Editor's Note: Want beer advice? Our columnist Orr Shtuhl is here to help, and no topic is off the table. Got questions about beer drinking, beer shopping, cooking with beer, beer etiquette, or anything else to do with beer? Ask away! Newbies welcome.
Hi, my question is:
How should a non beer drinker stock a beer fridge? Vodka and I are close friends, but I've never cottoned on to beer. So what are some go-to types of beer that will please most crowds? IPA? Hefesomething? Help out a clueless host!
Courtney, thanks for writing! I know your beer-loving guests will appreciate your thoughtfulness. Now let's get that fridge of yours stocked.
Math and I have a dicey relationship, but let's start with some numbers. In supermarket sales, the top five beer styles at the moment are:
- India pale ale (IPA)
- pale ale
- amber ale
- amber lager
Even if you don't know a stout from a porter—don't worry, we can cover that later—you can see that this list has a whole lot of hops and amber waves of grain. They're nice beers and all, but if you're expecting a crowd, you want diversity.
When we look at the percent change over the last year, we see that the fastest growing styles are IPA, Belgian ale, stout, and pale lager.
What do we learn from these two sets of data? American drinkers love IPA, the hoptastic, floral and bitter style that has come to typify American brewing. So go ahead and keep an IPA or two in your fridge. Want specific bottles? Here are a few of our favorites from New England, New York, the Midwest, the South, California, Oregon, Washington, and Colorado. (Count us among the fans of IPA.)
American-style pale ale, IPA's little brother, also tends toward the bitter, though these are often more subdued and balanced by bready flavors. To save a little room in your fridge and aim for diversity, you can figure that most pale ale lovers will be willing (or even happy) to drink an IPA, and move on to other styles.
So we have aggressive and bitter—where to go next?
How about the total opposite: the soft and delicate wheat beer. I'll gloss over nerdy specifics, but most wheat beers you'll find are either in the style of Belgian witbier or German hefeweizen. Belgian varieties tingle with lemon and pepper flavors, a product of their regional yeast strains and brewing with dried citrus peel and coriander. The German persuasion is more honeyed and velveteen, forgoing spices (which in German brewing are strictly verboten) and coaxing banana, clove, and occasionally bubblegum aromas out of their own yeast strains. Linguists can further explore the intricacies of weiss and weizen here, but keeping a good wheat beer on hand will please guests who want a beer that's a tad sweet and not too bitter.
There are a dozen more styles I'd love to get into, but now you've got two six-packs in the fridge, and if you're not drinking them yourself, you need to save space for groceries and all that tonic you probably have on hand for your vodka. So round out your selection with a beer on the dark side, one that's sweet, roasty, and approachable.
It pains me to say it, but I still see people terrified of drinking black beer, as though it must be profoundly bitter and thicker than molasses. Don't be afraid of the dark! Instead, bypass bolder styles (i.e. anything with the word "imperial") and offer your guests a simple porter. Their flavors range from roast coffee to baking chocolate—you can dig deeper here—and they're almost universally lighter than their stout cousins. Porters are your friendly dark beer, a crowd-pleaser that will please even folks who've never tried it.
If you choose wisely and aim for diversity, you can stock a good beer fridge with just a few bottles. Remember to buy fresh beer and keep it chilled; don't buy caseloads if they're going to gather dust.
And of course, it always helps to know your friends. Next time you host, ask them what they think of your offerings. Maybe even try a sip—with your newfound knowledge, you might find yourself reaching for a beer after all.
About the author: After serving for three years as the Washington City Paper's dedicated beer columnist, today Orr Shtuhl writes and drinks in indiscriminate order. You can follow him on Twitter at @beerspotter.