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How to Understand Beer

Posted in Beer on 2006-08-17 20:23

Most people who are not into beer tend to divide beer into two types: normal and dark, and they'll tell you things like "I don't like dark beer," which makes no sense. It's like saying "I don't like red-coloured drinks". There are lots and lots of different kinds of dark beers, and they all taste different. So you may find that you like many of them, or some of them, or, theoretically, none of them, but as long as you think that "dark beers" share more than just the colour, you are clearly not in a position to judge.

So how to make sense of the overwhelming profusion of beer out there? Well, there is actually a kind of key you can use. Most beers belong pretty clearly to a well-defined, traditional beer type. This means that once you've learned the most important types of beer, and once you know what type a beer is, you know pretty much what to expect when you drink it. And once you've done that you can say that "I don't like dry stout," which definitely is a statement that makes sense.

So what beer types are there? Well, the most common one is what you could call "pale lager". Nearly all the yellow liquid you see people drinking in pint glasses is pale lager. This includes Budweiser, Heineken, Corona, Sol, Miller, Stella Artois, Beck's, Tiger, and all of the other beers in that vein. You can argue back and forth which one of these you like the most, but it's all pretty much the same. It's clear yellow in colour (sometimes pale yellow), has a medium-sized fine-laced white head, and sometimes keeps bubbling in the glass after you've poured it. Alcohol is typically 4-5%. Taste and aroma tend to be faint malty sweetness, some light bitterness, and (if you are very lucky indeed) a touch of grassy or floral hops. If you are not so lucky you may detect some maize, a little rubber or milk, or perhaps some butter. (This is for the less well-made examples.)

Actually, I think for most people (especially in Norway) it may take a while to think of a beer that doesn't fit the description above. In fact, the description above may sound like the definition of beer, much more than a definition of a particular beer style. But what about Guinness? Guinness is opaque black in colour and has a creamy beige head. The taste is mostly mild roasted (or burnt, if you like) malts, somewhat dry, and somewhat bitter. This doesn't fit the description above at all. The reason is simple. Guinness belongs to a different beer type altogether: stout. In fact, if you want to be strict it's a dry stout (also known as Irish stout). There are also other types of stout.

People who are into beer generally approach beers through their type, and this is what makes beer people so exasperated with the selection you find in Norway. If you go into my local grocery store you find Ringnes Pilsener (pale lager), Lysholmer Spesial (pale lager), Nordlandspils (pale lager), Ringnes Akairyu (pale lager), Budweiser (pale lager), ... You get the idea. In fact, my local grocery store offers pale lagers (innumerable, all boring), one dry stout (Guinness), one cream ale (Kilkenny), one Münchener (Frydenlund Bayer), one Vienna (Ringnes Nunavut), and some alcohol-free beers (3-4, one decent). So while the shop may have 25 different beers you actually have only 6 choices, of which 2 are boring, which leaves 4. You get pretty tired of those 4 quite quickly, especially since they are the same 4 you find everywhere.

So what else is out there? That's a good question, but it deserves a posting of its own. I'll try to get back to this later.







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Comments

Jim - 2007-12-09 22:52:05

To answer your question, Microbrews of the Pacific Northwest. My preference would be in the Ale family, Nut Browns and Porters. The supply of different brewers is endless here.

Steve - 2008-12-19 01:46:28

Do you know what makes dark beer dark? Is it from the bottom of the barrel where the ingredients settle?

Thanks!

Lars Marius - 2008-12-20 10:45:08

Dark beer is dark because it's made with dark malts (dark grains), and the malts are dark because after malting they have been dried with strong heat, which has burned the malt to some degrees. There are many different kinds of dark malts, but the principle is always the same.

Christian Lopez - 2011-10-04 13:29:45

What makes light beer light? Also what type of cups or glass should be used for what beers?

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