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!


Seattle Growler Fills

Flying Bike Brewery Growlers

Photo by Will Foster @wfstr

Draft beer almost always tastes better than bottled or canned beer.* It’s fresher and hasn’t been exposed to heat, light, or oxygen—elements that can have a major negative impact on the beer’s taste and aroma. Despite the superiority of draft, we don’t always feel like going out for a pint. As a self-proclaimed introvert, I’m a prime example of a beer enthusiast who sometimes just wants to chill at home and watch a movie. Or read. Or drink a few beers while I cook dinner. This is when growlers come in handy. Typically 64 fluid ounces (the equivalent to 4 pints) or 32 fluid ounces (2 pints) breweries and taprooms will happily fill growler jugs with fresh, tasty, draft beer and allow patrons to grab quality beer to go.

*Although draft is almost always best, there are a couple of cases when bottles or cans are better. Some high alcohol beers are better after aging in bottles. And if tap lines are dirty, the same brew will likely taste better from a bottle or can.

In Seattle, getting your growler filled is easy if you know where to look. Here are six excellent beer choices from local craft breweries.

The White Lodge Belgian Style White Ale | Holy Mountain Brewing Co.

ABV: 4.8%
Holy Mountain has quickly made a name for itself in the Seattle brewery scene for its top-notch saisons, sours, and barrel-aged beers, and for its departure from the region’s IPA-dominated tap lists. The White Lodge is a refreshing Belgium-style witbier brewed with coriander and orange peel, resulting in a light and flavorful beer with bold aromatics. This beer is easily drinkable, slightly tart, with a hint of spice, making it a uniquely delicious growler choice. Growler fills available at Holy Mountain Brewing Company, 1421 Elliott Ave. W, Seattle.

Gateway Dry Hopped Pale | Rooftop Brewing Co.

ABV: 5.2% | IBU: 20
The brewers at Rooftop created the Gateway Pale as an introductory (or “gateway”) beer for people who don’t like hoppy beers. The pale ale ignites the senses with an upfront burst of delicate, floral, hop aroma, leading to a light hoppy flavor—and it ranks low on the bitterness scale. Notes of citrus and tropical fruit flavor lend a juiciness to this sessionable beer. Newbies will be surprised by how gentle and inviting hops can be. Growler fills available at Rooftop Brewing Company, 1220 W Nickerson St., Seattle.

Cocoa Vanilla Porter | Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Co.

ABV: 6.5% | IBU: 17
With an eclectic tap list that often includes beers like Blood Orange Honey Wheat, Raspberry Blonde, and Habanero Amber, Bad Jimmy’s consistently embraces the unexpected. The Cocoa Vanilla Porter, on its own, warrants a trip to this Ballard brewery. The smooth sipper delivers aromas and flavors of soft roasted malt, warm vanilla and plenty of chocolaty decadence. A growler of this brew on a crisp Seattle night will warm you to the core. Growler fills available at Bad Jimmy’s Brewing Company, 4358 B Leary Way NW, Seattle.

Bike Rye’d Saison | Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery

ABV: 6.3% | IBU: 25
Originally brewed by one of Flying Bike’s member-owners, the Bike Rye’d Saison is among the brewery’s most popular beers. This traditional French-style, farmhouse ale is bright and refreshing. The brewers use plenty of rye to infuse the medium-bodied beer with a slightly peppery aroma, rounded out with flavors of lemon and rye-ginger spice to finish. Pair the saison with a few savory picnic snacks and enjoy it outdoors in your favorite neighborhood green space. Growler fills available at Flying Bike Cooperative Brewery, 8570 Greenwood Ave. N, Seattle.

Citra IPA | Stoup Brewing

ABV: 5.9% | IBU: 50
This complex IPA showcases the citrus power of Citra hops, and is, hands down, one of my personal favorites. This beer has a tangy sweetness, gentle undercurrents of toasted caramel and musky tropical fruits, and a full hop kick. Stoup’s Citra IPA is light and bright in both color and body and strikes a great balance of earthy hops and luscious grapefruit. Grab a growler of this brew for love at first sip. Growler fills available at Stoup Brewing, 1108 NW 52nd St., Seattle.

Cream Ale | Reuben’s Brews

ABV: 5.0% | IBU: 17
Reuben’s taproom offers an impressive selection of over 20 beers on draft, including a bunch of rotating brews and several mainstay award-winners. On frequent repeat is the Cream Ale—a pale, light-bodied beer with hints of creamy vanilla, smooth malt, and a sweet, clean finish. More unique than a classic lager, this cream ale is so smooth and easy to drink that you may need an extra growler fill by the end of the evening. Growler fills available at Reuben’s Brews, 5010 14th Ave. NW, Seattle.

[This article also appeared on]