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.
This is a question I get all the time, and I love hearing it:
I like Heineken (or Blue Moon, or Guinness, or insert your favorite big-name beer here) and I want to explore some new beers. What should I try?
A lot of people pique their curiosity through "gateway" beers, big-name brands that are easy to find, like Newcastle, Michelob Amber Bock, and the ones listed above. These have something going for them—they're readily available, and maybe few bucks cheaper than some of the smaller-batch brands. But if you're looking to discover even more flavorful options, and you're wondering where to look, here are a few tips for your next trip to the store.
If You Heineken Makes You Happy
Heineken's got more bite than your everyday large-scale American brew. So your best bet is a good pilsner, a golden lager on the hoppy end of the spectrum. With its strong Germanic tradition, Pennsylvania teems with great pilsners, most notably the aggressive Victory Prima Pils and Sly Fox Pikeland Pils. Out West, the offerings are sometimes a smidge sweeter: in Colorado, Avery Joe's Premium American Pilsner smacks of lemon drops, and California's Lagunitas Pils chimes in with an apple note. And of course, defining the style are German offerings like Radberger and Bitburger> and the Czech Pilsner Urquell and Staropramen.
Could You Go for a Guinness?
Despite the often-repeated myth that Guinness is "a meal in a can," it's actually a very light-bodied stout—but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try heartier offerings, like Founders Porter or Rogue Shakespeare Stout. Meanwhile, you'll find that signature froth (which comes from nitrogen, as opposed to regular carbonation) in well-done tributes like Sly Fox O'Reilly's Irish Stout and on the occasional draft line of North Coast Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.
Want Something Newer Than Newcastle?
If you're into chestnut-hued brews like Newcastle or Michelob Amber Bock, let color guide you. Brown ales like Smuttynose Old Brown Dog and (in autumn) Sierra Nevada Tumbler bring chewy depth to the style. For a scarily drinkable—and equally amazing—amber lager, seek out Ohio's Great Lakes Eliot Ness. Meanwhile, Dogfish Head's India Brown Ale is a reliable go-to that's easier to find around the States.
More Than Once in a Blue Moon
If wheat beer like Blue Moon is your drink of choice, good news! Tasty choices abound, from spicy, Belgian-inspired witbiers (like Allagash White) to banana-scented hefeweizen (like Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat).
If you want to explore further, pick up a saison, the classic Belgian farmhouse beer. Saison Dupont is the one to start with, and is pretty easy to find at beer stores.
If You Drink Bud/Miller/Coors
Beer snobs like to poke fun at these big conglomerates, but light, golden brews are at the heart of some of the greatest beer cultures. If pilsners are hoppier than you like, try a golden lager or a Kolsch. Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold and several beers by Wisconsin's New Glarus Brewing> are exemplary, but the easiest to find are German imports like Gaffel and Hofbrau. They're very perishable, so freshness is key—look for draft if you can.
Wishing for Woodchuck?
If you drink Strongbow, Woodchuck, Magners, or other ciders, you're right on trend. The world of cider also has been exploding lately: American producers like Farnum Hill are making fresh-tasting farmhouse styles, while Champagne-like French ciders from Domaine Dupont are becoming easier to find.
And yes, there are beers out there for cider lovers too! For a dose of tartness, seek out mildly sour, barrel-aged beers, like the Jolly Pumpkin line (not actually pumpkin beers) or the funky-cool things coming from Anchorage Brewing Company.
We hope these help you delve further into your drink discoveries. Got another recommendation? Please chime in the comments!
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.