What'll ya have?
Beer. Maybe the perfect beverage. It’s good in almost any circumstance. There’s enough variety that one kind or another will perfectly fit the bill for whatever you may be hankering for. Certainly, different moods and occasions call for different choices. The beer you grab when you’re having several with friends while watching a game is going to be different than the one you’ll want sitting down to a nice, intimate dinner. Everyone is going to have their own personal favorite. The one they reach for the most often and without thinking. Their wife beer. But, don’t let the beer snobs have all the fun. Branch out a little. It’s not adultery to try something besides that Bud. It’s not complicated, and there’s nothing to lose. Just a very little background information should be enough to let you wade through the sea of choices out there, and find that perfect pint you’re thirsting for.
There’s only really two kinds of beer. Ale and Lager. Whatever anything else is called, it’s just a variety of one or the other. Any of the common American beers are lagers. Technically, ales are top fermenting, and lagers, bottom. What does that mean? Who gives a toss. We’re not making it. We’re drinking it. Lagers are generally lighter and drier. Less complex. They’re crisper. They’re the ice cold beer you want after that run. Ales are fuller with more flavor. Less carbonated. Stronger. They’re best slightly less cold so you can savor the flavor.
So that’s the stepping off point. Ale or lager. From there, there are almost as many variations as there are brewers. A few broad examples of each will be enough to let you know what you should be expecting when you ask for something different.
American lagers make up about 90% of beer sales in the US. They’re inexpensive. Made to a broad demographic so they are less flavorful, watery, and highly carbonated. Pilsners are the most popular style of lager in the rest of the world. They tend to be a little more malty, sweet, hoppy and bitter. Towards the end of the lager scale are the Bocks. Those are very malty and strong. About as hearty as a lager will get.
As for the ales, English bitter is a good spot to start. There are many kinds, but they are usually lighter and smoother. Pale ales are the next step from there. They’re dry for an ale. More hops less malt. Scottish ales are dark and strong, like the country. Originally, porter was the mixed slop of several beers. Now, It’s a style to approximate that. The tend to be chocolatey from the roasted malt and/or barley. Stout is a stronger porter. More bitter. Then there’s the imperial stout--the most massive of beers. Full flavored and intense.
That’s all there really is to it. From there, it just takes some tasting to know exactly what the situation or mood calls for. Obviously everyone’s taste is different. No one is going to love every beer, but there surely is at least one for everybody. You just have to get out and look.