Tastes are subjective, and craft beer is no exception. But if you're getting into the scene, check out these 10 gateway beers that will give you an idea of the world of available flavors. These brews, five of which are locally produced, are widely available year-round.
We call them "gateway" because, as they say, once you go craft, you never go back.
Moose Drool by Big Sky Brewing Co.
Brown ale, 5.1% ABV
This beer turned me into a craft drinker. It's a brown ale, so almost smack-in-the-middle of the beer flavor spectrum. Moose Drool has a light sweetness, and a moderate body; the consistency is thicker than water, but thinner than a milkshake. This is by no means a dessert beer; you can pair this with many foods, or drink a sixer while you float the river.
Black Butte Porter by Deschutes Brewery
Porter, 5.2% ABV
Generally, porters are more robust brews in sweetness, complexity and body. The texture of the beer is evident as you drink it, and the Black Butte Porter has some great notes of chocolate and coffee. It's OK to let darker beers warm up as you sip them, as that allows more flavors to present themselves. The coffee in Black Butte comes out more as the temperature rises.
Fat Tire by New Belgium Brewing Co.
Amber ale, 5.2% ABV
Amber ales are another middle-of-the-road style, but are very different from brown ales. Ambers are more similar to red ales and have more hop characteristics. Fat Tire is a particularly balanced amber, with some sweetness from the malts countered by the bitterness of the hops. You can taste both in this beer. The body will be fairly light and carbonated, which makes it easy to drink.
Double Barrel Ale by Firestone Walker Brewing Co.
British pale ale, 5.0% ABV
Pale ales tend to be lower alcohol and easy to drink, but some can be on the hoppy side. English versions tend to have a mild hop flavor and more biscuit-like notes. Firestone Walker's DBA is a great example of an English pale ale. Additionally, it's partially barrel-aged, so you may notice woody or vanilla notes. Most barrel-aged beers have a high alcohol content and are expensive, but Firestone Walker made DBA a staple and a gateway version of this style for many people.
Mama's Little Yella Pils by Oskar Blues Brewery
Pilsner, 5.3% ABV
The classic pilsner is regarded as the cleanest, lightest, most refreshing beer style, and this German/Czech-style pils is a great example. Mama's Little Yella Pils is the ticket to a smooth transition from macro brews to craft. Though it's more than 5 percent alcohol, it's still considered a "session" beer, meaning you can drink it all day long.
Blood and Honey by Revolver Brewing
Wheat ale, 7% ABV
This wheat beer is for Shock Top and Blue Moon drinkers. Wheat beers tend to be a great "intro to craft beer" style, and Blood & Honey is even more widely enjoyed by folks who are used to wine or cider, as it has some complex flavors, including orange peel, coriander and honey. It's flavorful, medium/light-bodied and packs a punch at 7 percent alcohol content. Folks outside of Texas clamor for this beer. It's that good.
Golden Opportunity by Peticolas Brewing Co.
Golden ale, 4.6% ABV
This Dallas brewery makes amazing beers, but few of them are sessionable. Enter Golden Opportunity. This is the beer that got my Bud Light- and Heineken-drinking father to admit that craft beers might be worth the money. Golden Opportunity is light, refreshing and crisp -- you can pair it with almost anything. At 4.6 percent alcohol, you could pair it with another Golden Opportunity. But you'll have to go to a bar or the brewery to get it, as Peticolas beers are available exclusively on draft.
Mike Modano's 561 by Rabbit Hole Brewing
Kölsch, 4.7% ABV
Looking for something refreshing? Reach for a kölsch. Kölsch beers (along with wheat and golden ales) are optimal for many folks dipping their taste buds into craft from macro-brews, or who say they don't like the taste of beer. The 561 is one of the best kölsch-style beers I've ever had, including ones from Cologne, Germany, the birthplace of the beer style. Rabbit Hole does a great job making a crisp brew with light fruit notes common of a kölsch, and of course hockey fans will appreciate the name as well.
Ugly Pug by Rahr and Sons Brewing Co.
Schwarzbier, 5.0% ABV
A schwarzbier is also known as a black lager, so expect this beer to be on the darker side. Its body is lighter than many dark beers, however, like a brown ale. Guinness drinkers, in particular, may be fond of this recipe. Expect notes of chocolate and coffee in Ugly Pug, especially as it warms up. You'll also get caramel or some burnt sugar (in a good way).
The Temptress by Lakewood Brewing Co.
Milk stout, 9.1% ABV
The Temptress is aptly named -- you'll be tempted to drink more than one of this delicious beer, and while it has 9.1 percent alcohol content, that may be a risk worth taking. While most people wouldn't think of a bold stout as a "gateway" beer, it's great to hook people interested in trying dark beers. It's more of a dessert brew, so if you like port wines, give it a try. The body is thick, but not syrupy, and it has an abundance of chocolate, caramel and vanilla flavors. Temptress is available year-round, and has many variations that are also worthwhile, such as the raspberry and mint flavors.