Welcome to Ask Kate About Beer, in which The Takeout’s resident beer expert answers everything you’ve ever wanted to know about beer but were too drunk to ask. Have a question? Shoot it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sometimes readers email me questions for this column, and other times, they post ’em right in the comments:
An aversion to hops isn’t this commenter’s cross to bear alone; I hear from many drinkers who don’t like either the flavor or bitterness of humulus lupulus. I even answered a question once from a person who was allergic to them. While the advice I gave there could potentially apply to the hops-averse as well, I don’t think the commenter above needs to swear off hops entirely. Gruits, which are beers made with bitter herbs rather than hops, are very tough to find and can taste oddly botanical or even medicinal.
I asked this commenter some follow-up questions, and ascertained that they’re fairly new to beer, still sorting the styles they like (lambics, fruit beers, Guinness) from the ones they don’t (IPAs, obviously, and mass-market domestic lagers). The best way to learn what styles of beer will really appeal to you is to taste as many different ones as you can, and brace for occasional disappointment. Flights are your friend in this case, because if you’re averse to one style, you’ve only wasted a few ounces.
But where to start?
I’m sensing from the beers you mention liking, question-asker, that you actually can tolerate some level of hops so long as they’re not the dominant flavor. Lambics do in fact contain hops, though they’re aged hops and therefore less perceptible than fresher ones. Guinness has hops in it as well. Hops are necessary to most types of beer, even in very small amounts, as they balance the malt sweetness. Beer’s base is made from grains, and once they’re malted and mashed (an early step in the brewing process), they’re quite sweet. Without hops, most beers would taste like sugary grain water.
It sounds like some fruit beers might be up your alley, though I don’t need to tell you to stay away from the fruited IPAs. Fruited wheat beers, fruited blonde ales—those should both have low enough hop levels that they’re generally obscured by the fruit and malt flavors.
And if you like the farmhouse-y and sometimes funky and vinous character of lambics, I bet you’d like other styles of Belgian ales like oud bruins and Flanders reds. These certainly aren’t a dime a dozen, but better bottle shops should stock a few. You might also try some American wild ales—sometimes referred to as sour beers—which tend to have similar qualities. If it’s tartness you like, keep an eye out for Berliner weisses and goses, which are becoming more popular among American breweries.
Lucky for you, we’re also entering prime time for malt-focused beers like bocks, Vienna lagers and märzens (often labeled Oktoberfest beers), and nut brown ales. I bet you’d enjoy the deeply bready flavors of a doppelbock, or the nutty-sweet notes of a nut brown.
And while it’s stupid to spend your hard-earned money on a beverage you don’t like, I’d gently suggest you keep an eye out for some of the more “juicy” IPAs that are so in vogue these days. A subset of IPAs called milkshake IPAs even add lactose and fruit to create a beer I’d barely recognize as an IPA. My best advice to you is to keep tasting and exploring; with more than 7,000 breweries in America today, there’s bound to be a few making beer you like. If not, well, there’s always White Claw.