12 November 2009

Craft Beer Indoctrination 101 (i.e., What to Push on Your Relatives This Holiday Season)

Here's a topic that we've discussed before: What sort of craft beer should a beer geek spring on his or her hapless relatives over the holiday season? I'm not necessarily talking about a brew that would match well with the food on the table, though that would be a nice benefit. Rather, I'm talking about a good gateway beer for those relatives and friends at your family's holiday gatherings who may be beer drinkers, but who aren't necessarily turned on to the craft beer world.

I'm taking a cue from Mike's experience a few years ago and choosing the workhorse of craft beer: the brown ale. I appreciate this style because it's flavorful, yet not in-your-face, and accessible, yet not pedestrian. In my experience, it's also a style that tends not to intimidate craft beer novices, and it's a hearty pick for the cold-weather months.

Here are my five brown ale picks, in no particular order:

Barley Island Dirty Helen Brown Ale. Going local is always a good thing. Besides, this is a GABF gold medal winner, so passing it up is not an option.

Sun King Wee Mac Scottish Ale. Wee Mac is already a hit with local beer drinkers despite being available for only four months now. Here's hoping that the Sun King tasting room is open on the day before Thanksgiving (hint hint, Clay and Dave...).

Bluegrass Brewing Company Nut Brown Ale. I've never been disappointed by this beer. A solid offering, every time.

Bell's Best Brown Ale. The last time I had a Best Brown on draft, it bowled me over. It was so amazingly flavorful, toting more chocolate notes than your standard American Brown. This is one that you may want to keep in store as you up the "difficulty level" with the craft beer newbies in attendance at your holiday gathering.

Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale. The gold standard of English Browns. Sweet, bready, and nutty, it's mellow enough to be palatable yet complex enough to be intriguing.

What are your suggestions? What specific beers or beer styles would you serve?


  1. hearty 2nd on the bell's best brown! Just polished off a 1/4bbl keg... it was a thing of beauty... and very much enjoyed by a friend of mine who independently only drinks macro brews.

    He's hated most everything else I've recently had on tap (say, lucky u ipa).

    Good selections - I'll add:

    - sun king cream ale
    - upland rad red
    - great lakes eliot ness (i miss you)
    - boulder cold hop (might be stretching it there, but damn I love that beer right now - from the title I was expecting it to be more of a fresh hop pale situation... but instead it is an amazing mild with just the right amount of hops for me)


  2. I definitely agree that brown ales are a great gateway beer style.

    One good example that you omitted is Goose Island Nut Brown Ale.

    I've also had success with giving Robert The Bruce out to non-crafties. I just started drinking it again and had forgotten how great it is.

    There's also the tried and true Sam Adams Winter Lager.