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Beer Paralysis

August 27, 2015

How do you choose what beer you want to drink? It’s a huge question. Especially as there are more and more choices for consumers. And the answer for the same person may change day to day. Here are some situations I’ve personally encountered lately:

“It’s hot, so I want something refreshing.”
“I’m feeling decadent, so I want something rare and expensive.”
“I need to stay sharp, so what’s low in ABV but still tasty?”
“Here I am on vacation. What’s available in this state that I can’t get at home?”

And these selection criteria help to narrow the field substantially. At a good beer store, there should be someone who can help you navigate the options, too, based on what you enjoy, and what you are looking to purchase.

My immediate problem is more about what to do at some of our region’s great beer bars where there are some truly great offerings mixed in with some less great ones. If you go when it’s slow, you can chat with the bartender and find something fantastic. However, far too often the bar is busy and the time you have with the person working the taps is brief at best.

The obvious solution is to have The Fuj on speed dial. But outside of that, I’m hoping the beer geeks out there can offer some real world advice. Let’s take the list that I’m facing tonight as an example of the problem.

For those who don’t know, Remarkable Liquids is having its third anniversary party at The Beer Belly tonight. It’s all over social media, so I figure it’s okay to mention it. It’s not a private affair. And they are bringing in some extra special beers for beer lovers in the Capital Region to help them celebrate.

If you remember, Jeremy Irving brought a few of the beers he represents to the Yelp event at fin – your fishmonger a few months back. And the beers he represents are fantastic.

Anyway, here’s the list. Mexican Cake isn’t on the list, but it will be there too.

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Maybe you remember from years ago that I have a bad habit of comparing beer with wine. So here’s the thing. With wine lists, there are contextual clues that can help guide the wine savvy. If you don’t know the brand, you may know the region. You can usually figure out the grape varietal, and have a sense of its character depending on whether it’s from the old world or the new world. And of course, there’s the vintage, which will give you an idea about the vivaciousness of the juice in the bottle.

Perhaps even more important than that, wine lists are typically organized by type.

With beer lists, I feel totally lost. It’s not uncommon to just get the producer, the name of the beer, an ABV, and its price. Maybe if you’re lucky the style will be listed too. But these are rarely presented in an order that makes sense to me.

I started trying to put the beers from the Remarkable Liquids Anniversary Party into Beer Advocate one at a time, and that was fascinating, but it was massively time consuming.

My guess is that for those who truly love beer, these names are known entities. Or at the very least, I suspect that individual breweries repeat certain conventions when naming their beers, so if you’re familiar with Prairie and it’s Bomb beer, you’ll know that each adjective preceding Bomb has something to do with some other flavor that’s been added to this already dense and flavorful brew.

But that doesn’t help me. At least not now. And maybe this is part of the marketing. Maybe brands like Hill Farmstead only want the diehards who are willing to learn what the names of their beers mean. Abner, Edward, Arthur, Anna, Susan, and Ephraim tell me nothing. And that’s cool.

Most of the time if I see any Hill Farmstead beer on a menu, I’ll just order a glass to try it knowing that it’s both hard to get and highly regarded. I’m looking to try new and fantastic things, so I am happy to be adventurous.

None of that is going to help me tonight.

Tonight, I’ll probably only get to try one of the amazing beers Remarkable Liquids has brought in for this event. Mostly because I’ll have to drive home, and many of these beers pack a punch.

This is where I was hoping I could turn to the beer geeks in the crowd. So, if you could only have one of those beers, which one would it be? And why?

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Jack C. permalink
    August 27, 2015 12:08 pm

    All of Grimm’s beers are one-offs (for now, at least). So you won’t ever get those again. So that’s something worth considering.

    That said, given the massive hype around Cantillon these days, that’s going to be among the toughest to get your hands on unless you’re willing to get serious about beer trading. If the Cantillon has “Lou Pepe” in front of the style (particularly kriek) or is Fou Foune or Blabaer, get it and don’t regret it. If it’s just a standard Cantillon geueze or kriek, go with a Grimm (Lambo Door is knock-your-socks-off good).

    • David Nardolillo permalink
      August 27, 2015 12:44 pm

      I didn’t realize that Grimm’s were one-offs. I’ve had telekenisis over a fairly long period for a one-off (at least by my unscientific calculations of availability). Maybe they produced enough to allow for a more gradual distribution. But your point of scarcity is another good reason to go for Grimm.

      • Jack C. permalink
        August 27, 2015 2:29 pm

        Telekinesis was added to BA in February of this year. The website says, “Each one is a single-batch, limited-edition release that may never come around again.”

      • David Nardolillo permalink
        August 27, 2015 3:39 pm

        Thanks! Good to know.

