24 December 2007

This Christmas season, nurture the red-headed stepchild of the beer world

Most beer geeks I know (including me) are not frothing-at-the-mouth proselytizers. In other words, we sort of nudge people who aren't into craft beers toward the finer stuff, but we don't push. And when we nudge, we tend to focus on using what we call "gateway" beers to turn people on to better beer.

Undoubtedly, most of you HBG readers will be gathering with family over the next week for the holidays. Some of you (hell, most of you) are, like us, beer geeks who may want to introduce the uninitiated to stuff that will lead them to greener pastures. With that in mind, what, you ask, should you use as a gateway beer?

I champion the neglected and perhaps most abused style in the beer geek world: the brown ale. Talk to most beer geeks and they'll usually pooh-pooh brown ales (no pun or play on words intended there). You'll hear things like, "Too bland," or, "Meh," or, "Just doesn't do it for me. Gimmee an IPA." Yes, brown ales tend to be "middle-of-the-road" beers when it comes to flavor. They're usually on the malty side (though I've had browns with some hop heft), tend to feature a roasted nut and caramel flavor, and tend not to have a high ABV percentage. What gets lost in the criticism is how drinkable and agreeable brown ales can be, and drinkability is what you're shooting for if you're a beer geek trying to nudge newbies toward finer beer.

Before you head over the river and through the woods, I recommend to you three excellent brown ales that are well-suited as gateway beers (skip the Newcastle, by the way):

Bell's Best Brown Ale. I had this at the Chatham Tap back in October when they put this on tap after blowing their keg of Oberon. This is my favorite of the three browns I'm recommending because it has a higher hop fruitiness than most browns and finishes with a beautiful chocolate flavor.

Bluegrass Brewing Company Nut Brown Ale. I tried this at Deano's Vino last Friday and was not disappointed. Slightly sweet, nutty, very little hop bitterness. Not as good as the Bell's Best Brown, but very smooth.

Avery Brewing's Ellie's Brown. We warmed up with this at the last roundtable we held at Spencer's Stadium Tavern. As I noted in my review, this beer is outstanding in the brown ale style, exhibiting a great blend of caramel, vanilla, and toffee characteristics.

Have a Merry Christmas, Fabulous Festivus, and/or Cool Kwanzaa. We hope to see you at our New Year's Eve bash!

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