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Food & Wine

Gateway brews for people who (think that they) don't like craft beers


805 Blonde Ale

Spring is a time for new beginnings, which means it’s a great time to introduce a friend or family member to craft beer.

While beer lovers might enjoy super-hoppy double IPAs, viscous imperial stouts or mouth-puckering sours, such beers can intimidate newcomers to the world of full-flavored beer.

Many times I’ve heard people say that they “don’t like hoppy beers” or, even more frequently, “don’t like dark beers.” Sometimes people even think that all dark beers have more alcohol and/or hops, which is not necessarily the case.

For this month’s column, I offer a selection of California brews to help you provide a gentle introduction to the diverse flavors available in the beer cooler at your local bottle shop.

• For people who don’t like craft beer at all: Firestone Walker 805 Blonde Ale. With its light-golden color, frothy white head and crystal clarity, 805 passes the first test by looking similar to familiar, mass-market lagers. The aroma is slightly sweet with a touch of floral hops, but nothing overpowering.

On the palate, the beer tastes very much like it smells: Honey malt lends a bit more sweetness than the crisp, dry impression of a pale lager, and the floral hops provide a delicate contrast.

With a medium-light body, a sessionable 4.7 percent alcohol by volume (ABV) and a smooth finish, 805 is a clean, tasty initiation to the craft beer world.

• For people who don’t like hoppy beers: Ballast Point Even Keel Session IPA. Because Even Keel is only available in cans, you can sneak it into the picnic cooler alongside the fizzy yellow beers. Weighing in at a mere 3.8 percent ABV (which is really low – Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite are all 4.2 percent), this copper-colored brew has citrusy hop aromas of orange, grapefruit and lemon, with bready and caramel malts underneath. The citrus notes of the hops dominate the flavor profile.

Complex without being as intense as traditional IPAs, Even Keel has perceptible but moderate bitterness that persists from the first sip through the dry, crisp finish.

• For people who don’t like Belgian beers: Saint Archer White Ale. Saint Archer White is pale yellow in color – it almost looks like lemonade, which actually fits with the bright, lemony aroma. Spicy clove and crisp pear notes from the Belgian yeast are also pronounced on the nose, playing off the traditional sweet orange peel and spicy coriander additions.

A Belgian witbier (like the less complex Blue Moon, brewed by Coors), Saint Archer White is interesting but not overwhelming, with just a touch of herbal hop taste, a subtle tangy yeast flavor and a crisp and refreshing overall impression.

• For people who don’t like dark beers: Lost Coast Downtown Brown Ale. Eureka’s Lost Coast Brewery has been producing Downtown Brown for a long time – it won a bronze medal at the Great American Beer Festival back in 1993. Brown in color with ruby highlights, and lacking the opacity of many porters and stouts, the aroma is nutty and chocolaty, without a strong roast character.

Downtown Brown highlights a smooth mouthfeel with flavors of chocolate malt and moderate sweetness, balanced by a mildly spicy hop flavor.

To be honest, I’ve overlooked this 5 percent ABV beer for a long time, but it’s a great reminder that beers do not have to be complicated or extreme to be delicious.

Derek Wolfgram is chief operating officer for the Silicon Valley Sudzers Homebrew Club, which welcomes new and experienced beer enthusiasts. For more information, visit sudzers.org.

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