Many people pick up a bottle of wine because they feel that it gives them a sophisticated edge over those who opt for a quick and easy beer. It’s an edge that is more complex, and layered with aromatic and flavorful elements that gives wine drinkers butterflies with each sip. But lately, beer has been stepping up its game, folks, and giving drinkers an experience that goes head-to-head with the experience of drinking a fine wine.
As the American craft beer movement spreads, the cheap stuff college kids notoriously reach for is taking a back seat to more versatile flavors and recipes, many of which parallel wine in taste, body, and how they pair with food.
With so many choices, it can be difficult to know where to begin, so we spoke with Adam Ottwein, bar manager at BrainDead Brewing and one of 12 certified cicerones in Dallas, to find some starter beer styles that will appeal to wine lovers’ palates.
If you like: Light pinot noirs
Adam suggests: Flemish sours, preferably Flanders Red or Oud Bruin
Why they work: Both styles are noticeably sweet yet tart, with a light to medium body and earthy undertones.
Originally brewed in West Flanders, Belgium, Adam says the Flanders Red picks up woody notes from the oak barrels it’s brewed in, and sour, funky flavors from the introduction of wild yeast. Oud Bruin also gets its profile from wild yeast, which usually manifests as tart and fruity, similar to the tangy acidity of a pinot noir.
If you like: Rich cabernets
Adam suggests: Imperial stouts
Why they work: These beers are thick and dark recipes that are high in tannins. In Adam's words, imperials are “big and chewy,” hinting at their rich flavors.
The bold, aggressive body of an imperial stout is a good match for a strong red. The beers are usually dark brown or almost black in color, and have a velvety smooth texture reminiscent of a luxurious cabernet. This full-bodied beer matches a cabernet’s intensity and high-tannin bitterness.
If you like: Bold syrahs
Adam suggests: Biere de Gardes
Why they work: This French style, which means "beer for keeping" in English, is rich and spicy with a malty sweetness and hints of dark fruit aromas.
A Biere de Garde is farmhouse-style ale, or a saison, meaning the beer is brewed in the wintertime and served as a fruity and mildly tart summer beer. Adam notes that this kind of beer can have an earthy funk, and even a smoky or olive-like quality due to its Northern French wine country origins. It's layered with a wild flavor that matches the spicy kick of a syrah. For a tamer flavor, Adam suggests a Dubbel.
If you like: Bright rieslings
Adam suggests: Kölsches
Why they work: These beers are summery, refreshing, and light.
Kölsch beers and riesling wines have a long history together because they originate in neighboring regions of western Germany. Adam says this beer possesses the quick and light characteristics of a riesling, as well as a yeastier and fruitier flavor than other lagers. A pilsner-style beer, which is similar to a Kölsch, will also satisfy. For someone with a sweeter tooth, try a Belgian white.
If you like: Crisp sauvignon blancs
Adam suggests: Saisons
Why they work: Expect bright and fruity flavors coupled with a medium body from this style.
Saisons have distinctly bright and zesty bodies. Their spicy quality, which resembles the herbal flavor notable in sauvignon blanc, comes from wild yeasts. So when summer rolls around, you can spice up your favorite seasonal dish and surprise friends by opting for a saison.
If you like: Classic chardonnays
Adam suggests: Belgian Tripel or Belgian strong
Why they work: These beers tend to be oaky or woody with a light, dry finish.
These two beer styles are known for having higher alcohol content levels and are oftentimes referred to as "sipping beers." Chardonnay drinkers won’t have to alter their drinking style much while drinking a Tripel, and can soak in the beer’s deep golden color and creamy flavor.
Emma Hutchinson is a senior at Southern Methodist University. She is majoring in advertising on the creative track and minoring in journalism.