By Emily Hutto
Shopping for craft beer can be a lot like bellying up to your favorite beer bar and perusing a rotating list of draft beers—only when you shop for beer at the store, you don’t have the luxury of tasting a one-ounce sample before you commit to that six-pack or bomber. The next time you’re shopping for beer, try these expert tips for filling your cart.
Ask for Recommendations
When choosing beers, “ask whoever is working and hope they know what they’re talking about,” says Joe-Michael Wright, who owns the Hugo’s Colorado Beer & Spirits in Denver. More often than not, that store clerk just so happens to be a beer geek who is ready and willing to talk shop. Ask that clerk what new beers he or she likes and what breweries he or she can’t get enough of right now. Cooking something specific for dinner? Ask that clerk what he or she would pair it with. You’re about to untap a wealth of knowledge and geekdom.
Know Your Palate
Sweet or dry? Light, medium-bodied, or heavy mouthfeel? Hoppy or malty or both? Fruity? Earthy? Spicy? The list of flavor adjectives goes on, and the better you know your preferences the more likely you are to choose a beer off the shelf that suits you—especially if you have some guidance from the salesperson. “A large selection can be overwhelming sometimes, but you know what you like,” says Jeff Eaton, former clerk at Fabby’s Wine and Spirits, and current brewer at CB & Potts Brewery in Fort Collins.
Ask the Right Questions
“When asked to recommend something at the store, I always try to drill down on details of what the person is looking for,” says Wright. “‘I want an IPA—what do you suggest?’ ‘Well, what kind of IPA do you want? Resiny and piney, or more citrusy?’”
Beyond flavor profiles, beer shoppers should focus on freshness. Don’t just ask whether that IPA has tropical-forward hops or whether it was dry-hopped—ask when it was brewed, when it was delivered to the store, and how it was stored. Time and temperature can greatly affect the freshness of a beer, specifically a hoppy beer.
Pay Attention to the Fine Print
A lot of breweries list brewed on, bottled on, and/or expiration dates on their beers. Others indicate best cellaring or serving temperatures, as well as glassware instructions. Adhere to these guidelines to enjoy these beers the way the brewers intended.
“When I walk into a bottle shop or liquor store, I never have a beer in mind unless I know St. Lupulin was just released,” jokes Eaton. “That aside, I always look for something new. There are so many impressive beers coming out right now and many that are beginning to be distributed in new areas.”
If you know your palate, ask poignant questions of knowledgeable store employees, and pay close attention to that fine print, you might just discover your new favorite beer…for the time being.