Ask many dedicated wine drinkers, and they will tell you beer is nothing more than wine’s crude, distant cousin. But likely they just don’t know what brews to try. We rounded up a group of sommeliers, cicerones and brewers to advise even the most committed wine enthusiast on how to find a beer to suit their tastes.
What often happens, says Aaron Benson, a certified sommelier and cicerone and beverage director at Sixty Vines, is that wine drinkers test out one or two brews, “likely something watery, overly hoppy. or dark and heavy,” as he describes, “and have written the rest off.”
That’s unfortunate, because here’s the thing: A wine connoisseur loves the complexities and subtleties of a good glass of wine—a balance of sweetness, bitterness, acidity, and real body—which a good beer also has, says Anne Becerra, certified cicerone at Treadwell Park. “Fermentation-driven flavors found in beer are just as exciting as those found in wine,” she promises. “It can be just as elegant, just as refined, just as explosive, just as flavorful—and most times found at a fraction of the cost.” And, “just like wine, everyone has a [beer] entry point—if they have the patience to keep searching for it,” Benson says.
Ready to reach for the right brew for you? Here’s the best beer based on your favorite wine.
If you crave champagne, sip on a saison.
“Champagne drinkers are generally looking for a drink that is dry, bright, and effervescent,” says Matthew Gemmell, head brewer at Hourglass Brewing. Conveniently, those same three qualities can be found in a good saison, a brew that bares floral, citrus, and fruity profiles—”making them a great choice for hot days, and the perfect accompaniment for lighter foods,” says Gemmell. (Think: everything from fish to melon.) “Both are also naturally carbonated to a high level in the bottle,” adds Gemmell, “giving a distinct, lively feeling on the palette.”
If you choose chardonnay, try out a Belgian-style tripel.
As Benson readily admits, “it’s tough to replicate the buttery, oaky notes many Chardonnay drinkers crave.” But that hardly makes the task impossible—so he recommends a Belgian-style tripel for its “richness, yeasty complexity and bright, sweet fruit notes, which can evoke a ripe style California chardonnay,” Benson says. Bonus: “Despite all the fruitiness, tripels also finish dry, thanks to the use of beet-derived sugars that ferment completely.”
If you’re pulled toward Pinot Noir, buy a Belgian Dubbel.
A Pinot Noir is a soft, fruity wine—and a Belgian Dubbel is the fruit salad of beer. The brew “offers figgy, jammy, cocoa-like notes from the malt alongside bright yeast driven flavors of red fruit, coriander, pepper and banana, amongst others,” describes Becerra. “There’s a lot going on here, but the overall impression is still fairly easy going with a slight bitterness—it’s simply there to keep everything in balance.”
If your go-to pick is a port, test out a bottle of bock.
Port is what you pick up when you want a liquid dessert. And, “there are [also] beers big and complex enough to sip after dinner, with dessert, or as a second dessert,” according to Jeremy Allen, certified sommelier and general manager of MiniBar in Hollywood. One of those beers, he says, is a bock—or a doppelbock, if you’re looking for something stronger. “I like to think of these fortifieds [like port] as reading wines, like you pair them with a novel and spend serious time on them,” he says. “Bock and doppelbock both fit the bill.”
If you covet Cabernet Sauvignon, sample a Flemish red ale.
Fans of bold red wine—such as cabernet sauvignon and Syrah—should look no further than a Flemish Red, says Becerra. “One of the greatest beer writers, Michael Jackson, nicknamed these beers the ‘burgundies of Belgium,'” she says, “and as soon as you taste one, you’ll understand why. The finished product is a blend of different percentages of fresh beer and aged beer, and the results are spectacular. Expect aromas and flavors of plum, red currant, leather, and sweet vermouth balanced with a mouth-puckering acidity.”
If Pinot Grigio pleases you, look for a brew with sterling hops.
Lovers of Pinot Grigio often enjoy the wine’s floral notes—and avoid hops as if the additive were the plague to all alcohol. But as Tamar Banner, brewing supervisor at New Belgium Brewing Co. explains, hops today don’t necessarily impart bitterness. Instead, some, such as sterling, actually give off flowery flavors. “Hops initially went into beer because they are a preservative,” she says. But now, as they’re added later in the process “the hops don’t get to impart the same bitterness.” So, for floral brews, look for bottles labeled with sterling hops.
If you savor Sauvignon Blanc, dabble in double IPA.
Admittedly, not every double IPA will work well for Sauvignon Blanc drinker—but there are many that share some of its flavor characteristics, such as bright notes of grapefruit, lemon, and even tropical fruit. For your best bet, “try something blonde with the word ‘wheat’ in it,” Allen instructs. As he explains, “there’s enough substance [in these wheat brews] to please the palate but you don’t need to get caught up in it. This is drinking beer.”
If you go zaney for Zinfandel, buy a barrel aged beer.
According to Allen, if Zinfandel drinkers can discover a brew labeled with the words “red,” “brown,” or “barrel-aged,” they “will discover a new warm fuzzy friend,” Allen promises. Why? “I think of these beers like teddy bears—but the state fair, jumbo-sized kind of teddy bears,” he says. “There’s fruit, oak, and alcohol.” What’s more, these beers go well with the same foods with which you’d pair a big red wine. “It’s strong, and it’s special,” Allen says.
If you regularly reach for rosé, sample a sour fruit beer.
Tis the season for rosé. But if you can’t grab a bottle, go for a sour fruit beer instead. More popular by the minute, sour beers “are ideal for warm weather crushing,” says Becerra. That’s in part because “many brewers are taking these refreshing base styles—which are brewed with lactic bacteria for their signature tang—and adding different fruits,” she says. “This allows the beer to soak up all the fruit flavor with very little of the actual sweetness.”
One last note: “As with all great beers, be sure to use a glass,” instructs Becerra. “Just like wine, aromas are a crucial component to a good beer—so don’t keep them trapped inside the bottle. Additionally, we don’t want the carbonation to mask the delicacies and flavors of your beer, so letting it open up a little bit by pouring it in a glass will make a big difference.”