Open up a whole brew world by learning some beer basics.
If you're beer-curious, how to get started or learn more? There is a pretty overwhelming ocean of suds to wade into. As of 2022 there were over 9,500 breweries and counting in the United States, according to the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade organization representing American craft breweries. From that multitude of makers, comes a seemingly insurmountable pile of styles. How can a would-be beer drinker navigate the wide world of beer? We asked certified cicerone Anne Becerra of New York's Treadwell Park to guide us.
Meet Our Expert
Anne Becerra is a certified cicerone. She was the first woman in New York City to gain the certification as a tested and recognized beer professional and has worked in the beer world for more than 13 years. She regularly curates and hosts beer classes, dinners, and tasting events across the country, and is a beer judge for multiple state and national competitions.
"I got into beer because I really love flavor—food, wine, spirits, and cocktails. Everything that's exciting and fun to taste," says Becerra. "When I realized how much there was out there and how little I knew, I thought, How come I don't know this exists? Why don't we talk about beer the way we talk about wine, spirits, food? It's affordable and accessible—that was my a-ha moment. I was enjoying it and I knew others would, too."
Why Is Beer So Popular?
More than any other beverage, beer has a rep for being all-embracing. On tap, in can, or from the bottle, it's entirely egalitarian. You can buy it pretty much anywhere, drink it alone or with a multitude of meals, and more often than not, it's affordable. Even the splurges aren't really that splurgy. And it's still the most consumed alcohol beverage in the country, according to a 2022 Gallup survey of Americans, clocking in as the primary pick for 35 percent of the country.
Beer's reputation as a pop-topper for blue collar Joes has changed drastically as the craft beer movement has morphed and grown over the last 40 or so years, since California-based producers like Sierra Nevada and the resurrected Anchor Brewing sowed the seeds of the craft brewing movement.
Today, the outgrowth of those fledgling dreamers (who are still in business and inarguably very successful) is vast with choices galore. Learning a little bit about how beer is made can help you focus on what may, or may not, appeal to your palate.
What Is Beer?
Generally speaking, beer is made from four ingredients: barley, water, hops, and yeast. Barley is the most common cereal grain used in brewing, and plays an important role in beer, its sugars being the key to get the yeast going, which kicks off fermentation (turning that yeast and sugar into alcohol).
"Malt shapes the color and flavor profile. Hops provide bitterness and balance. Yeast ferments sugars and provides other flavor and aromas that are all their own," Becerra says. "It's up to the brewer to create the flavor profile using those tools. If you want nutty, chocolaty, cinnamon, spicy, lemon—anything you can think of can be created from those combos using those ingredients, and that's what brewers get to do."
The Flavor Map
In beer, Becerra says, you find many of the exciting flavors valued in other epicurean areas—wine, beer, coffee, and cooking in general. "Beer is a fun way to play with flavor," she says. But where to begin?
"People like to experiment, but in my opinion the amount of choice in beer has gotten a little out of hand. That can be overwhelming," she says. "There are a lot of styles and if you try one and it's not great, you get turned off to that style and never try it again."
How to Start
As the craft beer industry has found its stride, though, more and more producers have turned to creating dependable, often sessionable (that is, easily drinkable and lower in alcohol) flagship brews. These are where Becerra suggests the beer-curious can dip a toe before branching out and trying other styles in a brewery's line-up. "What I'm excited about now is the craft beer industry is coming back to consistent, well-made, flagship affordable styles that people get to know and enjoy," she says. Trying these staple brews is a great way to start and to learn if you like that particular brewery's style in general.
Types of Beer
"All beer—or, at least 99.9 percent of it—falls into two categories: ale or lager," says Becerra. What's the difference? If you guessed beer color or alcohol strength, you'd be incorrect. "It's dependent on the yeast and the condition in which it works. Ales are top-fermented and lagers are bottom-fermented, which means they get to work at different times or temperatures."
The shake-out of that: malty, hoppy ales tend to tease out more fruity, nutty, spicy aromatics; lagers lean toward cleaner, brighter, refreshing style brews. To further break it down and help you horn in on brews to branch into, here's a cheat sheet for styles that fall under the category of ales or lagers.
Types of Ale
Under the category of ales, you will find:
India pale ale (IPA)
Types of Lager
Under the category of lagers, look for:
"It's all about knowing what flavors you like and tuning into that. Light and tart? Rich and full bodied? You can find those things in beer," says Becerra. "There are a multitude of styles. From sweet and rich, to a great hop-driven beer with lovely bitterness, zestiness, and herbaceous notes, and every combo in between!" she says.
Read the original article on Martha Stewart.