Beer Basics

Bolster your love of suds with our easy brew guide.
John McMillan

It was a tough job, but someone needed to do it. After all, tasting more than 40 beers is no small task. But in honor of all our beer brethren out there, we decided to suck it up and sacrifice desk work for an afternoon in a bar. For research. Read on for the results of our tasting, and see what floored us?and what bored us. You can thank us later.

Tasting Notes
Our first objective was to choose a proper tasting venue, one that would inspire our palates and get us out of the office. So we found the perfect bar, sallied up, and eagerly sampled microbrews from all over the country. We ran into some average ales, so-so stouts, and even a few pitiful porters. We had one porter that tasted like 'bad cough syrup,' an India pale ale that was described as 'fragrant, like stale cantaloupe,' and a hefeweizen that reminded one taster of 'smoked cheese.' But we also had some fantastic brews. Among our favorites were the Acme California Pale Ale: 'light, crisp, applelicous,' and Harpoon's UFO Hefeweizen: 'clean and smooth.' We also really loved Old Dominion's Oak Barrel Stout. One taster noted, "This rules. The only way this beer could get any better is if I were under the tap."

We came into the tasting with different style preferences, but we left with a great appreciation of all the types we tried. There are great beers out there, from translucent pales with a mere whisper of hue to stouts the shade of roofing tar. Don't be afraid to step outside the bocks. Click here for brewery tour information. Cheers.

A group of beer-loving palates gathered at The Open Door Café in Birmingham, Alabama, for a beer tasting. Many thanks to owner Terrill Brazelton for allowing us to conduct our "meeting" at the bar.

IT'S WORTH THE TRIP
You'll be amazed at how fresh beer from a brew house tap tastes. Seek out a brewpub in your area, and plan a trip. A friend and I decided (on a whim) to drive 1,500 miles, roundtrip, to the Old Dominion Brewery in Ashburn, Virginia for a couple of pints, and ended up going on a tour of the facility. Can't get to Virginia? Try the New Belgium Brewing Company in Fort Collins, Colorado (home of Fat Tire); the Kalamazoo Brewing Company in Galesburg, Michigan (Oberon); or any of the hundreds of microbreweries in operation today. If you've got the time?and satellite radio? a beer run of this magnitude is well worth the effort. To find a brewpub near you, check out www.beertravelers.com. Then call your cabbie.
 

This article is from our 2005 Weekend Living special issue,