Like most of the world’s most delicious substances—wine, salt, butter, bread—beer is deceptively simple. At its most basic, it’s just water, yeast, hops, and malt. But it’s the way brewers manipulate the ingredients that turns them into something humans have revered for thousands of years.
It’s why one of my favorite regular series around here is my Ask Kate About Beer column. I get to investigate the questions we have about beer—how it’s made, why it tastes the way it does, how it gets into our thirsty mouths. At the annual Firestone Walker Invitational Beer Festival earlier this month, I found myself surrounded by some of the best brewers from around the world. I wanted to hand the mic directly to them, as it were, to ask what they wish more of us understood about beer and brewing. (If you want brewers’ tips for all-day festival drinking, I’ve got your back, too.)
“You can sum up misunderstanding about beer—judging it just by how it looks—with one beer: Guinness. People think because Guinness is dark, it’s heavy, sweet, sugary, high alcohol. But it’s the opposite of all that. When it comes to which beers have lower alcohol, perception isn’t always reality.” —Jay Goodwin, The Rare Barrel, Berkeley, California
“Things have swung in a way where people misunderstand what fresh beer is, and only want super-super-super fresh. Just because an IPA is two weeks old doesn’t mean it’s trash, far from it. Most brewers actually know beer needs time to condition. We do a three-day hold on all the beer we brew [before it’s sold] to make sure it’s up to snuff.” —Matt Gallagher, Half Acre, Chicago
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“When someone says they’re ‘not a beer person,’ they just haven’t met the right beer. There really is a beer for everyone. Let’s talk about flavors you like in food and other beverages. If I find out you like chocolate and coffee, then I’ve got an oatmeal stout or a brown porter for you.” —Clay Robinson, Sun King Brewery, Indianapolis
“Consumers are not aware how much flavor can be in a low-ABV beer like a German pilsner. There’s a misunderstanding that it’s boring or flavorless.” —Julian Schrago, Beachwood BBQ & Brewing, Long Beach, California
“The most common misconception where we are is that brewing light beer is easy, that it’s the easiest type to make. But Innertube is the most challenging beer in our brewery. It’s just 3.5%, there’s hardly any hops, hardly any malt. The misconception is that big barrel-aged beers is what we put all our effort into.” —Doug Reiser, Burial Beer, Asheville, North Carolina
“People don’t realize the wide variety of flavors within beer. You can achieve so much in terms of color, range of alcohol, light or fuller body. Some breweries explore a type of beer or style in depth—all IPAs or sours or whatever—whereas we try show of the breadth within beer.” —Josh Deth, Revolution Brewing, Chicago