  2. David Nardolillo permalink
    August 27, 2015 12:37 pm

    Many good choices. We are lucky to have access to the portfolio that Remarkable Liquids has compiled. I like to recommend Grimm’s beers to those who haven’t tried those, especially if you are in the mood for some sours (Rainbow, Telekenisis, Psychokenisis). Grimm experiments with a number of brewing styles to create some pretty interesting offerings. Their sours are also relatively low ABV (in the 5.0 range), so you might be able to steal a second beer. I think that Grimm is relatively easy to obtain up here, so you might opt for something a bit more elusive.

    The Mikeller/HF/Siren collaboration is one that I’ve missed, and has been well reviewed, so I’d make a point to try that one if I was there.

    Bavik and Wittekerke are actually two separate beers. I’d skip those and the B Nektar Zombie killer, not for quality reasons but because they are very easily obtained at local beverage centers and bars.

    The dizzying amount of choice in the craft market points to one issue: the lack of barriers to entry in the business. That is great to promote creativity, but one of the downsides of that is that breweries have to keep rotating to portfolio to stay relevant which means that some of the beer you have tonight may not be available again.

  3. August 27, 2015 1:11 pm

    I think it is a much smarter choice to take a cab so you can have more than one beer. I would start with the Grimms since the brewers will be there to provide guidance. Other than that, if I could only have one beer it would be the awesome War Elephant.

  4. August 27, 2015 2:34 pm

    I hate beers with names. “Old Uncle Slappy’s Pschotelekenetic” and nonsense like that. Why can’t we simply have the name of the brewery followed by the style of the beer? All those precious sorts of names are so gimmicky. I hate it. Just a pet peeve.

  5. August 27, 2015 3:24 pm

    First off, don’t sweat the small stuff. Choosing a beer shouldn’t give you agita. Secondly, enjoying beer isn’t about drinking the latest “it” beer. It’s not a contest, and you don’t need to be an “expert” in breweries to enjoy beer. Being an “expert” in beer is like saying you’re the biggest Donald Duck fan. It doesn’t really make a difference what beer I, or Fuj, or the Man on the Moon thinks you “should” drink. It’s about enjoying what you enjoy. The easiest way to figure out is to drink by style. Don’t worry about who made it. Personally I am far less interested in specific breweries than I am the beer itself (Personally, I think craft culture deifies brewers and breweries a bit too much—but that’s neither here nor there.) A brewery’s popularity, or notoriety dosen’t necessarily reflect in its product. Hill Farmstead makes great beer but so do 575 other breweries.

    I’m a big fan of Scotch Ale—it’s dark, potent, sometimes a little smoky, and for me just perfection in a glass. So, that’s where I go first. If the selection comes up with styles I’m really familiar with, I move towards something I’m less familiar with. I’m not a huge sour beer fan, specifically the darker, heavier ones like Old Brun and Flanders Red. But I do like the lighter ones, like Gueze, and Berliner Weiss. I’m extremely biased against fruit beer as well—but occasionally I find one which hits those notes which I appreciate. And that’s what it comes down to for me—experimentation. Sometimes I’m drawn to boring brown bitter, or Corona with a lime. Other times I see something I have no idea what it is—but it sounds interesting—so I go for it. Oh, and don’t be afraid to revisit a style you might not have initially liked.

    I suppose my advice is don’t worry about who made it, concentrate on what’s in the glass. Build your experiences from there. And if the brewery decides to go all trendy hipster and name its brew something like “Unicorn Rainbow Octopus”, with no indication of style or strength, just ask “What kind of beer is this?” If it’s a hoppy brown ale, and you like hoppy brown ales, then give it a shot. If you’re worried some beer snob is going to judge you on your beer expertise, just ask them if they know how many shorts Donald Duck appeared in between 1937 and 1939?*

    *BTW, the answer is 29

  6. RogerK permalink
    August 27, 2015 11:56 pm

    I like what Craig wrote. What I will add now will certainly not help you out tonight since you you should be back home by now. Also, at an event like this it is best to ask Jeremy to recommend a particular style of beer that you have enjoyed. That doesn’t mean that you have to know the difference between a session beer and a stout, or even an ale and a lager. But you might know that you like a sour over a sweet, or a bitter over a fruit-flavored.

    When you are not at an event like this, you can still attempt to rely upon the bartender when they have beers that you are not familiar with. Or sometimes, the best way is to inquire if they offer flights of beer. That way you get to select 4, 5, or 6 samples that you try so you can determine what you like best. Still better, many bars that specialize in offering a large selection of drafts, not unlike wine bars, will also offer you a small taste of a beer for you to decide if you would like to order a full glass. They won’t object to you tasting several.

    Being thought of by some of my friends as a beer geek, and I don’t think I fully qualify, I’m not really any better off than you. While I definitely prefer beer over wine, I still find myself addressing the same situations that you mention at the beginning of this quest for suggestions. I hope your taste buds encountered new horizons tonight to assist you in the future.

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