There are hundreds of brands, styles, and flavors of beer, making it seem nearly impossible to branch out from your two or three tried-and-true favorites. Luckily, there’s a lesser-known holiday around the corner that’s a perfect excuse to broaden your horizons and try new and exciting flavor possibilities.
September 28th is National Drink Beer Day, and with the year we’ve all been having, we’re not going to not celebrate a holiday like that (especially on a Monday). To prepare (ahem, celebrate), we’ve broken down the at-times confusing world of beer variations into easy-to-follow flavor categories that can help you find your new go-to lager, ale, or stout.
Light, smooth, and refreshing: wheat beers, pilsners, pale lagers, and Kölsch
Pale lagers and pilsners often get flack for being bland, unflavored, or watery. However, despite their bad reputation among high-nose beer aficionados, lagers and pilsners are actually consumed the most (think domestics like Bud Light, Miller Lite, and the like). If standard, no-frills beer is what you’re looking for, stick with pilsners, pale lagers, German Kölsch, and wheat beers.
- Pale lagers
A pale-to-golden color beer with a crisp, dry, clean-tasting flavor. Nothing fancy, here. Just good ol’ beer.
“Pilsner” and “lager” are often used interchangeably, but pilsners are traditionally made with a slightly stronger “hop” taste. If you prefer your beer to have a bite but the standard IPA is way too bitter, pilsners are a good place to start.
- Wheat beers
Any beer made with at least 50% wheat (as opposed to barley, rye, corn, or rice) is considered a wheat beer. Light, refreshing, and with a hint of bready flavor, we’re most familiar with wheat beers like Blue Moon and Shock Top.
- *German-style Kölsch *
An excellent blend of lager and ale flavors, this German-style brew is golden in color and light, refreshing, and slightly fruity.
- Früh Kölsch: what better place to start with German beers than Germany? This brew packs a bold flavor for only being 4.8% ABV, with toasty notes of German malt and banana.
- Boulevard Brewing Co. American Kölsch: well-balanced with hints of vanilla and malt, this American Kölsch is a wonderful addition to any meal and perfect year-round.
Fruity, crisp, and tart: sours, saisons, and Belgian-style tripels
The world of fruity drinks is not limited to mixed cocktails and wine coolers. In fact, there are thousands of fruit-filled possibilities when it comes to beer, ranging in sweetness, hoppiness, carbonation, and alcohol content.
- Sours and/or goses
These tangy takes on fruit beers get their signature pucker from several types of bacteria, all of which produce their own distinct lemony, vinegary, or acidic flavor. “Sour” is often used as a catchall phrase for any type of soured brew. Goses refer to a traditional German method of sour brewing and are extremely comparable in flavor.
- Central State Brewing’s Polyjuice Potion: the perfect sour for people who don’t think they would like sours, this gose-style brew is made with elderberries, plums, and a bit of extra magic that keeps this gose refreshing and light.
- Stone Notorious POG Berliner Weisse: bold, in-your-face, tropical flavor elevates the thirst-quenching tartness of this sour brew, making it another great option for those looking to dabble in sours for their first time.
Saisons (French for season) are farmhouse style ales that were originally brewed seasonally in French-speaking parts of Belgium. These brews offer dry, fruity carbonation with a slightly higher alcohol content (meaning a distinctly harsher profile for those who stick to super-sweet drinks).
- Smog City Brewing Company’s Peach Saison: the candy sweetness of peaches is offset by subtle sourdough yeast, making this an easily drinkable and sophisticated choice for a first saison.
- Brooklyn Sorachi Ace: boasting bright and crisp flavors of lemongrass, black pepper, and mint, this highly carbonated beverage is reminiscent of a dry champagne.
- Belgian-style tripels
Belgian-style tripels are a little bit of everything — yeast-driven, complex, spicy, and fruity. Most tripels feature a high ABV and warm, spicy, and fruity flavors. We recommend getting accustomed to the bready tartness of sours and saisons before jumping into the bold flavors of Belgian tripels.
- La Fin Du Monde: rich, golden orange in color and a perfect starting point for tripel newbies — this brew’s bold flavors of red apple, pear, clove, and pepper create a well-balanced, unique profile.
- Victory’s Golden Monkey: this tripel is dangerously drinkable considering its 9.5% ABV and features a light and grassy flavor with a dry, medium-bodied finish.
