With the popularity of craft beer and local breweries today, how do you get started in deciding what kind of beer to order?
No one can possibly be familiar with every beer available everywhere today. It's worth it to develop your ability to order a beer you'll enjoy, even when you don't recognize anything on the tap list. This is especially true when traveling and looking for a great beer to wind down after a long day.
Remember that craft beer practically begs for exploration, with its myriad styles and flavors. In the face of that much variety, people are often afraid they'll waste their money (or their drink quota) on something they won't enjoy. It's the same way with food: if a menu offers both a range of intimidating specialty entrees and a simple burger, customers will skew toward ordering the burger. Initially, it might be difficult to step out of your beer comfort zone, but the rewards are tremendous. Challenging yourself and intentionally expanding your palate will help you discover new beers—some of which are bound to be excellent—and enable you to enjoy an increasing range of choices.
How should you approach picking out a location to start trying something new?
A dive bar won't have the diverse beer list or the experienced staff you need to make an informed decision. Look for a draft beer list with depth—both a variety of offerings and a complexity of styles and flavors. Online reviews can be a great resource when you're unfamiliar with the options in your area. Some things to look for are restaurants that offer beer-pairing dinners and bars that host tap takeovers, since this shows focus and a passion for good beer.
When you enter an establishment, judge for yourself: how clean is the bar? Does it have an appropriate variety of glassware, properly stored upside-down? Do servers rinse their glasses before pouring beers? Do they pour with care or sloppily dunk the tap head into each glass? Finding a reputable craft beer bar with staff that can be trusted is the key to having a great experience.
What about asking questions once you've found the right bar?
Once you've chosen your location, grab a seat at the bar, and be as engaging as possible with your bartender. Relay information about what you like and what you're in the mood for. Are you a hophead? Do you love complex barrel-aged stouts? Let your server know! Be inquisitive, especially when traveling to a new destination. Asking the right questions— such as what a beer tastes like, what it's similar to, what it pairs well with—is the best way to identify beers that you'll enjoy. Ask what your server enjoys or what the best beer on tap is. What would your server order for his or her shift drink? Depending on the sophistication of the bar and your bartender, you can glean some outstanding recommendations this way. And, most importantly, be courteous and friendly—your goal is for your bartender to want to guide you on your tasting journey.
Trying new beers is one of the best parts about traveling. The next time you're in an unfamiliar location, seek out a great beer bar and make friends with your bartender. You'll have an experience you can remember, and might even find your next favorite beer too!