I know that the first lesson for the “Beer Apprentice” at beermentor.com is “Identify a ‘good’ beer.” I “developed” about 5 hours worth of work to get a good feeling for Beer basics and styles. I also recommended purchasing several of these styles and sampling them.
However, after you’ve completed this lesson, where do you turn to find “Good Versions” of the styles you like? For instance, if you really like American IPAs, how do you go about picking a good one to try?
The most obvious answer is “Ask an expert”–but this begs the question “Who is an expert?” The difficulty you find is knowing if you can trust someone to recommend the style you want to try. For instance, if a friend of yours happens to love English Bitters (and pretty much drinks only those), you probably wouldn’t ask him what American IPA he would recommend.
Sooooo, I would fall back on the less obvious way to find one to try. The first places I would look are the most recent GABF or World Beer Cub winners for that style. For instance, Sweetgrass APA from Grand Teton Brewing is the most recent (2009) GABF Gold Medal winner. From the World Beer Cup (2008), the top two IPAs are “IPA” from Odell Brewing Co (Gold) and “Union Jack IPA“, from Firestone Walker Brewing Co (Silver). These are selections from certified judges and will probably be fantastic options (Actually, they are fantastic options … I’ve had all three … wow, they are good!)
If these aren’t available in your area, then as a secondary option, I would 1) make a list of the available beers in that style, and then 2) go to ratebeer.com or beeradvocate.com to see how those particular beers stack up. Even though the folks that rate these beers at these sites are not (usually) certified judges, the collective mind of all these folks usually get it right and the rating will be spot on for the beer. Once you have a couple of options, buy them, chill them correctly (but don’t make them too cold), and have a tasting session with some friends!
The final option would be to go to a bar or restaurant that serves a sampling of the style you want to try and just go for it! This is usually hit-or-miss, but, hey, you are out drinking beer!