Craft Beer 101: Because the PBR Just Doesn't Cut It Anymore

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Get ready to trade in your go to can of fizzy golden brew for a bottle of the good stuff. Here's everything you need to know about craft beer.

Not all beers are created equal. And ok, you might love your Bud Light or Corona, but we're here to tell you that, yes, there are indeed better beers to be had. Two words: craft beer. How is this any different than the fizzy golden beverage you downed during college? Well for starters, you're probably not going to want to play flip cup with this stuff (not that you're still doing that right...?). Why? Because a bottle of this goes for a little more than your trusty can of PBR. Oh — it tastes better too. If this leaves you wondering why on Earth you'd bother with this seemingly snobby beverage, hear us out. You'll be happy you did.

So what is craft beer exactly? Unlike some of America's biggest brands, craft beer (also known as specialty, artisan, gourmet, boutique beers or microbrews) is brewed by small independent breweries (read: less than 25% of the brewery is owned by a non-craft brewer), or microbeweries, who typically produce fewer than six million barrels a year. You'll also find craft beer being made in brewpubs and restaurants that have the facilities to whip their own creations, on site. While size isn't the only factor that denotes a craft beer, it's what goes into the beer itself that matters too. These brews are the real deal, using a significant percentage of malt in its production rather than rice, corn and other substitutes that larger companies tend to use. What does that mean in real talk? That you're getting a higher quality beer made with high quality ingredients.

Craft beer is like fine wine. Each brew boasts unique characteristics and complex flavors that are derived from the ingredients used in the brewing process and length of fermentation time. Brewers tend to churn out new batches every few months, drawing on the season and region for inspiration. You can find everything from pumpkin ale in the fall to blackberry wheat beer in the summer, with dark spicy varieties making an appearance in the cooler months. Here's something you may not have known: just like wine, beer needs to breathe. Certain types of beer should be served in a specific glass like a mug, pint glass or tulip in order to take full advantage of their flavors.

Another similarity? Because of their unique qualities, a beer's flavor profile should be considered when pairing with food. Stouts are best served with rich, hearty foods, while pilsners, hefewizens and witbiers are best served with lighter fare like salads, seafood and vegetable dishes.

Craft beer isn't just for drinking either. The artisanal brew makes for a killer kitchen ingredient that can elevate everything from hearty stews to indulgent desserts.

Have we piqued your interest? Time to get tasting! Here are a few terms to keep in mind while browsing bottles at the store or surveying your favorite bar's list of specialty brews:

Light-Medium-Dark: This can refer to both the color and the body of the beer. In terms of body, light beers tend to be more clean and crisp in terms of flavor, while darker beers tend to be richer and more full-bodied.

Complex: See this on the label or menu and prepare yourself for some serious flavor, because this beer is going to be anything but boring.

Hoppy: Hops can vary in flavor, so the term can mean almost anything, but in general it refers to a beer that tastes or smells strongly of hops. Hops can be bitter, but that isn't always the case. Hops can also be citrusy, earthy or even floral.

Malty: Craft beer is made up of at least 50% malt and how long that malt is roasted will affect both the color and the flavor of the beer. Rich chocolate or coffee flavors are the result of dark roasted malt, while medium roasted malt will have more notes of toffee or caramel.

Session: Say what? Session beers are simply brews with a lower alcohol content, under 5%, so you can throw back a few without falling off your stool.

Not sure what beer is for you? CraftBeer.com has a beer finder to help you find the beer style that best fits your taste buds before you take the plunge.

Psst... Like this chalkboard-inspired pint print? Snag one here.

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