Craft beer cheat sheet
There’s no month that pairs more perfectly with an alcoholic beverage than July and beer.
Craft breweries across the United States are making some of the most experimental beers in the world, a welcome distinction for our gastronomic American palate.
Brewmaster, Garret Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery in New York, published a book to help people discover “the pleasures of real beer with real food.” In “The Brewmasters Table,” he offers a cheat sheet of beer styles and flavors for those just getting started on their craft brew journey.
Here are some common seen styles as described by Oliver and corresponding varieties available locally:
Bitter: Fruity and racy, subtle, low carbonation, robust hopping. (Fuller’s ESB, Full Sail Pale Ale)
Bock: Dark (usually), strong, malty, toffeeish, full-bodied, restrained bitterness. (Shiner Bock, Rogue Dead Guy Ale)
Helles: Golden, light-bodied, malty, bready, restrained bitterness. (Spaten, Hofbrau Original)
IPA: “India pale ale,” amber, strong, dry, robust hop bitterness. (Starr Hill Double Platinum, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale)
Lambic: Fermented by wild yeasts; tart base for geuze and fruit beers; funky. (Lindemann’s Framboise, Boon Geuze)
Marzenbier: Amber, bready, round, malty, caramelized; Oktoberfest style (Gordon Biersch Marzen, Victory Festbier)
Pilsner: If genuine — golden, dry, sharply bitter, flowery, bready, snappy. (Heavy Seas Uber Pils, Pinkus Pilsner)
Saison: Dry, sharp, spicy, complex, refreshing, hoppy, slightly strong. (Saison DuPont, Ommegang Hennepin)
Witbier: Belgian wheat beer, hazy yellow, light-bodied, citric, spritzy, slightly tangy. (Wittekerke,Hoegaarden)
Popular culture calls for hamburgers, hot dogs and cold beer in July. Hamburgers and hot dogs hold a distinct social mainstay, but cold beer has changed.
Beer used to be simple. You were either a Bud guy or a Miller gal, but the days of only yellow fizz mega-brews are gone. They fail to offer something of distinction, something you taste in American craft brews across the nation.
An ale or a lager is a good place to start, as all beers fall into one category or the other. Would you like a brown, red, pale or india pale? A pilsner or bock? Maybe a wheat, lambic or saison?
The abundant styles available today are still young in the beer industry. America’s brewing landscape remained barren for most of the 20th century. Prohibition devastated local and regional brewery business in the first part of the century, eliminating traditional and experimental styles.
Although Fritz Maytag, of Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, resurrected pre-Prohibition recipes and started brewing them in the 1960s, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that craft breweries like Sierra Nevada Brewing Company began brewing.
Craft breweries, as defined by the Brewers Association, annually produce six million barrels or less. Microbreweries produce less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year with 75 percent sold offsite.
Currently, craft and microbreweries are enjoying some of the highest growth in the alcoholic beverage industry. The industry has seen steady growth since 2000, and 1,753 breweries operated for some or all of 2010, which is the highest total since the late 1800s, according to the Brewers Association.
Even with these numbers, Southwest Florida just caught onto the trend within the last four or five years. There are still only a handful of places bringing beer enthusiasts something satisfying.
The bar offering the most craft beers is South Street City Oven and Bar on the corner of Pine Ridge and Goodlette-Frank roads. Beer drinkers can choose from 40 draft options, expanded from 24 taps in September 2010 and from 10 taps in September 2009. As owner Joe Unsinn puts frankly, “We’re committed to craft beer.”
South Street owns the distinction of the largest selection of craft beers on draft in Southwest Florida, and 20 of those taps consistently rotate. Unsinn recognizes the flourishing beer market in a once barren beer land, and wants people to know, “You don’t have to drink bad beer.”
In addition to numbers and rotations, South Street appeals to beer lovers with two beer tastings a month and a newly-introduced a craft beer club that includes benefits such as 22-ounce drafts for the price of 16-ounce drafts and “just tapped” text updates.
Another beer destination brings people downtown to Avenue Wine Café on Fifth Avenue, where I actually spend my nights serving more than 75 different and rotating bottle and draft beers. We specialize in American craft, but we also serve numerous Belgian and German classics.
A hidden secret is Giovanni’s Ristorante in the Crossroads shopping plaza on Pine Ridge Road just east of Interstate 75. In here, you’ll find an owner, Giovanni Conigliaro, with professional beer knowledge, passionate about sharing his worldwide selections with a thirsty enthusiast.
Uptown favorite the Pub at Mercato whets your sudsy palate with 26 U.K.-focused taps with selections from breweries like Belhaven and Fuller’s. In the Pavilion shopping center across from the Mercato rests a pool hall serving a few sought after draft surprises such as Belgian beers Delirium Tremens, Blanche du Bruxelles and Saison DuPont.
The glory of beer is that no matter what style you like, beer is a constant delight. A delight finally spreading across town.