Beer and Cheeseburgers Have More In Common Than You Think

Ever met someone who’s never had a cheeseburger?  Ok, just for the sake of argument, just imagine it.  Yes, this person would probably have to be a recent transplant from Mars.  But for the sake of argument, imagine that you meet someone who’s never had one, and this deprived individual wants to see what one tastes like and on top of that, is looking for your opinion.  Easy enough, right?  How could you possibly do any injustice to this person?  Cheeseburgers are absolutely everywhere.  Every restaurant and fast food chain, street vendor and office cafeteria has them.  So after that initial shock wears off, you tell this person to simply jump in his car (or ship) and go find one, it’s easy enough, he’ll probably find one within the first city block travelled.  So he sets out and sure enough within the first city block, he spots these two huge yellow arch like things and stops for food.  Upon his return, you hear his story, and you think…oh wow, his whole cheeseburger definition is centered around…that?  You could’ve grilled one in your backyard, and it would’ve been a lot different (and most likely, more flavorful).

This is terribly oversimplified, but bottom line, not all cheeseburgers are the same and of course, neither are beers.  But more importantly than that, neither are individual beers within a particular style.  One “brown ale” is going can taste fairly different from the next.  When I first got into tasting different, and “better” beers, I knew there were bunches of different styles.  I had seen them on the outside of bottles, I had seen them listed on websites, I had heard others talk about them at tastings.  But not long after I started the wonderful trip down the road of trying different beers and getting acclimated to different styles, it was immediately clear that beer style names and labels are truly just guidelines, and very loose ones at that most of the time.  There are lots of style labels that are very catch all.  Not that this is a bad thing necessarily, for two reasons.  One, some general direction is surely needed.  Reason two is that if you want to try to get a handle one style or another, you have to try more…and more…beer!  But there’s so much variation out there, and after a while I honestly started to feel guilty for telling someone that the ale I tried the other night was technically an “amber ale”.  Because that, in of itself, hardly begins to scratch the surface.

So this makes it just a bit harder to recommend a so called “gateway beer” to someone.  I truly believe there are a lot of people out there wanting to try something that isn’t yellow, carbonated, and readily available.  I love the idea of someone wanting to try something different, because I’m there too.  This is what better beer exploring is all about.  At the same time, it’s hard to answer the question “ok, what should I try?” with one generalized beer style as an answer.  I asked Aaron Layman, my always helpful contact and Beer Buyer at The Wine Gourmet here in Roanoke, what he thought good examples of gateway beers might be, and he responded with both styles and examples.  Which sounds like the way to go – his immediate idea of something different to try first might be an amber ale, and recommended one from Bell’s Brewery in Michigan.  According to, an American Amber/Red Ale is defined as “a catch all” and one that “tends to focus on the malts, but hop character can range from low to high”.   Again, one can tell that this is, like a lot of styles labels, a wide ranging one.  I occasionally recently tried the Hopback Amber Ale from well known Troeg’s Brewery in Pennsylvania.  I am soon off to try the Bell’s, but from the reviews on, it will be more than a little different from the Troeg’s.  Troeg’s puts out another “amber ale”, their Nugget Nectar, which from reviews is quite different still.

Either way, an amber ale just might be a good way to try something different than your typical mega brewery beer.  It’s important though to remember that one beer is different from another, regardless of label, and the tastes and characters are absolutely endless.  Labels are only a scratch on the surface, generalizations at best.  Frustrating maybe?  Not the least.  This is where better and craft beer exploring gets fun.  Remember, this only means that if someone (like me) wants to really get a good handle around a particular style, means more beer tasting!

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~ by thebeerroad on March 5, 2010.

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