Here's How to Jump on the Craft Beer Bandwagon
There are over 4,000 breweries in the U.S. right now—the most ever recorded in American history. No longer are beer enthusiasts limited to a handful of options from megabrands; these days, obscure-sounding, small-batch beers are pretty much everywhere you look. (Want to know where to find them? We’ve rounded up some of our favorite nanobreweries across the country.) But the wealth of options can be paralyzing for non-experts. How to avoid getting overwhelmed? With so many interesting, unique options on the market right now, how can a casual beer fan identify his or her interests?
We spoke with Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the founder of Evil Twin Brewing, the co-author of the Food & Beer cookbook, and the menu curator for Tørst beer bar in New York City, for some advice on finding new brews without burning out your taste buds.
F&W: Where to start if you’re only familiar with big-name brands like Budweiser?
JJ: A good start is to always look at what you know. Budweiser is a lager, which is a specific style. We can do many different things with a lager, but it will always have a similar profile. Trying other lagers is what I often recommend at Tørst for people who are looking for Budweiser. It’s not totally new, but you still get something a little more flavored, a little more nuanced. Most people appreciate that it’s familiar to what they know but that still gives them something extra.
- For some solid starter lagers, Jarnit-Bjergsø recommends Evil Twin Low Life (“It’s my own play on Miller High Life,” he says) or the Firestone Walker Pivo (“I drink it myself, when you don’t want a crazy stout or IPA!”)
F&W: How can someone start developing his or her beer palate?
JJ: I compare it to eating spicy foods, like chiles. The first time you do it, your mouth is on fire, it’s a little painful and it may not be fun. The 5th time you do it, though, it’s way easier. It’s the same with beer. I remember the first time I had a lambic, a spontaneous fermented beer, that I got in Belgium; I didn’t like it. I was like, ‘what the hell is this? It’s so sour and tastes like vinegar.’ But the more I got into craft beer, and the more I tasted all these different beers I was sampling over the course of my travels, the more I could start to appreciate them. Now, lambics are one of my favorite styles! As with food, find a good starting point and build up your tolerance slowly. Don’t immediately go after something like a double IPA. It’s not gonna develop your palate faster, it will probably just kill it and turn you off to trying new things.
F&W: What up-and-coming breweries should people keep an eye on?
JJ: There are some breaking out now, like Trillium and Treehouse, both out in Massachusetts, and Cellarmaker in San Francisco. Those are all breweries people are starting to talk about and will keep talking about for years because they’re doing something unique and different. The thing is, most breweries are tiny. They do their own things, primarily serving the local community. So it’s fun to go to new areas and sample the local offerings, wherever you may be.
F&W: Where do you think craft beer is heading?
JJ: The craft beer scene definitely goes through different phases. Seven years ago, the rage was ‘let’s make it as crazy and strong as we can.’ It was fun and I still like to do a couple of those occasionally. It challenges me as a brewer.
But lately it’s really been about getting as much flavor and balance out of lower alcohol beer. We’re talking about 2 or 3% brews that taste absolutely amazing. It’s cool that’s the trend now, because sometimes you want to drink good beer without getting wasted. So if something tastes great and is only 3%, you can drink a few of them with no problem.
It’s important to recognize that it’s not just watering down what we did before, like taking a 7% beer and adding a bunch of water to make a 3% beer. We want the same flavor profile, the same balance, the same experience—just having a lower alcohol.
- For great lower proof beers, Jarnit-Bjergsø recommends Evil Twin Bikini Beer or Bell’s Oarsman Ale.
F&W: Finally, what’s one of your really crazy beer stories?
JJ: I made a wacky beer last year with a friend of mine, an American living in Norway. I travel a lot and always try to bring in local ingredients—because why go to Mexico or Japan and make the exact same beer you can make anywhere else? It doesn’t make a lot of sense. So I asked him, what is Norway famous for? And he said frozen pizza and money. Of course it’s a little silly, but sometimes you just need to have fun.
- Evil Twin Big Ass Money Stout is brewed with Grandiosa ham and pepper frozen pizza and actual money. The company made a deal with Gradiosa Pizza Co. and threw a bunch of frozen pizzas in during the boil. The money was added after fermentation, similar to dry-hopping beer. The brew has a whopping 17.5% ABV.