[Ed.:Yesterday we published the first half of a guest post from Mike at The Brew Professor. Below is the second half of his post. It seems that some folks got their jimmies rustled by yesterday’s contribution, so feel free to head over there and contribute to the just-almost-civil comments. Thanks again to Mike for the post -J]
Below are my recommendations of the top three styles that lend themselves to the untrained palate and will let you stick your toe in the water. These broad style categories include: wheat beers, saisons and farmhouse ales, and even some mild sour beers. They are all delicious, light, and pretty easy to find locally.
Wheat Beer / Witbier
This style offers very approachable, mild flavors from the mixture of wheat and barley. You tend to have a crisper, thirst-quenching experience in this group.
- Start with Blue Moon. The most famous wheat, Blue Moon, is usually the gateway “craft” beer (it’s made by Coors) due to its prevalence and presentation. It has a lovely, coppery haze and often comes served with a large orange slice making it stand out from a pack of clear yellow beer. The flavor is mild but present with some sweet notes. Pro-tip: Shock Top is its cousin from Budweiser and is nearly the same. Consider their “Belgian White” varieties for a mild flavor bump.
- Now this is an absolute order. Try Bell’s Brewing Company’s Oberon. But be aware that it is a spring/summer seasonal which is getting hard to find this time of year. My personal favorite of the style is Gumballhead by Three Floyds Brewing Company. Unfortunately, as of late I’ve only seen it on draft in the area so the bottled variety may not be available.
- Other good ones to try include: Breckenridge Agave Wheat and Harpoon UFO. Mt. Carmel over on the east side of town has a seasonal wheat that is really good too. Wheat beers in general become extremely popular and are becoming much easier to find year-round.
Saison / Farmhouse
The saison aka French farmhouse ale aka biere-de-garde style is, in my opinion, an underappreciated style that is unfamiliar to many entry level beer drinkers. They often have a higher level of carbonation and have some spicy, peppery notes but are not bitter. These varieties are generally more at home in warmer weather but of course can be enjoyed year-round.
- Saison Dupont from Belgium is one of the most well-known and distributed of this style. You can find it pretty easily in the local area at most craft beer stores and international markets. It has a great carbonation and a bit of spice with a very reasonable 6.5% alcohol. The yellow and white gingham pattern makes the bottle unmistakable on a store shelf.
- Boulevard Brewing Tank 7 is a must try if you can find out. In these parts you are only going to find it by going west into Indiana. I’ve had luck finding Boulevard beers in Lawrenceburg. It is a very balanced version of the style and is great for the beginner, as well as the seasoned veteran.
- Other good ones to try: Ommegang Hennepin, Sierra Nevada Ovila Abbey Saison, Flying Dog Garde Dog, and Blank Slate Brewing Company Ryesing Up (in my personal top 5 for the styel).
I’m going to throw out one more style as a wildcard to the slightly more adventurous types; sour beers. Sour beers are “normal” beers purposely infected with non-standard strains of yeast that create a sour, puckering characteristic to an otherwise regular flavored beer. Ordinarily, the sour flavor would warrant discarding the beer before bottling but this is the one time where it is a good thing. You will even find some that provide a very champagne-like experience or are aged in chardonnay or oak barrels to impart a tart wine flavor.
- Sierra Nevada and Russian River breweries collaborated to make a sour beer called “Brux” that really reminded me of a light wine-like flavor. It had just a touch of souring but it wasn’t overwhelming and missed to mark for most sour enthusiasts. For this reason, it makes a great first attempt for someone wanting to enter the world of sours.
- Other good ones to try: From there, you have a huge list of Belgian beers that spread the sour spectrum from a large number of unpronounceable brewery names. To see what I mean, just stop by the Party Source some time and find the section of the beer aisle full of cork-topped bottles overflowing with consonants topped with various accent marks.
Not ready to jump in head first?
Quite possibly the best way ease into the realm of craft beer is to attend a local beer tasting event. The best the city has to offer is the Cincy Winter Beerfest at the Duke Energy Convention Center. This year’s iteration is February 15th and 16th. Which, believe it or not, can make a great Valentine’s day date if you (or your significant other) couple it with a nice dinner beforehand. For a flat fee, you get access to hundreds of beers from around the country in all shapes, sizes, and styles. The best part is that if you don’t like something you just throw it out. No harm, no foul. No Hamilton wasted on a 6-pack that will have five bottles cluttering your fridge until Uncle Dave shows up at the next family function to drink you out of house and home.
You will certainly find beers that are utterly repulsive and then you will find something that really hits the spot. Sampling that many beers can make them all run together quickly. Make sure you take notes or at least a picture of the booth so that you remember what you liked next time you head to the store. Or download the free Untappd app for your smartphone and you can log, rate, photograph, and catalog everything you tried. Then there is a reference for you later on down the road.
Where to buy the good beer:
I mentioned earlier it can be a challenge to find said craft beers. Which it can be, if you are used to just running into a UDF or Kroger to pick something up. Below are some great beer stores scattered throughout town. There’s bound to be something near you worth visiting.
Far-west: Jeff’s Marathon; Rapid Run Carryout; Whitey’s Liqours
Near-west: Marty’s Hops and Vines; Village Keg, Wine, and Spirit Shop;
North-west: The Village Shoppe and Go
Near-east: Dutch’s Bottle Shop; Whole Foods Market
North-east: Root Cellar; Whole Foods Market
Far-east: Jungle Jim’s; Country Fresh Market; Dilly Cafe
Downtown: Market Wines; Everything’s d’Vine
Uptown: Listing Loon; Ludlow Wines, Stop ‘N Go
Northern KY: The Party Source, Cork ‘N Bottle, DEP’s, Party Town
This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list but should get you started. The hunt is part of the fun!
Lastly, feel free to contact me if you have any questions about beers you’ve seen, if you need help with throwing your own beer tasting party at home, or if you want to pick up something special for that someone special. I’m here to help! Reach out to me via email firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter (@BrewProf), Facebook (facebook.com/brewprofessor), or just read through my blog (http://brewprof.com). I’m happy to help anyone in need (free of charge) to help spread the barley and hop gospel. You can also follow my blog to learn about what I’m drinking or what’s happening in the local beer world.
The Brew Professor