5 things to make you a savvy LA craft beer drinker

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Beer sampler. Photo by Quinn Dombrowski/ CC/ Flickr

With LA Beer Week coming to a close this weekend and the start of Oktoberfest upon us, there are a lot of beer-drinking events going on around town (from a block party at Glendale Tap to the official closing night at Timeless Pints in Lakewood).

But what if all you know about beer involves ‘Tapping the Rockies” or how much a keg of Natural Light costs in the town where you went to college?

Here are 5 things that will make you a smarter beer drinker.

1) What separates a craft beer from a regular beer?

Google defines it as a beer with a distinctive flavor, produced in small quantities and distributed in a particular region. We all know Google doesn’t lie, but to add a little more insight, The Brewers Association, which is the trade industry group for craft beer, has put a universal definition around what it means to be a craft brewer:

a) Small: Craft breweries must have an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales).

b) Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery must be owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

c) Traditional: A brewer that has a majority of its total alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages don’t count!

2) California Rules!

According to recent data, California is #1 in craft breweries (around 350 total), and LA has around 30 alone. We’re also #1 in production (approximately 2.5 million barrels/year) including 3 of the top 10 craft breweries in the country including Sierra (Chico), Lagunitas (Petaluma) and Stone (San Diego).

The popular Golden Road Brewing Company is #4 among the fastest-growing breweries in the country. The Bruery in Placentia and Hanger 24 in Redlands are also at #28 and #29 on the fastest-growing craft brewery list, respectively. The New Yorker made this interactive map with more recent stats on craft brewery explosion.

3) The most popular style of craft beer is seasonal

Just like the love affair with Pumpkin Spiced Lattes and Peppermint Frappuccinos, consumers love pumpkin beers, winter lagers and summer wheat beers.

Besides seasonal, what else is popular?

India Pale Ales or IPAs. They are known best for their hoppy, bitter flavor. According to one study, restaurants and bars are seeing a 39 percent yearly rise in sales!

While the American Homebrewers Association recognizes 70 total beer styles, here’s a list of the most common ones.

4) What’s the gateway craft beer?

While water, malts, yeast and hops are the only essential ingredients to making a beer, the first craft beer that hooks people is the wit or white ale, says Beer Expert, Christina Perozzi.

“A lot of people, their first foray away from the 90 percent mass marketed, industrialized beers we have, their first step away will be a wit beer, a white ale,” says Perozzi. Click to hear more from Perozzi on KCRW’s “Good Food.”

5) Just like good wine, you have to pair good beer with the right food.

One of the first things any craft brewer will tell you is that craft beer is to be enjoyed, not chugged. With that in mind, the Taco Bell that pairs well with the Bud Light, may not be ideal for refined palate of the craft beer drinker. Here’s a short list of what goes well with what.

Red Meats: Ales, Ales, Ales! – Fruity Ales, IPAs, Brown Ales…you get it.

Poultry: Malty Lagers or Bitter Ales

Fish/Seafood: American wheat beer, dry porters, oatmeal stouts, hoppy pilsner…pretty much anything.

Cheese: Pilsners, Pale Ales and Brown Ales

Dessert: Wheat beers and stouts.

For more about LA Beer week go here. If you’re still not convinced, here’s a beer cocktail you can try at home.