When transitioning from light to craft beer, you can’t expect your palate to change overnight. It takes time to redevelop your taste buds so you can truly enjoy what you’re drinking. Most people will make a face and push away a beer they’re not accustomed to drinking after one sip because the contents overwhelm their senses. All developed palates went through this phase at the beginning of the transition. Once you reach the point where the flavor of a beer brewed with natural ingredients by a smaller, independent company is something you crave, you’ll open up the options to a brand new world of spectacular beer choices!
To get your palate development kickstarted, let’s start simple with gradual steps. Going from a light pilsner to a Double IPA won’t work because your taste buds aren’t ready for that.
To assemble this list, I sought the counsel of three gentlemen whose beer knowledge I greatly trust and admire. The objective was to compile a list of six beers that, while packing great flavor, weren’t too overwhelming to the palate and could serve as perfect introductory beers before taking on something stronger. Here goes:
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – I have a soft spot for this one as it was my first craft beer of choice. This is Sierra Nevada’s flagship beer and inspired countless brewers to follow their passion. Pale Ale offers the piney and grapefruit aromas, which are the result of the use of whole-cone American hops. Despite the fact that Pale Ale has grown to the level of icon in the craft beer world, it remains new, complex, and surprising to thousands of beer drinkers every day. Sierra Nevada Pale is all natural and delivers a uniquely bold taste. Alcohol by Volume (ABV): 5.6%
Rogue Dead Guy Ale – Dead Guy is a German Maibock, a strong, golden lager favored by the Bavarians during the transition between severe winters and hot summers. Rogue’s offering is a deep honey color with a malty aroma and a rich, hearty flavor. In the early 1990s, Dead Guy Ale was created as a private tap sticker to celebrate the Mayan Day of the Dead, or All Souls Day, for Casa U Betcha in Portland, Oregon. The design was so popular, it became Dead Guy Ale’s label going forward. Dead Guy’s flavor starts off powerful, then relaxes. Overall, Dead Guy gives you an easy-to-drink ale with a nice flavor profile. ABV: 6.5%
Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold Lager – This brew from Cleveland, Ohio has been winning awards from Great Lakes Brewing since 1990 and is still going strong. Dortmunder is a smooth lager that hits you with a delicate balance between sweet malt and dry hop flavors. Dortmunder presents a beautiful golden amber color, great clarity, and a wheat-like aroma. Most reviews on this beer tell the tale of an extremely smooth taste, thus giving you a great sipping beer. Dortmunder Gold is a very easy beer to fall in love with. ABV: 5.8%
Founders Breakfast Stout – Of all the beers to make this list, Breakfast Stout may be the one that ventures the furthest off the path in regards to flavor adaptation. However…simply put…this beer is FANTASTIC! NOTE: It’s only a seasonal offering, available in the winter months (slotted for availability Sept-Dec 2014. However, you may get lucky and find one floating around…). If you can get your hands on some, you’ll be glad you did. Breakfast Stout is the perfect beer for any coffee lover. It’s brewed with flaked oats, bitter and imported chocolates, and Sumatra and Kona coffee. This one’s as unique as they come, but one you’ll appreciate and look forward to as the cold months approach. ABV: 8.3%
Southern Tier Live – This offering from Southern Tier Brewing is a bottle-conditioned Pale Ale, which means sugar or, in Live’s case, a little more yeast is added to the clear beer for a secondary fermentation just prior to packaging. This helps add carbonation, remove oxygen, and increase the shelf life of the beer. Live is brewed with four varieties of hops and malts, creating a light copper final product that gives a great kick of hops, but not in an overwhelming fashion. Live is one of my go-to beers whenever available. ABV: 5.5%
English and Belgian Brown Ales – You can go many different directions with this style, as the term is spawned from Mild Ale. Brown Ales tend to be maltier and sweeter on the palate, with colors ranging from reddish to dark brown. They tend to have low hop aroma and low bitterness as well. A popular English Brown Ale is Newcastle Brown Ale, pictured at the right and delivering an ABV of 4.7%. This beer will provide a great foundation and will lead you into a wide variety of different brown ales down the road.
What it really boils down to is your overall preference. This list is simply a jumping-off point to get the ball rolling. You may find preference to one style of beer that will become your staple, but plenty of breweries offer similar products that may tickle your fancy. The choice is up to you. And as you retrain your palate for these new brews, the choices you’ll want to partake in will be rich and abundant.
P.S. — Let your beers breathe! Pour them into a pint glass or snifter to enhance your drinking experience.
A special thanks to Jason Collins, Mark Strauss, and Hart Johnson from Piper’s Pub for contributing to this list.