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Jul 30

Questions people ask about beer (aka, Topics for beer bloggers)

Mainstream beers look & taste alike ...but not so much in the world of craft beer.Fizzy yellow beer (FYB) seems pretty simple: It’s crisp, light, and refreshing. Some may say it’s just fizzy yellow water posing as beer, but there are millions devoted to it. And a few of those may even believe the myths that drinking it will attract pretty women, or that it’s the coldest tasting thing in the world.

Some people transition from FYB into Eurofizz or Fool Fizz, but the more daring jump with both feet into the world of craft beer.

No matter how they get to craft beer, as craft beer hits mainstream, more and more people have questions about beer. The confusion about — and number of questions about — craft beer should come as no surprise. The world of craft beer is a big place to navigate the palate, with over 130 styles of beer!

This, my dear beer blogging friend, is where you can help.

The next two most common questions asked of beer retailers is: “What’s your favorite?” and “What’s it taste like?” People want help navigating into flavors of beer that they think they’ll enjoy. If they’re not coming in for a tasting to try before they buy, they’re looking for advice. They want confirmation that it may be up their alley before they invest that one, five, ten, or twenty dollar bill in buying a new craft beer. This is where your beer reviews can really shine.

What’s your favorite beer?

I always have a hard time with this question. I have so many favorites. It’s like being asked, “Who’s your favorite kid?” I have over 1,200 in store and about 4,000 beers on the books…and you want me to choose just ONE? Can you at least narrow it by style? Or brewery? This morning it may be this particular beer in this style, by the time this afternoon comes around another one may sound a little more deserving. As you can see, I have a difficult time coming to a single answer when asked this question. I tend to overthink it. I want to make sure I get them into a beer they like…

…and I’m a girl, so cut me a break. ;-)

So, I step back and realize that they’re not really after what I am liking right now, not most of them anyway, what they’re really saying is, “Can you help me choose a beer?

Can you help me choose a beer?

With FYB you pretty much know what you’re getting. But with craft and import beer, it can be a real crap shoot. And it’s not just newbies that are overwhelmed by the selection, the multitudes of flavors available in craft and import beer. Even beer geeks ask for advice. And the fizzy yellow beers? Those too can be pretty different in flavors and aromas, style-to-style. What’s a new craft beer drinker to choose?!

Newbies don’t understand beer styles, saying things like, ”I don’t care for ales, but I like stouts.” and ”I don’t like dark beers like IPAs.” and ”I don’t like lagers, but I normally drink Coors.” and “I like blonde beers; my normal drink is Bud.” Some days my head spins a little, trying to decipher what is being asked for. No one told me that being a translator was part of this job, and sometimes I still fall short. Like last week when a fellow came in and asked for “Alaskan Blonde.” I’m standing there thinking, scratching my head. I am thinking too specifically: Have I seen an American Blonde style from Alaskan? I don’t recall one. My staff jumps in, “You mean their summer?” Yes. The Kölsch. Oh, some days I can’t see the forest for the trees.

What beer drinkers seek is guidance for their taste buds. And what’s nice about shopping at local specialty bottle shops is they aren’t driven by corporate quotas and have no contracts with producers. We independent retailers are free to work with beer drinkers to get them into beers they’ll like, if we can jointly communicate.

Belgian Witbiers: If you like this, try these...

One way beer bloggers can help in this way, networking with retailers, is to provide cross-referenced recommendations with their single beer reviews. For example, if you like Blue Moon Belgian Wit, you may also like Hoegaarden, Wittekerke, Blanche de Bruxelles, Avery White Rascal, Lost Coast Great White, Alaskan White, Issaquah White Frog, Dentergems,… This gives your reader a list to try of things that’re similar (within style) but different (unique recipe).

On their visits to our shop, we’ve even witnessed beer bloggers jump in and visit with customers, making recommendations and sharing information about beers they like. Pretty cool!

What’s this beer taste like?

Most newbie beer lovers don’t understand how craft beer becomes to taste like it does. A lot of them don’t care that it’s a grain roasted this way, a hop addition during boil verses dry hop at the end. But they are puzzled that a yeast, grain, or hop can mimic flavors of spices, breads, and fruit. After hearing a description of a German hefeweizen “with notes of banana” or an IPA “with flavors of tropical fruit like mango” manly men may recoil and say, “I don’t like fruit in my beer.” After they hear that it’s only yeast, grain, hops and water that make up that beer, their response, “You mean there’s no fruit added?” Right! “I’ll take one!” Isn’t beer amazing?!

So….keep those beer reviews comin’!

But expand them with points of reference, “If you like this Blue Moon, you should also try Avery White Rascal, Issaquah White Frog, Blanche des Bruxelles, Alaskan White,…” And for the flavors?

