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Getting the beer you love means growing your knowledge. These commonly asked questions with answers will instantly up your game!
Beer is an alcoholic beverage made from malted grains, hops, yeast, and water. The grain is usually barley or wheat, but sometimes corn and rice are used as well. Fruit, herbs, and spices may also be used for special styles. In the distant past, the terms “beer” and “ale” meant different things. “Ale” was originally made without using hops, while “beer” did use hops. Since virtually all commercial products now use hops, the term “beer” now encompasses two broad categories: ales and lagers.
Ales are brewed with “top-fermenting” yeasts at close to room temperatures, 50-70F (10-21C). Ales encompass the broadest range of beer styles including bitters, pale ales, porters, stouts, barley wines, trappist, lambic, and alt. The British Isles are famous for their ales and it is a popular style with home-brewers and micro-breweries.
Lagers are brewed with “bottom-fermenting” yeasts at much colder temperatures, 35-50F (2-10C) over long periods of time (months). This is called “lagering”. Lagers include bocks, doppelbocks, Munich- and Vienna-style, Maerzen/ Oktoberfest, and the famous pilsners. Pilsner beer originated in the town of Pilsen, now in the Czech Republic and was the first non-cloudy beer. Most popular beers produced by the large North American breweries were originally of the pilsner style. These have diverged a great deal from the original style and succeed now by the force of the mass-marketing prowess of the brewers rather than any remarkable qualities of the beers themselves.
Lambics are a type of ale brewed in parts of Belgium by exposing hot wort (unfermented beer) to the outside air. Indigenous, wild yeasts and other microorganisms settle on the exposed surface of the wort as it cools and begin spontaneous fermentation. They are often sweetened with fruit flavourings and generally prized the world over.
Bock is a style of lager beer which originated in Germany. It was traditionally brewed in the fall, at the end of the growing season, when barley and hops were at their peak. It was “lagered” all winter and enjoyed in the spring at the beginning of the new brewing season. Bocks can be pale (helles) or dark (dunkles) and there are double(doppel) bocks which are extra strong.
From: The Guinness Drinking Companion by Leslie Dunkling (1992) Guinness Publishing; ISBN 0-85112-988-9 “In the London Ale-Houses and taverns of the early 18th Century it was common to call for a pint of “Three threads”, meaning a third of a pint each of ale, beer, and twopenny (the strongest beer, costing twopence a quart). A brewer called Harwood had the idea of brewing a beer that united the flavours of all three. He called this beer “Entire”. This was about 1720. Harwood’s Entire was highly hopped, strong, and dark. It was brewed with soft rather than hard water. Within a few years Entire was also being referred to as “Porter” (short for porter’s ale) because the porters of the London street markets were especially fond of it. Porter that was extra strong was known as “Stout Porter”, and eventually “Stout”.
“Dry” beer was developed in Japan. Using more adjuncts (like corn and rice) and genetically altered yeasts, these beers ferment more completely and have less residual sweetness, and hence less aftertaste.
Technically speaking, draught beer is beer served from the cask in which it has been conditioned. It has been applied, loosely, to any beer served from a large container. More recently, it has been used as a promotional term for canned or bottled beer to try to convince us that the beer inside tastes like it came from a cask. See also “Real Ale”.
Belgian ales often carry additional wording on their labels indicating their strength. This applies to their original malt strength not their alcoholic strength.