I just started writing this blog because I was bored, and I wanted people to really get a great example of the beer using all the senses. My format obviously isn't new or unique, but it's a good format and I hope people find it easy to understand, and it shares my passion for beer.
I figured a few of my friends and family would see this one time and no one else would ever read it, but the power of the internet is very strange. I got a message from Seattle from someone that reads my blog and asked how I got into craft beer, and how I trained my palate. That is awesome other people are reading this and getting more people interested in good beer. Thank you for the message and I will tell you how I got into it.
I was just about 20 (Disclaimer: I am not advocating underage drinking) when I got a job at the local Sears and worked with a guy who was a beer nut. I had been drinking cheap keg beer and the cheapest case from the liquor store at this point. I wonder if people look at me the way I looked at him when I first met him? He was crazy about beer. He talked about it, attended beer tasting events, bought all kinds of crazy beers I had never heard of, and took special trips to breweries on the weekends just to taste their beer. I remember thinking "Man, this guy is crazy. It's just beer." Lucky for me, I told him just that and he invited me over all the time to try new beers. He showed me how to taste a beer, what I was looking for in the beer, how the brewing process worked, and he began to help me to begin thinking in quality over quantity. Literally after three months of beer tasting with him I couldn't drink the big 3 any more. It was strange. Bug light had never tasted like water with a metallic twinge before, but now I no longer liked the flavor it at all. At this point I still wasn't sure about craft beer though. I was drinking Euro-Lagers, Guinness, and LaBatt's when I wasn't trying something with him. I wasn't 21 yet, so I asked for stuff I had heard of. Hardly much of a beer geek there huh? At the time I just thought big 3 were crap, but I was still drinking flavorless macro lagers (except for Guinness). Same sheep, but now it's an "import." Yes, I was that guy. I had no idea what a Baltic Porter or barleywine was, so I drank what I knew. I think that is much of the problem for most people. They drink what they know, and because of TV the big 3 is about all they know.
I was lucky enough to be able to go to London on spring break my junior year of college. I still wasn't 21 yet, but I was only a month away. I went with one of my best friends and met another friend in London. This is where my beer adventure really started. My goal was to never drink the same beer twice while I was there. We dropped our luggage off and were at the pub instantly. My first beer was a beer that was all around me back home, but I had never seen it since I wasn't 21. Young's Double Chocolate Stout. I was in love instantly, and it only gave me more reason to try every beer I could get a hold of. I was there for 10 days and had so many great English beers. J.W. Lees, Samuel Smiths, Fullers, Tetleys, Boddingtons, Morland Brewing. Those are what I can remember. It was amazing. When I drank I was looking for flavor and trying to decide what it was I tasted.
When I got back home I turned 21 the month after and started heading to the local liquor store. This is really how I would suggest getting into craft beer. Find a local liquor store using either beeradvocate.com or beermapping.com that will allow you break up sixer and build your own. I would always build my own sixer and try them each over the course a week to two weeks. I would try everything I could get a hold of. I really think this is the single most important thing is trying as much variety as possible. I am not saying binge drink here, but one or two beers in a sitting is what craft beer and respect for beer is all about. If you want to drink to get drunk this really isn't for you.
At this point I am really into other countries beers and not so much American craft beers. I had heard the term plenty, but I wasn't really seeking those out like my friend from Sears had. I was drinking some amazing beers from Belgium, Germany, and the UK, but not really much on the home front. I credit my best friend Kevin with getting me into good craft beer. I went to visit him at Purdue after I had graduated and he was still in school for another semester. We drank about four offerings from Bell's and I was really wowed by them and even more impressed they were only about three hours away and not across the ocean. I also credit Kevin with getting me into IPAs. I don't think I can ever return that favor. When I got back home I went to the local beer mecca, Party Pak. I just started making mixed six packs from local and regional craft brewers. If I haven't tried it before I pick it up. Life is good at this point.
My latest adventure in beer is thanks to my friend Joe. He introduced me to Three Floyd's right here in Indiana. Joe re-invigorated my passion for good beer, and helped me look even more local for beer to try. I bet you that there are several amazing places in your town producing award winning craft beer that you never even knew existed. I am still ever expanding and looking for something new.
Wow, that was a pointless ramble. My answer to your question is this: Try as much variety at this point as you can. Use the websites I posted to find a place local that will allow you to purchase by the bottle. Either in 12oz bottles or 22oz bomber sized bottles. As far as training your palate I would suggest just writing down what you taste while you are drinking the beer. You will pick up on things the more you try. When I started trying to pick out things I would go to the brewers website and see if I could find the recipe for the beer. In doing that I got to see what went into the beer for a good review and certain things will start to come out to you. Yeast strains, types of hops, roasted malts etc... Here is exactlty how I review a beer. I just took a great way to review it, and use it. I have a great deal of respect for the Alstrom Brothers from BeerAdvocate. You are the only person that knows what you like, so drink what you like, but still try other things. At one point your favorite beer was a beer you had never tasted before, and I always hope my next new beer might be just that. My new favorite beer.
I hope that answers your question a little bit better.