Do you find yourself daunted by the prospect of having to choose between a pale ale, India pale ale, extra pale ale, or a double dry hopped pale ale?
Unfortunately, for those lucky enough to already be well acquainted with the wonderful world of craft beer, it’s easy to forget that at one time perhaps not so long ago, they once started from a place of zero knowledge or experience, which is where any new initiate today now finds themselves.
To help make exploring and drinking craft beer that little bit less intimidating for those who are not yet quite so well-versed, we’ve decided to put together this quick visual guide on the subject for beginners.
Besides learning what actually makes a particular beer craft or not, we’ll also share with you some of the best styles that any beginner should commence their journey with, with typical flavour profiles and recommended examples of these also being provided.
Let’s keep tasting and enjoying craft beer as simple as it should be.
What is a Craft Beer?
An often asked and rather straightforward question, the answer to what constitutes a craft beer has been raging and hotly contested for quite some time.
In Australia, as is also widely the case in America, we generally follow the definition of craft beer that is put forward by the Brewers Association, which is an American organisation that’s widely seen as the authority on all things brewing and beer in that country.
According to them, a craft brewery is any brewery that is both small and independent, with these two terms being further explained below:
Small: this means that the output of the brewery in question cannot exceed more than 6 million barrels of beer per year.
Independent: generally seen as more of an important distinguishing factor than output, a craft brewery is also one that is majority owned (more than 76%) by an independent company that is not one of the large liquor companies.
Only those beers produced by breweries that can fit into these two categories of being both small and independent can be called craft beer, with those produced by breweries that don’t fit being classified as big or traditional domestic beer instead.
Beyond these two qualifications, however, many also like to recognise the fact that craft breweries often play an important role in the communities that they reside, with plenty being known for their philanthropic initiatives and community-minded marketing and brand outreach.
To read how some of the most well-known craft and big domestic brewing companies in Australia define craft beer, read the statements provided to Brews News Australia in one of their articles.
Which Styles of Craft Beer to Start With?
Depending upon what you like, there’s a range of different craft beer styles that you should start with.
Whilst some of the more well-known pale ales, India pale ales, or basic sour ales are often mentioned as good for beginners, particular styles, including saisons, summer ales, or pilsners are often better to start with thanks to their not overly fruity or bitter flavour profiles and generally very approachable taste and character.
Here’s a little more on the flavour profiles of these three styles and some of the recommended examples to keep an eye out for in Australia:
A style of beer that originated in Belgium, saisons, often classified as a sub-style of sour ale, are famous for their typically slightly sour flavour profile that includes prominent notes of funky fruits and exotic spice.
The reason they’re recommended here as a good beginners style is down to their overall rather light flavour profile that is neither too bitter nor too fruity, making them something of a sessionable (otherwise known as easy-going) style.
One of our personal favourites is the saison ale produced by Forest For The Trees, which is an Australian craft brewery that is famous for its farmhouse, sour, and wild ales.
Tropical, Summer, & Pacific Ale
Made famous by the immensely popular Australian brand Stone & Wood, tropical, summer, and pacific ales are characterised by their bright tropical fruit flavours and relatively soft amounts of bitterness.
Due to this, they are often highly recommended for craft beer first-timers as, similar to saison ales, they are regarded as being incredibly sessionable and approachable, especially in warmer weather, where they are particularly thirst-quenching.
Besides Stone & Wood, however, one of the best craft expressions of summer ales is the one by Gage Roads Brewing, which is a perth-based craft brewery that commonly features surf-related images and graphics on many of their beers.
Unique on this list for being the only style of lager featured, pilsners are far more famous in Europe than they are in Australia but still belong on any list that is discussing approachable and sessionable styles of beer that would easily suit someone not usually accustomed to craft beer.
This is because they balance a clean, crisp, and fresh flavour profile, with often slight amounts of herbal or exotic spice flavours, alongside a subtle amount of hoppy bitterness.
All in all, pilsners are typically regarded as being close in taste to a regular big brewing pale lager, such as Heineken or Stella Artois, with just slightly elevated amounts of hop character.
One of the top recommended craft pilsners available in Australia includes the one by Nine Fingers Brew, which is a Sydney-based craft brewery that makes a range of creative brews.