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  • The ABC’s of Ordering Beer

    By Malia Paasch for HR Growler
    Photo by Chrystal Culbert

    Asking for a beer seems a simple enough process, but what happens if you just don’t know what you like? This happens more often than you might think. Craft beer’s growing popularity has led to more people trying it; not all of them are even remotely aware of what they want. The key is understanding flavors and being aware of the ones you like. I’ve heard some crazy descriptions: types of candy, exotic seasonings, nail polish remover, vinegar, and even dirt. But don’t be shy. Anything can help give the bartender a starting point to your palate. Here are a few of the most common scenarios my staff and I encounter when we’re trying to find someone their perfect beer.

    Scenario 1: You tell the bartender you like (or dislike) hoppy beers.
    Most beers have hops, but that doesn’t mean all beers taste like an India Pale Ale. There are 124 named hop varieties and each has its own special flavor. There are hop varieties that aren’t even bitter.


    If you like hops, tell the bartender what other IPAs you like. This provides a clue as to what kind of hops you already enjoy. Common hop descriptors in IPA include pine, spruce, grapefruit, and citrus.


    Otherwise, explain why you don’t like hoppy beers. Is it because the hops are bitter or is it the aftertaste? It could be that you enjoy fruity hops and not the piney ones.


    Scenario 2:  You ask the bartender for something light.
    Do you mean light in color? Light in alcohol, or body? Does that mean tart or are you looking for a wheat beer? A diehard IPA fan might consider a 7 percent IPA to be light, while others are looking for a more traditional interpretation and want a pilsner. Again, the simplest way is to give an example of a beer you like, even if it isn’t a craft beer.


    Scenario 3: You don’t really like beer.
    It’s not often you’ll find yourself in a position where a bar doesn’t have alternatives to beer, but in some cases it does happen. Tell the bartender what alcoholic drinks you like. If you like margaritas, you might like something crisp, slightly tart, and a bit fruity. A red wine drinker might enjoy a mild sour beer. White wine lovers usually like a witbier or Belgian tripel.
    Of course the best way to learn more about beer is to drink some. But don’t be shy about chatting up a knowledgeable bartender. You never know what you might discover.

  • Don't Sour on Sours Yet

    by Malia Paasch

    This week I’m hosting my fifth annual 43 Hours of Sours at The Birch, a craft beer bar in Norfolk’s Chelsea neighborhood. And while sours continue to grow in popularity, I still field a fair amount of questions about them.

    So here is a little tutorial. The term “sour” applies to beers that taste acidic, vinegary, funky, or tart. There are a variety of techniques to make one, but the foundation is based on the yeast or bacteria used. Bacteria metabolize sugar in the wort and produce lactic acid. Brewers will use a combination of bacteria to obtain the desired acidity, and in most cases end up blending different batches together.

    The second aspect to making a sour involves the manner in which bacteria are added to the beer, and how it is aged. Historically, German brewers would throw malt to get a lacto sour going because the husks are loaded with lactobacicullus.

    The kettle sour method and barrel aging are other methods of the process. Sours can take on the flavors from the liquids that were previously in the barrels. Plus the barrels also hold microflora and microorganisms, which will also affect taste.

    Making sours is not easy and in some cases takes years. But they can be worth every second of the wait. I’m convinced there is a sour for everyone, but the search may take time.

    First, identify you flavor profile. If you are more of a wine drinker, there is a good chance you will prefer wine barrel-aged sours. But if you like Sweet Tarts or Sour Patch Kids, you might want to steer toward a Berliner Weiss or a dry-hopped sour IPA.

    Here are some classic sour styles and their tasting notes for you to use as a guide:

    •Flemish Reds: smooth, slightly sweet, sometimes fruity
    • Goses: salty, tart, light
    • Gueuze: bitter greens, vinaigrette
    • Berliner Weiss: refreshing, lemony, crisp
    • Wild Ales: dry, funky, can be fruity or tart
    • Basque Ciders: tart, vinegary, olive

    At our 43 Hours of Sour festival, we create tasting notes for every beer on draft and customers can opt to get a 4.5 oz taster pour instead of committing to a whole glass. Some other great places to find sours in the area are Esoteric, The Lynnhaven Pub, Dog Street Pub, and The Bier Garden, or Total Wine, Grape and Gourmet, Bottlebox, and Exception(Ale) for take home.