Statements that Won’t Help You Order Your Next Favourite Beer

Craft breweries! San Diego’s old news, Toronto’s new passion.

On the side, I serve and bartend at a Torontonian craft brewery in the glorious West end. Having worked with, and sold, craft beer for eons I have encountered lots of confusion with patrons who don’t “speak beer.” There is disjoint between what the drinker knows, and the language the server speaks.

Here are some statements to avoid to actually get the beer you want on your next night out:

“I don’t like hops.”

Sorry not sorry,  but craft beer is all about the hops. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule: many beers are brewed for flavours that come from the yeast. However, the majority of craft beer drinkers and lovers don’t like the bread-like, funky, grassy, affect yeast has on taste.

Beer has a limited number of ingredients. (Pro tip: if a brewery brags about their four ingredients, it’s not special. It’s standard.) Hops, water, sugar, and yeast are the basic ingredients. Sugar can be found in starches and wheat and gives the yeast something to eat to create alcohol. Alcohol is just yeast poop.

Hops act as a preservative and give the beer its flavour. Certain strains are bred to promote certain flavours. Chances are if you don’t like hops you just don’t like beer (which is A-OK!)

“Is it dry?”

Beer can be dry. However, unless you’re a sommelier or work with alcohol you do not know what this means. I guarantee it.

People think “dry” means:

  • a beer that isn’t fruity
  • a “grown up” alcoholic drink
  • the proper way to inquire as to taste
  • something else I haven’t figured out, because no one knows what this word means.

To be honest, the beer industry fails the consumer in educating them on how to drink and how to order a beer. How to drink is a plethora of knowledge and experience for another day. For now, I will tell you now the idiot’s guide to dry:

Does it make you thirsty?

Sounds stupid, but that is literally what dry means. A “dry” beverage is one that you gulp down because it makes you thirsty. It’s a drink that requires a side of water. It does not mean a “grown up” or “not fruity.” Many (not all) dry drinks have elevated sugars to create a more balanced beverage, but that is more common in wine than beer.

“I don’t like bitter.”

Yes, hops are bitter and we have already established that beer is hops. Did you know that hops can also be savoury, funky (barnyard), and sour? There are differences between each flavour. If a drink is sour, you can expect a tingling sensation or dryness – which means that it makes you thirsty. Sour often makes me gasp, since it’s sensation and taste I don’t particularly enjoy. A funky drink will just confuse the hell out of your mouth. Bitter is jalapeños, chard, or Starbucks Pike place roast.

If you can learn the difference between these tastes, it will better help you understand what beers you do like. Often times brewery goers cannot differentiate these tastes, lumping them together as “bitter.” They’re actually very different! I am rarely surprised when a stout drinker enjoys sour beers, but I am always surprised when a double IPA drinker loves a sour. There are relationships and differences between these flavours.

“Do you have anything like Canadian/Coors/Heineken/Corona?”

No, and get out or STFU and take this generic lager we slapped together for heathens like you. You should be thankful a microbrewery bothered with a drink as boring as a lager.

“I like all beers.”

Do you? DO YOU? Because I drink all day every day and there are definitely beers I do not like. That’s like saying “I love absolutely everything about my spouse!” when in reality you hate their morning breath and how their poops clog the toilet.

If you haven’t met a beer you dislike, it’s because you haven’t been adventurous with your choices and you are drinking the same thing constantly. Take a chance and try out the strange and the rare! If you’re not sure where to start, ask your server what beers the brewmaster was most creative with. Order a tasting flight of these beers and allow yourself to be horrified. It’ll be fun!

Anyone who has ever said to me “I like all beers” has not liked all beers. Sometimes tastes and palates are defined by what you don’t like, and that’s absolutely fine. Trying the new unusual keeps your palate and mind sharp.

“What’s your favourite? Can I have that?”

This is a great conversation, but it doesn’t help your server give you the drink you want. I love stouts, porters, Belgium beers, APAs, and IPAs. Those are not popular beers to drink, and I don’t expect someone new to craft beer to enjoy any of them. I also dislike wheat beers and lagers, but those are always popular selections.

If your server is skilled she will tell you one of her favourites and a best-seller, and then ask what you like to drink. Based on what beers you do like she should be able to suggest something you will actually enjoy, not something she does.

“I don’t like beer. What should I get?”

Well, why are you wasting time in a brewery?

Bandit Brewery’s Refreshing German Alt Beer

I will be honest, I don’t have any of pictures of this beauty. I gulped it down.

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Relatively new to Toronto’s craft beer scene, Bandit Brewery is nestled next to the cozy and hipster neighbourhood of Roncesvalles. It’s bottle shop is open from 11AM -11PM, with the restaurant open at varying hours. The beers have clever names (Farmed and Dangerous, Hassle-heffe, Smoke on the Porter) and clever branding. As native Torontonians will know, the raccoon imagery is an homage to our unofficial mascot, and short lived celebrities. It’s cute, in spite of the macabre reference.

Bandit’s German Alt beer isn’t on the regular menu. It’s a special, limited edition, Oktoberfest brew. I chose this beer specifically to review as it is not a beer I would typically order on a night out, or take home with me from a brewery visit.

Bandit’s interpretation on German Alt Beer is crisp, refreshing, and flavourful: in a word, delightful.

Initially, the nose and palate were dominated by corn and corn husk notes. This was scary at first, as I normally associate “corny” with Canadian/Coors brews. However, the scent and taste was hearty and snappy. The corn-elements opened into more subtle flavours: crushed clove, white honey, dried sage, cut twigs, soft citrus and subtle malts. Savouring this beer felt like a walk in the park on the first day of fall.

Bandit’s German Alt beer is delicious! I highly recommend Torontonians (and our guests) try it out while fall beers are still available.

Prost!

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Burdock Brewery’s Oat Pale Ale

Recently launched and prime for drinking, Burdock’s Oat Pale Ale is a fun addition to Toronto’s brew scene.

The nose is very subtle, most of the olfactory experience was from the immediately opened bottle. Like Burdock’s website says, it’s “fresh, fresh,fresh.” There’re some herbs and florals, and slight candied lemon peel. At 3.8% alcohol, this is the cure for the humid heat wave Torontonians have been suffering. However, after my first bottle (which went quickly!) I missed the usual vivacious mystique Burdock typically offers.

This easy drinking beer is enjoyable because it is that: easy drinking. I enjoy the summer-perfect freshness, although I find the palate lacking. It is delightfully dry, but I couldn’t wrestle up more description than “fresh craft beer.” The soft herbs, citrus, and hops flavours did build, and I am a fan of their choice to dry hop this brew. This is a well made beer, but pale ale diehards may find it too soft in comparison to other pale ales, oat or not.

This beer officially launched on social media on August 23rd 2016. Burdock’s brewers always have new and interesting beers to try. However, I don’t think I would get this again from their bottle shop to take home. This is certainly a beer to enjoy now with friends on Burdock’s gorgeous Bloor West patio. While I aim to do just that, I won’t have this in reserve as my after-work beer.

Bonus: the acronym for this is Burdock OPA.