Some people think that this is a dream job or that it would be awesome to understand beer flavor – and don’t get me wrong, it is pretty cool – but I think I’ve been a bit jaded by this education and it makes it harder for me to find good beer.
Overall, I have to break down the beers I seek out into two camps: drinkable, and flavorful (and defect-free).
Here’s the beers I like to drink, my thoughts on them, and if my panel has tasted them I’ve included their descriptors (note: some descriptors may be resulting from age or abuse of that package and may not be normal characteristics of the beer)
Beers I Like, pt I: Drinkable
Heineken – so long as this beer is fresh (not stale or oxidized) and from a can or keg (not skunky from the green bottle), it’s a drinkable session beer with plenty of estery aromas, particularly isoamyl acetate. It’s hard to find this one without any age-related flavors, however.
Redhook, Rope Swing Summer Pilsner – a great pilsner from traditionally ale-oriented brewery. Good continental lager character, mild European noble hop aromas. Too bad it’s only offered in the summertime. Sulfur, grainy, cucumber, melon, bitter.
Pyramid, Curveball Kolsch – It’s been about a year since I’ve had this one, so hopefully it hasn’t deteriorated. Light and crisp flavor, somewhat estery, minor DMS. Very easy to put away.
Beers I Like, pt II: Flavorful
Bear Republic, Hop Rod Rye – One of my favorite “flavor beers”. A potent combination of malt and hop flavors, significant bitterness, moderate alcohol, very well balanced. Haven’t been disappointed by this one very much at all. Raisin, caramel, burnt, chocolate, lingering bitterness, piney, thin, oxidized.
Rogue, Hazelnut Brown and Chocolate Stout 50/50 mix – Lovely complexity in this ad-hoc mixture of two fine dark beers. Learned about this one in college. Probably a good dessert beer, maybe even for a float (blasphemy?). Fortunately, the heavy dark malt flavors mask many of the defects I normally see in Rogue products. Chocolate, smoky, coffee, cotton candy, maple syrup, sweet.
Stone, Arrogant Bastard – Another big beer with moderately high alcohol and bitterness. Lots of flavor to chew on in this beer. I’ve also noticed that I don’t normally see this beer with any age defects. It must move well in the marketplace.
Terminal Gravity, IPA – Hard to get this one without stale flavors (at least where I’m buying beer), but when it’s fresh it’s awesome. Very woody, oak-like flavors with this one. Oxidized, citrus/orange, rotten fruit, high bitterness, clean finish, sour.
New Belgium, 1554 – One of the few beers from NBB that I can regularly enjoy (they love their Victory malt; I don’t). Heavy dark malt flavor, low hop bitterness. Cardboard, oxidized, clove, smoky, coffee, vanilla, astringent, thin, alcoholic, fruity, isoamyl acetate.
Bridgeport, IPA – One of the first “hoppy” beers I’d come to enjoy. Great citrus, floral, pine and lychee hop aromas. Years on now, however, and this beer is losing its luster a bit. Just getting too familiar with it, I guess. Still enjoyed, though. Floral, tutti-frutti, light body, cloudy, herbal, grainy, sulfur.
Deschutes, Hop Trip IPA – This is one of their Bond Street series of IPAs. The orthonasal aroma on this “fresh hop” IPA is a wild assembly of perfumes and flowers and fruits. The overall flavor is balanced well with plenty of malt character for an IPA. Fresh hop oil, perfume, floral, rose, linalool, ripe cantaloupe, fruit cocktail, caramel malt, raisin, moderate bitterness (note: my descriptors, not panel’s).
So this gives a brief overview of the types of beers I like. It all depends on my mood: if I need refreshment at some point in the day, or if I’m working on a project on the weekend, I like a drinkable beer; if I’m out at the bar with friends, or relaxing after work I may want to reach for a flavorful beer that I can savor.
Interestingly, when I’m eating I don’t care so much about which beer I’m drinking. For me, a “meal beer” is one that is fairly generic; I’m not really in it to pay attention to the beer, I just want something that will compliment, but not spoil, my meal. It shouldn’t have distracting defects, but it doesn’t have to have anything special. Beer that I feel are in this category are ones like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Redhook ESB or Copperhook, or maybe some of the Sam Adams lineup.
Having said all this, I still probably only drink about 1-2 recreational beers per week.