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Not a Fan of Beer? You Will Be!

“I don’t like craft beer.” 

“IPAs are gross.”

“Dark beers are too heavy.” 

Probably somewhere along the way, you tried a beer, it tasted like crap to you and you opted to never try another one again. Or perhaps you became fond of light beers like Michelob Ultra, Coors Light and Keystone in college, and never branched out beyond those. (Are we feeling triggered yet?) I’ve heard it all and then some. The truth of the matter is that you do like craft beer, you just haven’t found the one that tastes good to you…yet. 

Truly there is an art to beer brewing and tasting. There are classes dedicated to finding “off” flavors in beer, and there are sommeliers of beer, known as cicerones. However, from a layman’s standpoint, and for the purpose of this article, we’re going to stick to basics.

The definition of palate per the Oxford English Dictionary is: “a person’s appreciation of taste and flavor.” Everyone’s palate is different; thus, why one person might perceive that beets taste sweet and slightly earthy, while to another person, beets taste like a mouthful of dirt. Our unique and individual palates play heavily into what beers we will actually enjoy. We have 5 basic tastes: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. Most of us lean one way or another when it comes to our favorite flavors – ie. “I have a sweet tooth” or “I prefer snacks of pretzels and chips.” Regardless, it is possible to expand or develop our individual palates, but one must be willing to try new foods, experiment with different spices, and mix-and-match foods, liquids and spices in new and different ways. It also involves savoring the meal or drink in front of you and really taking the time to consciously examine the bites and sips you put into your mouth. 

So where do I start? 

The main idea to figuring out what type of beer you might like starts with the flavors and beverages you already enjoy – both alcoholic and not. 

You like: Coffee, espresso, Kahlúa, White Russians – Whether you’re someone who enjoys one cup of coffee in the morning with breakfast, or several throughout the day, the best place for you to start in the word of beer is with dark beers – Porters and Stouts in particular. These beers are going to not only have coffee flavors, but they will have complexity, much in the same way that there are complexities in different varieties of coffees and on the spectrum of light roasts to dark roasts. If you’re someone who tends to drink their coffee black, Dry Stouts are going to be your best bet. 

Suggestions: Brunch by Willow Rock Brewery (Syracuse, NY) – an excellent oatmeal coffee stout made with Recess Coffee & Cedarvale Maple Syrup – even with the syrup, it’s not terribly sweet. Éirinn Go Brunch by Willow Rock Brewery is the aforementioned beer but with added Irish Cream, making this version slightly sweeter and creamier. Morning Timber by Beer Tree Brew (Port Crane, NY) is a coffee stout with just a smidge of vanilla, not being overly sweet, but still plenty tasty and Guinness Draught by Guinness (Dublin, Ireland) is an Irish Dry Stout and a true classic to say the least.

You like: Hot chocolate, chocolate milk, desserts – If you enjoy desserts and sweets, dark beers of Porters and Stouts are again going to be the way to go. Milk Stouts lend both a sweetness and creamy (or “milkshake”) mouthfeel to the brew itself; this is due to the lactose that is added to the beer. Other stout varieties that one would enjoy will be labeled as Pastry Stouts or Dessert Stouts. Many of these beers have notes of chocolate, vanilla, toffee, caramel, coffee, and sometimes even fruit added to the mix. You can even find beers with peanut butter – I know there are A LOT of Reese’s fans out there! 

Suggestions: Hood Muff by ONCO Fermentations is a perfectly balanced Imperial Milk Stout bursting with flavors of dark chocolate and raspberry. Clawfoot Bathtub: Pumpkin Spice by Fifth Frame Brewing Company (Rochester, NY) is a Pastry Stout with a rich, walloping of pumpkin, sweetness and pumpkin pie spices, straight to your tastebuds! (Tip: Fifth Frame’s Clawfoot Bathtub series will meet ALL of your dessert beer needs!) Black Boar Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter by Full Boar Craft Brewery (North Syracuse, NY) is chock-full of peanut-buttery goodness and another lighter, semi-sweet version that still boasts all the PB flavor is Peanut Butter Porter by Seneca Street Brew Pub in Manlius NY.

You like: Fruit juices, tropical cocktails, cosmopolitans, margaritas, hard ciders, wine – Fruit beers, Gose, and Sours are a prime choice. There are plenty of different fruited beers being brewed from blueberry ales to cherry wheat ales. If you’re a fan of banana or bubblegum, a Hefeweizen is a good option too. Gose (pronounced “Goes-AH”) beers are salty-sour, usually fruited, and sometimes also have a bit of coriander. Sours tend to be slightly tart to totally mouth-puckering, most often also created with fruits of all sorts. 

Suggestions: Godcilla: Strawberries and Peaches by Willow Rock Brewing Company – this fruited sour is not super sour at all but has delectably equal flavors of both fruits. Aesthesis Limoncello by ONCO Fermentations is a tart sour with loads of lemon and a hint of vanilla, not unlike the Italian liqueur. Trippy Tree – Berries & Cream by Beer Tree Brew – you could even almost tag this sour as a dessert beer with its layers of berries, vanilla, marshmallow and cake flavors! Prismatic Spray by Bullfinch Brewing (Syracuse, NY) – This fruited sour is reminiscent of rainbow sherbet with its flavors of raspberry, lime, and orange all swirled together into one tasty beverage! Vincent by Buried Acorn Brewing Company (Syracuse, NY) is a dark sour, beer/wine hybrid and totally worth trying if you’re a wine drinker.