Describe beer flavors in layman's terms // Photos used under license; copyrights apply

Include a layman’s guide to beer flavors. You’d be surprised how many blank looks I receive when I say, “Tastes like coriander.” And follow-up with, “The cilantro seed.” Coriander, not a widely known spice in these Northwestern parts, but nearly everyone knows cilantro. Let people know that hops don’t necessarily mean bitter, and dark doesn’t necessarily mean char-roasted. Let them know how ingredients and carbonation contribute to mouthfeel. Oh how that sugary feel is so pleasurable on the tongue — so luxurious that diet food makers try to mimic it. Share the effects of temperature on the beer’s flavor. Be the three bears of beer: What’s it taste like when you start it too cold? Room temp? Just right? What happens to that gorgeous white head when you pop a piece of fruit on the side?

Take lots of pictures! Show us the label! Pour us that billowy, pillowy, sexy head. Let us see what the beer settles into. It’s glowing colors in that polished glass.

Help explain what the beer’s made from, with pictures. If it’s a Mocha Porter, was chocolate and coffee actually used in its production, or is it relying on chocolate malts? Share the beautiful flavors of beer with others, picture-book style!

More questions people ask

Okay, so you’re sitting at home with your beer. You’ve already blogged about the beer, the local festivals, and that pub you visited last week. But you’re thinking about helping get more general beer knowledge out there on the Web. To write about things that people getting into craft beer wonder about, but you’re just not sure what they’re asking. Here’s a list of questions that we’ve been asked over the last several months:

People think beer is as fragile as milk, asking things like: ”How long can it sit in my car?”
What’s the shelf life of this beer?
How do I store this beer? Can I put it in my cupboard? (Non-cellarables vs. Cellarables)
All craft beer is expensive. (Not true! I can pick a pack of 6-8 craft beers for under $15, including tax.)
Why is barrel-aged beer more expensive?
Why isn’t all Brett-aged beer sour?
What’s an ale vs. a lager?
Can all lagers be identified as fizzy and yellow?
What is mead?
What is spontaneous fermentation?
What does bottle-conditioned mean?
Can I drink the ‘beer soot’ at the bottom of the bottle?
What beer to drink with certain foods?
What beer is best for cooking?
How to have a tasting party?
How much beer do I need for my party? …my wedding?
I don’t like beer, but want to learn to like it. Can you help?
What are these growler things?
How long does growler last (traditional vs. CO2 fill)?
Why won’t you fill my moldy jug? I’ll still drink it. (No! Gross! Mold terrariums.)
How do I clean a growler jug?
What types of jugs are best for growler fills?
Will you fill this plastic Coke bottle? …medical-grade plastic jug?
How do I tap a keg?
Why do kegs from different places have different connectors?
Can you help me setup my kegerator?
What PSI setting do I use for my kegerator’s CO2?
How big is a keg?
How many people will a keg serve?
I’m buying the keg. (Um, no. You buy the beer IN the keg and rent the shell.)
Why do you charge a keg shell deposit?
Does it work? (nucleation etch glasses, bottle stoppers, etc.)
How to get beers not available? Trade. Travel. Black Market(?).
How can I ship beer?
Can I take this on a plane?
What’s a (insert style of beer here)? (Layman’s guide to the BJCP.)
Is it okay to store beer room temperature?
What’s the difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized beer?
What makes a beer organic?
Do you have cider beer? (What’s the difference between apple beer and apple cider?)
People think labels are representative of the beer inside, e.g., Fish Tale and Steelhead Ales, “Does this really taste like fish?” or Lobster Lovers Beer, “Does it taste like lobster?” (Yes, you may chuckle, but we’ve heard these several times.)
Why is there a daily limit on the number of bottles I can buy? (Rare beers.)
Why is this only produced once, seasonally, or occasionally? (Rare beers.)
If it’s so popular, why doesn’t the brewery make more?
Where is this made?
Why does this beer taste different than that beer… and they’re the same style?
Do you have any non-alcoholic beers that taste like real beer?
Do you have any gluten-free beers that taste like real beer?
Does this beer come in a larger size… smaller size?
Why is this beer only in a 22-ounce bottle?
How do I open this? (Cork-n-caged bottles. Churchkey cans.)
Do you have (draft beer) in bottles? Why not? Why won’t the brewery bottle it?
Why aren’t craft breweries making “light” low calorie beers?
Why aren’t there more specialty beers from Mexico?
Can I drink this in public?
What’s your highest alcohol beer?
What glass should I drink this from?
What are monk beers?
What’s the difference between German and Belgian beers?
What’s an eeepa? (IPA)
What makes this beer imperial?
The label says double. Is that double the alcohol?
Does this come in bottles? (Pointing to canned beer.)
Do you have any girlie beers?
He likes Bud-Miller-Coors, but I want to convert him to good beer. What do you recommend?
Do you have hefeweizen with …banana, lemon, clove… flavor?
Do all beers have wheat?
How do you make a black & tan?
Does this taste good?
What’s your best beer?

Beer bloggers, connect with your local beer businesses

Be a beer blogger who’s recognized. Don’t just sit in your room alone sipping on that beer. Network with your local retailers. Let them know that beer you’re reviewing is from their establishment, include a footnote of where you got the beer in the blog or when you share the blog on your twitter or facebook be sure to @reference the business. Take advantage of the opportunities to share your knowledge about beer while networking with local retailers. Take your beer blogging to the next step!

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