My mother is quiet. It runs in her family. Holidays are awash in half-discussions about trips to a restaurant or what the weather was like on that one trip long ago. It just comes naturally to her, which is fair and faultless. I suppose English stoicism doesn’t rub off easily. She also, like many hardworking moms with four kids, loves to cap off the day with a good glass of merlot. And more power to her — I know what I was like as a teenager.
I’m sure she’d love to have a bottle for Mother’s Day, but there’s a certain solitude in that. She likes wine, and I like beer, and when we drink, we drink independently. There’s no piano-man solicitude. Just quiet and, sometimes, HGTV. Perhaps she’s looking for respite, and if she is, then she deserves it. But like any mother’s son, I’d love to be able to share an interest. And, damn it all, it’s Mother’s Day and I want to hear about my mom. I want to know this inscrutable woman who gave up so much to raise me and my siblings. I want to hear about how she used to work at a radio station. About why the hell she has a picture of herself with Billy Idol.
And no, a morbid and shared fascination with House Hunters is not a bedrock for familiarity.
So this Mother’s Day, I was looking to bridge the divide. To find a beer style which could convert her. And not just her. Perhaps mothers the world over. Or maybe just people who want to connect across one or the other bank of the boozy river.
If that’s the intention, though, where to begin?
Benjamin Pratt and Zachary Mack, owners of As Is and ABC Beer Co., respectively, are in agreement: the wine drinker not only would love a good beer, but deserves one. “I think a lot of times people not liking beer comes from an experience they had drinking some mass-produced lager,” says Pratt. “And then they’ll come in and taste something completely different from what’s expected. It can really shift people’s perception.”
These are three beer styles the experts might classify broadly as “gateway” styles. They share particular qualities with wines, like microbial connections, fruit notes and oak barrel aging. “People who drink wine can definitely find vinous qualities in beer,” says Mack. “Wine drinkers often have this idea that beer is this watery drink without complexity, but I think that idea comes from not knowing about complex styles. Beer can be flavored and manipulated and aged, just like wine.”
So, these are the beers for mom. Even if she doesn’t love them, they ought to provide at the very least a shared drink, a laugh, and a moment to remember.
See more sours in our guide: here
Pratt says this is a standard recommendation in the bar, a go-to introductory beer for the uninitiated. “I think [it’s great for wine drinkers] mainly because the flavors are just not flavors that people associate with beer,” he says.
Sour beers are interesting because of how rarefied and risky the process of brewing them is, since they’re made from naturally absorbed yeast and bacterial cultures in oak barrels. The process, along with aging, can also take several years, so contamination or a poor brew can amount to disaster. Yet, the oak aging — as well as the individualized additives, such as fruit — makes for a deeply complex flavor with a relatively high acidity. Which may be just the ticket for the chardonnay drinker.
Expert’s Recommendation: Crooked Stave Petite Sours
“These are really good intro sour beers,” says Pratt. “[Crooked Stave] makes all different iterations of the Petite Sours, and they’re usually fruited sours, so they are very approachable and low in acidity.”
See more imperial stouts in our guide: here
Stouts offer a rich, full-bodied drinking experience with many of the same vinous qualities as a deep red wine. Many of these are barrel aged, and so the cabernet drinker may be pleasantly surprised to find similar oakiness. The alcohol content is also typically akin to wine — above 10% ABV. “Whenever I want to buy family something to replace a California red, I get them an imperial stout,” says Mack. “It’s super rich and flavorful with strong fruit notes, and the ABV keeps them happy.”
Expert’s Recommendation: North Coast Brewing Old Rasputin
The fruit flavors of this bold stout hit you straightaway, followed by a roasted coffee and malt flavor and a rich and mildly acidic finish. Its dense texture is meal-like, yet it’s smooth and highly drinkable.
See more barleywines in our guide: here
Barleywine was originally made to emulate wine at the dinner table. “It’s a much stronger beer,” says Pratt. “They use [raw] ingredients, a lot more malt to drive up the gravity of the beer, and it creates a much higher ABV — usually in the 10–14% range.” Barleywine ages well, whether in the bottle or barrel, and is typically very thick in mouthfeel. This would be the choice for those who might enjoy a fine port aperitif, as the palate is densely flavored.
Expert’s Recommendation: Firestone Walker Helldorado Blonde Barleywine
“Firestone Walker has 11.8 percent alcohol and is aged in bourbon barrels, but it definitely gets better with time — just like wine,” Pratt says. “The bourbon mellows out and you get a lot of rich oakiness from the barrel and super sweet caramel notes.”