Navigating the Beer Aisle

By Ian Drew / Photography By Alfredo Añez | October 15, 2013
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Beer bottles down liquor store aisle


Keep in mind where you're taking your beer and the qualities that go with the environment. A big, high-alcohol, rich, roasty stout doesn't make the best refreshment for the beach. Going fishing? Maybe you'll want an easy-drinking, low-alcohol beer in a can like Terrapin's RecreationAle. Going to a friend's house for dinner? Bring a full-flavored Belgian beer like Ommegang Abbey Ale in a large format bottle.

You may not need to fully identify the beer style you're looking for, but do have some key characteristics to get you out of the store quicker: alcohol range, packaging expectations, flavor characteristics. Do you want something sweet, bitter, light, rich, funky?


The best way to learn the characteristics of an IPA, pilsner, stout or other styles is to try new beers. The beer judge certification course ( offers the most exhaustive definitions of the beer styles and their characteristics and is a great reference.


When you've narrowed down your selection, read the label. Unlike mass-brewed beers, most craft brewers give an in-depth description of their beer, sometimes including the hop, grain and yeast varieties used by the brewmaster. More often than not, the alcohol percentage is also listed.

Craft brewers take pride in providing fresh beer to the masses, so most packaging will have a clear marking of the "brewed on" or "best by" date. Like milk, beer is perishable. Hop flavors die, subtle nuances fade and oxygenation will eventually impart some not-so-pleasant cardboard flavors.


Beer people love talking beer. Ask the person next to you about their recommendations. There's a good chance he or she will lead you down a great road to a new experience. Don't be scared to try a new style or brewery. The only way to truly explore what the craft beer world has to offer is to dive in headfirst and try something new.


  • Miami's Wynwood Brewing Company has just released their first batches of beer, starting off with La Rubia Blonde Ale, Pop's Porter and Wynwood IPA as their year-round draft offerings.
  • Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park is cranking out a wide variety of beers: Floridian Hefeweizen and Hop Gun IPA, their two main offerings, followed by out-there beers like No Crusts (Peanut Butter and Jelly Brown Ale), Cucumber Basil Wheat Ale and More HV Moro Blood Orange IPA.
  • Other breweries making big strides include the new Green Bench Brewing in St. Pete, working with five Florida breweries to brew five separate collaboration beers with Cask and Larder, Saint Somewhere, Tampa Bay Brewing Company, 7venth Sun and Cigar City. Aardwolf,
  • Jacksonville's newest product brewery, hasjust begun pouring the first beers brewed in their 15-barrel brewhouse.
  • Two other Florida breweries have begun a new canning adventure - Swamp Head of Gainesville is offering Stumpknocker Pale Ale in six-pack cans at their tasting room, and 7venth Sun became the first Florida brewery to can a Berliner Weisse, offering their Wolfman's Berliner in limited quantities. Miami Brewing Company has also started moving toward getting a canning line up and running.

{ The Cheat Sheet }

These keywords in beer names can give insight into what's in the bottle:

IMPERIAL OR DOUBLE – Big. These are generally high in alcohol and meant to be savored. It means there is a bigger version of the original counterpart. A Double or Imperial IPA like

Dogfish Head 90-Minute IPA or Avery Maharaja will be in the 9 to 11percent ABV range.

HOP – Most likely an IPA or Imperial IPA: Red Brick Hoplanta, Blue Point Hoptical Illusion, Victory Hop Devil, Lagunitas Hop Stoopid and Terrapin Hopsecutioner all have a vibrant hop flavor where the malt takes the backseat.

SESSION – Means you could drink multiple in one "drinking session." These beers are lower in alcohol, so you can keep your wits about you.

WEISS OR WEIZEN – "Wheat" in German. Whether it's a Hefeweizen, Dunkelweizen, Kristallweizen, Berliner Weisse or Weizenbock, these beers use a substantial amount of wheat, although they have completely different flavors.

–ATOR – Most beer names that end in "ator" are Doppelbocks, rich, darker, higherin- alcohol versions of the German bock bier. Because of the name of the originator of the style, Paulaner Salvator, it became very common for Doppelbocks to have this suffix: Ayinger Celebrator, Hebrew Jewvenator, Spaten Optimator and Bell's Consecrator.

Article from Edible South Florida at
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