Craft Beer vs Commercial Beer: a Beginner’s Guide

The usual, please

If you’re a regular beer drinker, whether in your neighborhood bar a couple of times a week or at your local grocery store sticking up for the weekend, you can’t have helped but notice that there’s a growing choice. We’re talking beers beyond the large, nationally recognizable global brands. These lesser-known beers, coming in styles you may not be familiar with, are popping up everywhere. They’re generically known as ‘craft’ beers and they’re not as scary as you might think.

The unusual, please?

Why broaden your beer horizons when you’ve been happy with your regular brew for years? Well, in a word, quality. For the most part, craft beers are produced on a much smaller scale by independent breweries, and these manufacturers need a selling point to compete – that selling point generally being introducing interesting flavors into the mix, presenting different beer styles and using higher quality ingredients.

Lager than life

If you’ve been drinking one of the world famous draft beer brands for as long as you can remember, you should try a style that doesn’t take you too far from that experience while still nudging you in the right direction. That would be a lager, which is generally light, effervescent and relatively low in alcohol content (maybe 3-4%, around what you’re used to, anyway). If you like what you find here, there are a couple of close relations that you can explore, pale ales and saisons being in the same arena, though saisons especially can have higher alcohol levels, so keep an eye out for that.

The QT on IPAs

When you’re feeling confident in your move away from draft, you’re probably ready to expand your experience of flavor. Again, this can be a gradual move into wheat beers and India Pale Ales (IPAs). Hops are the ingredient in all beers that control the levels of bitterness, so your preference here is going to depend on how much you like that hop taste. Wheat beers are less hoppy, and they tend to have more fruity variations so are easy to drink. IPAs ramp up the hoppiness notably, some to fairly extreme levels. These hoppy IPAs are considered “West Coast” style in the industry, whereas the “East Coast” style (or “New England” style) tend to be less hoppy and more fruit forward or “juicy”. Many people start off with milder IPAs but quickly want more and more hops, and many become firm fans.

Stout and out

Among the remaining styles, there are some that mainly appeal to beer aficionados and people who have been drinking craft beers for a while, although some people just naturally prefer these flavors immediately. Stouts and porters are dark in color and look heavy, which they definitely can be, but some of them are lighter than they appear. They have rich tastes to them – coffees and chocolates and caramels. Finally, Belgian beers labeled Dubbels, Tripels and Quads are savored by true experts – they’re also very rich and can have very high alcohol levels.

Craft life

Going from commercial to craft is a definite choice away from the familiar, but the differences are likely not as drastic as you might think, and in the end you’re getting much better value in terms of the ingredients you’re paying for and the care taken in the brewing process. Talk to your local bartender about good gateway craft beer options, support your local breweries and expand those beer horizons for good.

Side Hustle Brews

We at Side Hustle are keen to help you on your journey from corporate to craft — we value knowledge, passion, and flavor paired with a reverence for the process of beer making. The finest ingredients and a meticulous process make for a fine end product. So join us for a can or a pint and savor the flavor of craft. Find out more about our available beer styles at