Bold, bitter, and hoppy: APAs, ESBs, IPAs, and hazy IPAs
From American to Indian, double to triple, hazy to non-hazy, IPA possibilities have become virtually endless in the craft brew universe. Featuring bold, sometimes bitter, and always in-your-face notes of flavorful hops, IPAs are definitely not for the faint of heart.
- American Pale Ales (APAs) and English Pale Ales (ESBs)
Both American and English pale ales are lighter and milder in flavor than their IPA relative. American pale ales typically use pine, citrus, and tropical fruit for flavor, while English pale ales stick to floral, grassy, and earthy notes.
- Three Floyds’ Zombie Dust APA: highlighting the bright tones of Citra hops with a hazy, malty, caramel base, this is a wildly popular choice for APA enthusiasts.
- Driftwood Brewery’s Naughty Hildegard (ESB): named after Hildegard von Bingen, a mystic and musician from the 12th century who was supposedly the first to record the use of hops in beer, this hoppy ESB (or extra special bitter) would surely make Hildegard proud all these years later.
- India Pale Ale
India pale ales were first brewed in Britain in the late 18th century. These bold brews get their bright, fruity flavors from hops that can be incorporated in a number of ways. Session IPAs are made with fewer hops (and less alcohol) for a thinner, easier-to-drink brew. Double, triple, or imperial IPAs pack in a ton of hops for a bolder (and stronger) drink.
- Cigar City’s Jai Alai: easy to find at your local liquor store and featuring sun-soaked, tropical flavor, this has been a standout in the IPA community for quite some time.
- Dogfish 60 Minute IPA: Dogfish is known for eccentric, off-the-wall flavor combos, but they stick with the classics in this piney, citrusy, and malt-based IPA.
- Hazy IPAs
Hazy IPAs refer to a specific brewing process that results in bright, juicy, tropical flavors with an easy-to-drink, smooth mouthfeel. If you’re a fan of pineapple and citrus mixed in with your hops, opt for a hazy IPA.
- Deschutes Fresh Haze: this IPA contains familiar piney hop flavors, but what really makes this stand out is the way the earthy hops interact with the subtle orange and soft, smooth mouthfeel.
- Six-Point Anti-Resin: boasting a whopping 9.1% ABV and delicious mango, pineapple, and orange flavors, trust us when we say this hazy IPA is dangerously good.
Creamy, toasty, and decadent: dark lagers, stouts, and porters
A dark-colored brew doesn’t necessarily mean difficult to drink. Dark lagers, stouts, and porters cover a massively wide range of weight, alcohol content, and overall maltiness and/or toastiness. While these might not be your prime all-day drink of choice, even the most diehard pilsner fans are bound to find a lager, stout, or porter that fits their specific taste.
- Amber and dark lagers
The word “lager” comes from the German lagern, meaning “to store.” These brews are bottom-fermented and stored for long periods of time, resulting in an ultra-smooth, malty finish.
- Abita Amber Lager: made in Louisiana and fairly easy to find nationally, this is a Münich-style lager featuring smooth, malty undertones and a rich amber color.
- Laguna Baja Mexican-style Lager: warm aromas of vanilla yogurt, berry jam, and savory herbs shine through this finely carbonated, dry-bodied brew.
- Brown ales
Brown ales are named for their color, not a region or main ingredient, making this category far wider than most. Typically, brown ales feature a medium alcohol content and warm, cozy flavors of bread, nuts, caramel, and dried fruit.
- Stouts and porters
Both deep brown to black in color, the main difference between stouts and porters is their malt: porters typically use malted barley to evoke nutty and chocolatey flavors, while stouts use unmalted, roasted barley to achieve their trademark, coffee-like profile. Any stout or porter with “milk” in the title means they’ve included lactose, or milk sugar, which lends a distinct, creamy sweetness to the bold, dark brews.
- Hardywood Gingerbread Stout: featuring warm ginger spice and super sweet, local honey, this Vermont gingerbread stout is the perfect beer to cozy up to on a cold night.
- Founders Brewing Co. Porter: leaning heavily on chocolate, coffee, and graham cracker flavors, this well-balanced porter is easily drinkable and a wonderful place to start if you’re new to the world of creamy, dark brews.
Whether you decide to go bold or subtle this National Drink Beer Day, make sure you celebrate with people you love (video calls count, too) and plenty of snacks. Trust us on that one. Cheers!