Learn How to Love Craft Beer (Even If You Don’t Think You Can)

DC Beer Week celebrates local breweries. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Illustration by Mikey Burton.For people who’ve grown up drinking mild mass-market beers, American craft brews can be a rough first date. They tend to emphasize hops, whose strong taste and bitter notes can repel palates used to lagers built on rice and corn that have almost nothing to cut through their sweetness.

Like coffee, beer is a taste that requires time. “You don’t wake up out of the womb and start listening to heavy metal,” says Will Cook, a brewer at Atlas Brew Works. Grow up with hard rock and you might eventually get into Guns N’ Roses, “and then eventually you get to Cannibal Corpse.” So it goes with beer.

Wine drinkers might feel more comfortable with saisons, which have somewhat fruity flavors. Or with barley wines, which have similar levels of alcohol as vino—watch how much you drink!—and can be as robust as a bold California red.

For people used to mild-mannered beers such as Stella Artois or Budweiser, Cook recommends Czech pilsners, whose decently strong malt backbone balances their hops. Pale ales and California common (or steam) beers are another good choice—Dale’s Pale Ale and Anchor Steam are easy-to-find national brands. Locally, DC Brau’s The Public and Atlas’s District Common are good examples of the styles.

Cook suggests another, weirder way in: Try a double IPA. Wait, you may say, aren’t IPAs the kind of hoppy beer that makes those with softer palates run toward the nearest bottle of Corona? But double IPAs are made with a lot of sugar, which masks some of the flavors that freak out neophytes. Again, just watch how much you quaff—the “double” refers to the high alcohol content.

This article appears in our August 2016 issue of Washingtonian.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute,, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.