You like: Mezcal, smoked meats – Rauchbier is German in origin and is a smokey-flavored beer created with malted barley that has been dried over an open flame – ie. A smoked malt. Different smoked beers impart different characteristics ranging from bacon and ham to campfires and ash. Lagers, Märzen, or Porters are some of the typical base beers utilized in creating a Rauchbier. 

Suggestions: Smoke & Dagger by Jack’s Abby Craft Lagers (Framingham, MA) – this is a dark lager that is both smooth and smokey – bonus is that this craft beer is sold year-round at Wegmans, and is thus easy to find. Rauchbier by ONCO Fermentations (Tully, NY) – this smoked Märzen is a good example of how beers can vary a bit year to year; 2022’s version was very smokey, while this year’s version is less so, but still tasty! (Hint: Best way to keep track of your beers? Download the Untappd app! And while you’re at it, come follow my beer adventures! Merritka12 is my username.)

You like: Herbal teas, gin – Saisons and Farmhouse Ales are a great option to subject your tastebuds to as these tend to be dry, refreshing, and typically herbaceous, lemony, and/or peppery, with a bit of earthy funk. And while I do not typically recommend starting out any new-comer to beer on IPAs, if you are a fan of earthy, dank, herbaceous, citrus and pine flavors, an IPA could very much be right up-your-alley. East Coast or New England IPAs are going to have more grassy, citrus hopped notes, while West Coast IPAs will be more bitter and have earthy, pine notes. Also, consider that with IPAs, don’t just give up if you don’t like it – IPAs tend to be an acquired taste. (Remember – we’re expanding that palate!)

Suggestions: Head yourself right over to either of the two Buried Acorn Brewing Company locations in Syracuse to check out their current list of Farmhouse Ales and Saisons. They typically have at least one to two available for consumption and the brews are consistently excellent and flavorful – one of my favorites being their Bière De Flore, a Farmhouse Ale. As far as IPAs go – a popular (and for good reason) New England IPA is Sloop Brewing Company’s (Hopewell Junction, NY) Juice Bomb. This aptly named beer scores low on the bitterness scale (but still with plenty of hops-flavor to be had), and scores very highly when it comes to being both citrusy and juicy. Wild Shape is Bullfinch Brewing’s version of a West Coast meets East Coast IPA – it is tough to find locally produced West Coast IPAs altogether – but this brew does a satisfyingly damn good job, with hoppy notes of citrus, pine, grass, and earth with a touch of bitterness.

You like: Manhattans, whiskey – Try an American Barleywine – a malt-forward strong ale, originating in England, this is not anything close to a wine – this type of beer is rich, dark, complex, very boozy, slightly sweet and made for sipping! 

Suggestions: There are two great local choices – Sticky Lips by Buried Acorn Brewing Company and Spill the Wine by Talking Cursive Brewing Company (Syracuse, NY); TCBC also makes a Bourbon-Barreled version of their American Barleywine called Kisses Sweeter Than Barleywine, which is also incredibly impressive.  

You like: Bourbon – Bourbon-barreled beers are typically dark beers and ales that have been aged in a barrel that used to house bourbon. The bourbon notes and flavors settle into the beer directly from the wood of the re-used barrels, creating something both boozy and altogether otherworldly! Additionally, once-in-a-while, you’ll also find beer that has been aged in rum, gin, or wine barrels!

Suggestions: Bourbon Barrel Aged Mind Flayer by Bullfinch Brewing. I just had this Stout a few weeks ago and it was astoundingly delicious – I described it as “an adult boozy chocolate milk with roasty coconut notes.” *insert chef’s kiss here.* Bourbon Barrel Aged Dragonslayer by Middle Ages Brewing Company (Syracuse, NY) is a stout brewed and barrel-aged every year, and every year it turns out a bit different, but always oh-so-good.  

You like: Mass-produced light beers (Michelob Ultra, Coors Light and Keystone) – just because you prefer light beers, doesn’t mean that you won’t find something you’ll enjoy at a craft beer bar or brewery. When you’re out, look for Pilsners, Kölsch, and Lagers on the menu. 

Suggestions: Yard Boss Kölsch by Freight Yard Brewing (Clay, NY) – made with 100% New York Ingredients, this light straw-colored beer is crisp with a very subtle sweetness. If you’ve never tried a Kölsch (originating from Cologne, Germany), I implore you to do so, because if you love light beers, this might be a new favorite. Pompey Born Lager by Heritage Hill Brewery (Pompey, NY) is a clean and fresh lager brewed with barley, hops and corn – which gives this easy-drinking beer a slight sweetness on the finish. Congress by Willow Rock Brewing Company is another laid-back, approachable lager to check out, with recipe roots right here in the CNY area that date all the way back to the 1890s! 

Another tip to follow in your search for finding a beer you’re fond of begins with how you order a beer. Opt for flights/small pours at a brewery or brew pub and/or ask your bartender for a sample first. This allows you to sample and taste several different types of beer in small quantities, creating less waste if you dislike one and don’t finish it while allowing for more varieties to test and thus opens up more possibilities to finding a beer that you love.

Craft beer comes in so very many different varieties that there surely is at least one brew out there that will challenge your expectations and expand your palate – there’s a whole vast world of beer out there, go enjoy it! 


Kristin Merritt
Just your average craft-brew loving gal slinging your monthly pour of beer education and the low-down on all things beer related in the immediate CNY area and beyond. Along the way I hope to give a few recommendations for your grocery list, events to attend, and local hotspots to hit-up for shenanigans with friends, ideas for date night, or at the very least enlighten you with a bit of random knowledge to use towards trivia night or simply give you and your teammates a suggestion on what to drink at the bar! Cheers!