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Hopefully by this point you’ve filed your taxes and the government has given you some sort of a refund. If not, you’re likely now a fugitive reading this in another country with a new name and hairstyle. But if you are a law-abiding citizen who got a few bucks back from old Uncle Sam, you now have extra money for what’s most important in life: beer. We recommend that you use that cash to take a chance on something new and become a better-informed, happier beer drinker. Here are our suggestions for the best ways to spend your tax refund on beer:
Make it rain at a new local brewery
My goodness, how many new breweries have opened in the last year? The Brewers Association puts the figure at over 800 in 2016, and the total number in the U.S. has nearly doubled in the past three years. For all of the talk of a craft-beer bubble, quality will always triumph -- but sometimes even well-regarded places are crowded out and go under. We recommend that you sample widely across your local region, land on one brewery that consistently produces excellent beer, and give it enough support to bolster its chance of survival. For me, it’ll be a brewery called Eight & Sand that’s just a little over two miles away from my house; I have a feeling they’ll know me by name soon.
Spend more on sours
Sure, I’ve dipped a toe into this tart, tongue-tingling arena: I love a good Berliner Weisse or gose -- and juicy, malty, Flemish-style reds are a rare indulgence. But a wave of bolder, funkier offerings is on the rise, and I hear it calling my name. Dedicate some of that extra dough to becoming loony for lambic, gaga for gueuze, and, well… wild for wild ales. I found a bar close to my stomping grounds in Philadelphia that specialize in sour beers, and if you’re lucky, you’ll have a sour-happy bar nearby, too.
Open your wallet for single-hop beers
What would beer be without hops? (Boring, that’s what.) With the recent explosion of both imported and newly-hybridized experimental varieties (each headier and more exotic than the last), it seems that there’s never been a better time to explore beers made with a single hop. This stylistic choice gives new ingredients the chance to shine individually, and provides the drinker with the opportunity to appreciate their unique characteristics independently. If you experience enough of these single-hop beauties, you may eventually gain the ability to tell one from another with just a whiff. This isn’t just the province of IPAs, either; there are plenty of saisons and IPLs boasting single-hop status. And all it’ll take to obtain those beers are a few of those sweet singles from your tax refund.
Drop a couple Euros on German brews
Maybe it’s my German heritage, or maybe it’s because my first restaurant-industry experience came in a bustling German-style bierhall, but I have a decidedly soft spot for German beers of every style. After all, there’s more to German offerings than crisp lagers (though they can be stellar, they’re not often the most compelling recruitment tool). Use a few of your ducats on Deutsch wheat beers such as clear-not-cloudy kristallweizens and rich, full-bodied weizenbocks. There are also lusciously malty dopplebocks, and the fine subtleties -- to say nothing of the sheer slammability -- of kölsches, Cologne’s prized pale potable.
Dole out dollars on dark beers
In my research for a trip out West last fall, I revisited a food-travel story from a number of years back in which the writer detailed a crabmeat dish that was so delicious in its simplicity that he wanted to “burst through the kitchen door and thank the chef for leaving it alone.” That’s what I think of when I come across a delicious, unaged stout or porter without any coffee, chocolate or other adjuncts. I’m not a purist in all things -- or even most -- but I’m certainly a believer in the joys of a no-frills dark beer. Flavors of coffee and chocolate are already part of the package -- why double down on them or cover them up? As for barrel-aged stouts (usually imperial, to boot), they’re still solid -- occasionally spectacular -- and they’re here to stay. But lately I’ve been more interested in seeing how other styles (Scotch ales or barleywines, to name some outstanding candidates) hold up to the spirit-barrel treatment.
And hey, if there are any other beer styles out there that you haven’t had the chance to experiment with, there’s no better time to than when you have a few extra zeros in your bank account.