This column has always assumed that lovers of great beer stray on occasion. It doesn’t mean we love beer less. If you are feeling a bit guilty about stepping out on beer, open your beer fridge and say these six words: “It’s not you, beer; it’s me.”
Beyond Beer is what the name implies. No one should cast aspersions at the IPA drinker who also enjoys a chilled Alsatian white. We don’t pronounce judgment on the stout drinker who sips Irish whiskey. The fact of the matter is that craft beer drinkers famously wander from brand to brand. It’s really not surprising when they jump completely outside the beer category.
For most of us, the urge to taste something different is greater at this time of year than any other. Let’s face it, our palates have been through the beer wringer for months. The fall started with Oktoberfest beers, pumpkin ales and doppelbocks. After Thanksgiving, winter warmers and spiced holiday brews arrived. The freezing January and February temperatures found us calling for imperial stouts and barley wines. It is still a few weeks before spring bocks will be ready. It’s OK to admit it: we could all use a little break from beer.
So what do we drink when we are not downing a few pints? Quite a bit depends on the beer styles we normally enjoy and how far we want to go to change things up. Here is a checklist of drinks to try, based on the taste of your favorite brews.
Pilsner: Fresh, well-made pilsners are bright, refreshing and effervescent. These are often talked about as the Champagnes of the beer world. There are certainly similarities, and you would not be wrong popping a cork on a sparkling wine. A sparkling cider could also be an alternative.
Kölsch: Cologne (Köln) sits along the Rhine River just north of the German wine-growing region. A fresh Früh, Sion or Gaffel kölsch is a clean and crisp drink. A slate-dry Riesling is the way to go.
Saison/farmhouse ales: These beers were once brewed for the enjoyment and fortification of seasonal farm workers. Try substituting a Beaujolais Nouveau, the young wine that was originally made in France as a way to celebrate the end of the grape harvest.
Hefeweizen: There are plenty of different flavors that flow through beers like Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse, and that means you should look for something that is equally flavorful. A classic gin and tonic is a good choice. Be sure to call for a gin that is full of botanicals, like Rogue Spirits Spruce Gin.
Belgian-style witbier: The trailing hints of orange and coriander in this beer style remind me of a top-shelf margarita made with Cointreau or Grand Marnier. You can argue all day about not wasting añejo or repasado tequila in a Margarita, but the recommendation here is to replace the triple sec with one of these two classic liqueurs.
Altbier or dunkel: Dark beers from Germany and Central Europe are light on the palate, with sometimes either sweet or slight roasted notes. Consider a cocktail option such as a dark and stormy made with ginger beer and Gosling’s Black Seal Rum or a classic old-fashioned.
Brown ale: The roasted, less hoppy cousin of pale ale, this beer should be replaced with a flavorful, yet reserved drink. A cocktail made with Canadian whiskey might be the answer.
Rauchbier: Smoked beers come in a variety of levels of intensity. So do Scotch whiskies. For those who like lighter intensity, blended Highland malts are the way to go. True smoke eaters should try Islay malts, such as Laphroaig or Lagavulin. If you desire wine, try an Italian Amarone.
Porter: Dark and mildly roasted porters are lighter in body than many dark beers. Try a pinot noir if you are into red wines. If you fancy white wines, sauvignon blanc or pinot gris would be a solid choice.
Irish stout: Roasty stouts have a good level of flavor. Ignoring the vast color difference, try a lightly oaked chardonnay. In the spirits world, try an aged sipping rum such as Appleton Estate Reserve from Jamaica or Flor de Caña Centenario from Nicaragua.
Baltic porter/milk stout: Dark, sweet and powerful, both of these beer styles offer loads of complexity and plenty of kick. Often these are end-of-the-evening beers. You can substitute port as an alternative.
Abbey dubbel: When you pop open a Westmalle Dubbel or Rochefort 10, you expect complex, layered flavors. The answer here is a Bordeaux-style red. Many of the best French labels are expensive, so you may decide to look for a California blend.
India pale ale: IPAs are refreshing and can range from floral to spicy. If you think that white wines don’t pack enough of a flavor punch, give gewürztraminer a try. While lighter in mouthfeel, these wines tend to have a spice edge with floral and fruity notes.
Imperial IPA: If you are only satisfied when you dial the bitterness up to something north of 75 IBUs, you are serious about hops. Most often these are brews that are heavy in sticky pine characteristics. You may need to take things in an entirely different direction, but if you want to stay with the same note, there are liqueurs packed with flavor, like Cynar (Italy), Unicum Zwack (Hungary) and Vana Tallinn (Estonia) that might hit the mark. You might also give absinthe a try.
Barley wine: There is nothing shy about the flavor profile of barley wine. You can take this in several directions. If you are thinking wine, an Australian shiraz might be the ticket. But you might want to switch to a spirit. Añejo Tequila is one option, but small-batch bourbons pack a ton of flavor, too.
Barrel-aged beers: So much here depends on the base beer and the type of barrel that has been used. If the end result is a decidedly woody character, then go for a rye whiskey like Sazerac Rye or Templeton Rye. If whiskey is coming through, most often it is bourbon. Try to learn which distillery the barrel was from and go in that direction. Woodford Reserve is a worthy place to land if you are not sure.
Lambic, gueuze and other sours: Sour beers are interesting and eccentric beverages. Some cocktails can answer the call, such as whiskey and amaretto sours, along with the sidecar and margarita.
Coffee/chocolate: Plenty of coffee and chocolate beers appear during the holidays and winter months. What is the answer if you just cannot get that flavor profile out of your head? Thankfully, there are a ton of coffee cocktails that most bartenders can make—everything from Irish coffee to a white Russian. In the chocolate category, there are chocolate liqueurs and even chocolate-flavored vodkas ready for mixing.
Fruit lambics: Fruit-flavored lambics have two balancing components: the sour beer base and the fruity sugars. It really depends on which fruit you want to imbibe. Here are recommendations for three of the most popular. Framboise (raspberry): You might be tempted to go in the direction of Chambord-based cocktails, but try to find a bottle of cassis made from black currants (not crème de cassis, which has sugar added). Kriek (cherry): This is a difficult flavor profile, since liqueurs such as kirsch and other cherry-based products don’t capture the fruit profile as well. If you can find a bottle of Travis Hasse’s Cherry Pie Liqueur, use the recipe for a Cherry Pie Tart or Fizzy Cherry Pie and see what you think. Pêche (peach): Look for Poire William or peach brandy. Avoid trying pear liqueur because it will be too sweet compared with the lambic.
Not every beyond-beer alternative will hit the mark. And in some cases you might just want to change things entirely. The fun thing for most beer lovers is that these departures to other beverages only serve to remind us of why we love beer in the first place. It is clearly the most diverse and flavorful drink on the face of the Earth.
Rick Lyke has been writing about beer, wines and spirits for more than 30 years.