BY MAT BATTS
When did buying beer become so difficult? Five years ago, if you wanted an upscale beer, chances are you went to a specialty shop where employees were trained to help you make a selection. Otherwise, you just stopped at the grocery store, grabbed anything on sale and never thought twice about it.
Today, great beer is everywhere. It’s in every grocery store and gas station and restaurant you come across. It’s a good problem, I promise. But the rapid increase in commonplace beer selections can leave you scratching your head over which new style or hop selection will suit you best.
Keep these few thoughts in your head next time you wander down the beer aisle, and your search should be significantly improved.
Fresh is Best
The absolute best part of the craft beer surge in North Carolina is the rejuvenated attention quality has received in the beer making process. Every single brewery out there cares deeply about their product. They care how it’s treated on its way to your local store, and they care how you treat it on its way to your belly.
But not all beer is treated equally.
North Carolina’s three-tier distribution system (brewery to distributor, distributor to retailer, retailer to customer) adds a lot of steps to the process. Even if everything is done perfectly by a brewery, their beer still has to sit on a truck and eventually on a shelf.
Take the time to check out bottling dates. Breweries want you to enjoy their product as it is meant to be enjoyed. And they want you to know if the beer you are holding is within its intended consumption range.
Lower alcohol beers and beers with a hop forward profile will be the most susceptible to age and the elements. If you grab that new session IPA from your local upstart and it’s more than 90 days past its bottling date, consider another option.
Storage is Important
Unlike many of the mass produced beers on the market, most in-state or regional craft breweries do not pasteurize their product. It’s a living, breathing organism that reacts to light and heat and jarring like any other item on your grocery list. Look for beer that is stored cold. Many breweries make that stipulation up front to their retailers and it’s a real concern for their product.
Like the avocado on your counter that may only last another day or two at room temperature, refrigeration greatly increases the shelf life of the beer you buy.
Plus there’s no waiting around when you get that cold beer back home.
Take Note of Your Preferences
Everyone has different tastes, and everyone’s tastes are ever-changing. That makes pinning down one definitive “best beer ever” very difficult. So take recommendations with a grain of salt and instead, follow your senses.
Hop forward beers are all the rage (and for good reason), but under that umbrella are dozens and dozens of iterations. Maybe you like an IPA with more body and malt complexity, one that is equal parts honeycomb and grapefruit rind. Or maybe you like the drier version with little malt bill, a light body and bursting citrus or pine.
Take notes when you try a beer, even just the first thought in your head after the first sip. Identifying just a few of the characteristics you like or don’t like in your beer will go a long way in weeding out the beers you won’t like.
Let’s face it: buying beer is an investment. If you spend $10 on six beers, you better enjoy every drop, right?
Know that your favorite beer is out there and more accessible than ever. You just might have to work a little bit harder to find it.