, pick a beer based on label artwork. Looking at craft beer labels is reminiscent of browsing the heavy metal section of Tower Records circa 1982. Some breweries clearly spend more on art than on quality control. An experienced craft beer drinker can tell a bottle of Rogue from a bottle of Ballast Point at a distance of 50 yards. Each brewery has a distinctive style. 21st Amendment brewery, for example, is known for line drawings depicting scenes from American history. Uinta brewery, in Salt Lake City, uses western landscapes. Flying Dog’s bottles appear to have been drawn by Berkeley Breathed on peyote. Don’t worry about what’s inside — just pick whichever one you think would enhance the feng shui of your fridge.

Making Your Final Selection
If none of this helps, here’s a last-ditch solution. Head to the back of the store. Keep going. Farther! There, in the last refrigerator case. At the bottom. No, not the spring-themed cherry gose that’s somehow still sitting around a week before Thanksgiving. Behind it. There you go: a clear winner. Ignore the clerk’s raised eyebrows as you pay.

Enjoy your Bud Light.

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