Before I begin this post, I need to say yes, we all have our preferred beer styles. We all get a little bit excited when we see a favourite style of ours listed on the menu as an offering, or as a new arrival at a liquor store. However, contrary to what some people might say, you can have too much of a good thing.
Far too often I overhear eager drinkers, particularly those new to craft beer, declare their love of a single style. There is a fine line between appreciation and obsession. Whenever I get a chance, I like to share my own story to them, of how I opted to drink a single style for a significant time period and by doing that, ultimately changed how I experience beer.
Let’s rewind to the very beginning: I have always liked beer. Even as a kid when I snuck sips of my dad’s Old Style Pilsner, I liked the carbonation and sweet malt flavour. I’ve always been attracted to things that are supposedly an acquired taste: olives, blue cheese, pickled anything, brussel sprouts, black coffee. So when I approached my teens and entered the “drinking world”, I toted along beer to many house parties despite the fact the majority of my friends selected sugary alcoholic confections (with that said, green apple Sour Puss and Long Island iced tea mix will always be dear to my nostalgic heart).
Throughout time, my beer preferences shifted from Old Style Pilsner, to Corona (with lime, of course), to Stella Artois, and then to the much sweeter Sleeman’s Honey Brown. Finally, in my early twenties, I dated someone with a Swiss uncle who opened up my world to German beers. He would ask me “blonde or brunette tonight?” which translated to light (premium) or dark (Dunkel) Warsteiner beer. After I made my selection, he squeezed a generous amount of lime into my beer (I know, right?) to which I would always ask for more (sigh). I was starting to notice flavours that I had never experienced before, especially with the Dunkel. Years later, when I purchased a bottle of Warsteiner Dunkel, it tasted nothing like I remembered. Of course, it was missing the addition of an entire lime. To summarize, my experiences with beer were always with lager.
That is until Matt immersed himself in the craft beer world around 2012 and whenever possible, I’d take some sips of whatever he was drinking. Until that point, having only been exposed to lagers; my taste buds exploded. Perhaps this is why when I tried my first IPA (honestly, I don’t remember what the first was) my palate transformed into a sponge that only wanted bitter. From there on out, for the next year or two, I only drank IPAs. I turned my nose up at any lagers and gulped down pint after pint of hop bombs; I had become a devout “hop head.” Until something weird happened.
After consciously drinking mostly IPAs for a significant duration of time, my senses were fed up. It got to the point where even if I smelled an IPA, I would start gagging. I couldn’t even take a small sip without wanting to vomit and the aroma would make my eyes water. I had burnt out on my beloved style. Around that time, I fell in love with a new favourite style: sours. Remember what I said about acquired tastes? Clearly, I like extreme flavour profiles. I was that kid that would eat sour keys and salt and vinegar chips until my tongue bled, so it’s no surprised that after enjoying my first sour, Duchesse de Bourgogne, I wanted more.
During a trip to Portland for my 26th birthday, I visited Cascade Brewing for the first time and was awestruck. Between the two of us, Matt and I consumed the entire menu and I remember how happy I felt. Soon after, I fell down the same one style trap. Worse, limiting myself to sours ended with indigestion, acid reflux, and a whole lot of pain. I still very much love a well made sour, I just know having an abundance of them isn’t enjoyable for me anymore.
After my experiences with drinking a single style, twice, I noticed I started appreciating lagers again. I also realized I probably suffered from palate fatigue during these ventures because now that I drink a bit of everything, I’m fairly good at picking out subtleties in beers. Although I have styles that I’m still not the biggest fan of (barley wines, kӧlsch, hefeweizens) I’ve learned to never write off any specific styles because each beer, even if it’s the same style, have different characteristics. I always assumed I didn’t like stouts because I hated Guinness, and if it wasn’t for Matt encouraging me to try other stouts, I would never have branched out.
To summarize, it’s good to get excited about beer, particularly if you find a style that jives with flavours you love. I implore you to try all beer styles, though. Don’t limit yourself to a single style and burn out on it. You already know you like that style, why not explore flavours that you may not be familiar with and expand your beer knowledge, improve your palate, and try something new. And who knows? Maybe you’ll discover an entirely new favourite style of beer.
The name of this post was inspired by the TedTalk “The Dangers of a Single Story” by Novelist Chimamanda Adichie. You should watch that TedTalk: http://ed.ted.com/featured/TXtMhXIA