These fascinating facts can come in handy when you’re out at the 100-handle pub. You won’t have to ask what kind of beer you might like. By knowing the basics of beer, you can have a general idea of what a beer will taste like before you sip it. Also, having some tried and true drinks will make you feel confident when you order, and knowing some tasty more obscure beers will make you a clutch addition to any pub crawl.
So. Here are some basics… If you’ve tried beer before and don’t care for it, rest assured that there is still hope for you. Beer is broken into two main categories, ales and lagers. In each category, there are many different varieties ranging from light and simple to dark and complex. There are a few hybrid beers, fruit beers, ciders, and seasonal beers that don’t fit clearly into either ale or lager classification.
DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALE AND LAGER:
Ales’ shorter, warmer fermenting time support the formation of esters, flavorful elements found in ales. So while lagers are “crisp and clean” with a bold predominate flavor, ales have many flavorful undertones.
Simple: crisp flavor and smooth finish
Complex: multi-layered flavor
Beer is made from grain, water, yeast and hops. Essentially it is liquid bread. The grain most commonly used is barley, however wheat, rice, oats, and other grains are also used. (This is why some beers are distinguished as wheat beers).The malted grain are cracked open and roasted. Aside from the manner in which they are fermented, this is where most of the differences take place in beers.
Dark: malt roasted longer time, more flavors like chocolate and toffee.
Light: malt roasted shorter time, less dominated by malt than by hops and yeast flavor.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN WHEN YOU’RE ORDERING?
LAGERS: Basically, most prevalent beers you come across are lagers. Bud Light, Amstel, Coors, Miller, Heineken and Tecate are all lagers. These are all pretty clean and dry, meaning they have simple flavors that are easy to drink. Lagers start out with the lightest and least complex light beer (the lower calorie option). Next come the pale lagers, and pilsners. Getting darker and more complex, amber and dark lagers are going to be more malty tasting. They always say chocolate and caramel flavors, but I have to really pay attention to discern those flavors most of the time. Finally come the Bocks. The Bock that I’m most familiar with is Shiner Bock, an amber colored beer which is pretty solid as far as dark lagers go. It’s not bitter, but malty and sweet.
- From Holland, a nicer light lager: Amstel Light
- The original Italian lager(pale lager): Peroni
- Never bad, very common pilsner: Stella Artois
- Tasty Bock: Shiner Bock
ALES: If you want to be discerning, ales are the way to go. I personally like them best. Here’s their story. Blonde ales are the lightest and least complex, followed closely by pub cream ales (toasted and creamy) and honey blonde ales (sweet). Getting darker and more complex are brown ales (nutty and drinkable), amber and red ales (tend to be more hoppy), fruit lambics (I’ll come back to this) and then hefeweizens (unfiltered wheat beers that taste spiced). White ales (wheat with orange and spices) get a bit more complex, but they’re my favorite. Pale ales (pretty hoppy and spiced; don’t get confused with light or white ale) come next and then we get into the very dark and fairly complex stouts(super roasted and smooth) and porters(smokey). Finally, the lighter colored, but most complex IPA and Strong Ales (very hoppy and high alcohol content).
- Good, unique light ale: Red Hook Slim Chance
- Smooth, creamy pub cream ale: Boddington’s Pub Ale
- Gold standard American hefeweizen: Widmer Hefeweizen
- My favorite white ale: Avery White Rascal. Also: Blue Moon, Hoegaarden
- Best-selling Belgian blonde ale: Leffe Blond…easy drinking
- Classic pale ale: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
- Dessert stout: Young’s Chocolate Stout…actually made with chocolate
- Any India pale ale (IPA): I never tried one and they’re all very hoppy
CIDERS AND SUCH: If you’re a fan of very fruity beverages, hard ciders, fruit beer, and lambics (fruit flavored ales) are the ones you should shoot for. Some of them are really good. Hard ciders taste just like a normal cider. They come in pear, apple, raspberry, etc. Lambics are brewed with airborne yeasts in big open barrels. Most lambics you come across are then fermented again with fruit. The only one I’ve ever tried was Lindeman’s Framboise, which is fizzy and raspberry flavored.
NEED SOME MORE FUN FACTS?
- Bass Ale, a pale ale, holds the oldest trademark in the world. It’s a red triangle.
- Beer has been produced for over 8000 years.
- It is the most widely consumed alcoholic beverage in the world and the third most popular.
- International Beer Day is August 5. It was founded in Santa Cruz, California in 2007, and has spread like wildfire.
- Beer kegs tapped with a party hose let in outside air in to force beer out. Thus, the beer will oxidize and can’t keep more than 18-24 hours.
- Leffe Blonde and Chimay Cinq Cents (a very high alcoholic content Belgian strong ale) were produced in monasteries.
- “My Goodness, My Guiness,” “Guiness is good for you” and “Lovely day for a Guiness” ads began in the 1930’s, helping to make the drink an icon. However before that campaign began, Guiness, a brand beginning in 1759, relied soley on word of mouth to sell their beer.
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