A guy named Barry called the “Thirsty Thursday” show and asked, “How do I know a beer is any good before I buy it?”
Answer: “Cheapskate! Waddya think this is, WINE?!!!” Maybe yelling at callers is why we only get a couple of calls during the show.
Here are some suggestions. If you know you want a hoppy ale like Victory Hopdevil or Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, search the shelves for an IPA you haven’t yet tasted. If you know you like porters and want something similar, you know to check out the doublebocks and stouts. This doesn’t mean you’ll like whatever beer you choose. It just means you’re shopping the right style. When at home or at the store with a smartphone, check beer sites online. These include BeerAdvocate.com and Ratebeer.com, a couple of sites where regular beer bums like you & I go and rate the beers we’ve tasted. This will give you a good idea if the beer you’re looking at is worth the tenspot or more folded in your pocket.
You’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect when the ratings for an IPA include an overall A+ score and comments like “More malt on the front end than I expected. The hops really cut through, delivering a refreshingly bitter wash over the tongue. The finish is nicely dry and not so bitter or arid that you feel the need to wash it out with another swig.”
You also have a pretty good idea of what to expect when you read a taster’s comment, “The brewer must have won the Bhopal battery acid chugging contest. This despicable specimen tastes like rancid Fresca.”
What’s really cool about these sites is you can quickly compare various qualities of beers you’re considering. Here’s a sample: “Appearance. This beer presents a dark amber hue, like the deep, empty eyes of my diabetic ex-girlfriend.” Mmmmm tasty, eh? “Smell: grapefruit, caramel, toasty malt and camel parts.” “Taste: rockin’ barley malts on the front end, bathing the tongue in oak, caramel, grapefruit and spice.” “Mouthfeel: runny guano.” I personally don’t put much stock in the overall “A-B-C-D etc.” ratings. I’m a bit more influenced by comments such as “Mouthfeel: runny guano.”
Additional beer attributes to consider are whether a beer is “Imperial” and “ABV.” “Imperial” simply means, “This stuff can get a Russian Czar hammered” and came about in the 1800’s as brewers beefed up the malts and alcohol to satisfy the alcohol-fueled Russian monarchy. Sitting on a hallway bench at Wilmington Riverfront’s Iron Hill Brewery, brewer Brian Finn once cautioned that an “Imperial” or “Big Beer” should never have the taste of alcohol, but should let the drinker “feel the heat.” He then demonstrated this by using the “Big Honking Quad Beer” he brewed to light the restaurant’s flaming pizza ovens. An impressive waste of hops and barley malts that I shall carry in my memory like the time dad lit the charcoal grill with kerosene. The local newspaper story of that delightful childhood experience is still enshrined in an oak frame at the local volunteer fire station. (Normally I would apologize for such a digression, but it’s expected in this column).
“ABV” is “alcohol by volume” or, in latin, “alcoholis bringinu vomitatis.” To avoid enshrinement in your local newspaper of record, consider if you’re planning to drink more than one beer, especially in the hot summer sun. In that case, keep the ABV low. If the beer you really want has a high ABV, as is often my case, what I do is drink just one then switch to water, diet Pepsi or what many of us call “not-beer.”
Okay, my editor just looked at this and said, “Let’s summarize.” Fine. You do that while I splash the page with a few IPA’s and Pale Ales you may want to consider as summer sneaks away from us: Lancaster Hop Hog (floral aroma, creamy), Sierra Nevada Pale Ale (a classic, caramel malts on the palette), Yards Brewing “Cape of Good Hope IPA” worth the drive to one of many Philly taprooms as is Yards IPA. Greenville’s Twin Lakes Pale Ale (as mentioned in at least one earlier column,) is brilliant and now available in cans. Other favorites include Sam Adams Pale Ale, Stoudt’s and, simply because it’s a great beer with a socially improper name, Flying Dog ‘Doggie Style’ Classic Pale Ale. Woof!