How To Talk About Beer (Like a Pro)

I’ve been busy. Like, really really busy. In the midst of tasting 20-40 new craft beers for work every week, I sip, I research, I reflect, I discuss, and I write. It’s fun and challenging, and best of all, I’m learning A TON about beer. This routine has also led me to ask: What brewery merits and specific beer highlights excite beer drinkers? What makes us pause for another sip of that hazy IPA, or read another sentence about an unconventional brewing process, or embark on an exploratory brewery venture?

With so many craft beer options, we can tailor our drinking experiences to suit our tastes, moods, location, and whomever we’re drinking with. And it’s helpful to know how to speak each person’s beer language. Those of us who imbibe regularly are likely to gravitate toward a certain style. Forced to order quickly, there’s one go-to style at the top of our list – and how you talk to a Sour Ale fan can be quite different from discussing IPAs with a hophead. So, let’s break it down. Here are my cut-and-dry observations about what excites beer drinkers, and how it varies across some of the main beer styles.

IPA – It’s all about hoppiness for IPA fans. Are the hops imparting citrus, tropical, or grassy notes? Is it fruitier or more dank? We pay attention to IBU (international bitterness units) and hop varietals. Is it a hazy IPA with Mosaic hops, a piney West Coast-style IPA, a bright session IPA, or an imperial IPA bitterbomb? We find it fascinating to talk about the difference between dry-hopping versus wet-hopping versus cryogenic-hopping (yup, Cryo Hops are a thing, look it up!). 

Sour Ale / Wild Ale – Sour and Wild Ale fans go crazy for pucker power. Talk to us about the kind of yeast in a beer – is it Brettanomyces, Saccharomyces, or an in-house strain? How intense is the funk factor? The acidity? If it’s Wild, what region is the beer from and what’s specific about the terroir? Is the brewery known for their Sour beers or are they just starting out?

Dark Beer (Porter, Stout) – Malty malt, all day long. With specialty malts finally gaining popularity, Dark Beer fans want to talk about malt blends and where the grains were grown. Does that Winter Warmer use actual chocolate or chocolate malts? Is that rye spice we taste? Were the malts processed locally? And we cannot overlook the importance of mouthfeel for the Stout and Porter-inclined. Is it silky, thick, dry, warming? Is it like sipping a luxuriant tiramisu dessert or more like cozying up by a smoky campfire?

Light Beer (Pilsner, Lager) – Give it to us crisp or not at all. An easy-drinking, refreshing body is essential for light beer lovers, but that doesn’t mean flavor falls by the wayside. Think biscuity, bready flavors, notes of lemon and honey. We want to talk about the brewery’s lagering process, how fresh the beer is, and whether the ABV is mellow enough to throw back a few pints while we mow the lawn or paddle down a river. Adventure beer junkies, I’m lookin’ at you.

Fruit Beer – Grapefruit, passionfruit, berries, plums – you name it, there’s probably a craft brewery adding it to their beer. I’m not talking about impaling an orange wedge on the side of a pint glass. Brewers add bushels of real fruit during fermentation to extract the maximum juicy flavors, infusing complimentary nuances without overpowering the beer’s beery-ness. As Fruit Beer aficionados, we want to talk about how much fruit was added to the boil and if the brewery uses the whole fruits or just the juice. Do they have a special partnership with a local farm? Do they zest the mandarins and pit the cherries in-house?

Macro Beer – I was ready to write something mean, some dis on Macro beer drinkers like, they only care about what’s cheapest at the 7-Eleven. But I don’t think that’s entirely true. So many craft breweries have been acquired by Big Beer conglomerates, some folks just want to keep drinking that Ballast Point Sculpin or Lagunitas IPA they love. For them, if the quality is good, it doesn’t really matter who brews the beer. If you know people who fall under this category, talk to them about their purchasing power. Supporting indie craft beer often means you’re supporting small businesses, creativity, and innovation. There’s also something so cool about visiting your neighborhood brewery and talking to the brewmaster about his/her passion for beer. Their enthusiasm is so contagious, sometimes they can even convert a Macro beer drinker into a craft beer geek.

This list is a work in progress, so please add your comments below!


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