It could just be the fact that I am in my oldth – my youth having disappeared some time ago, doing so without my permission – but it seems to me that over the course of the past several years even simple things have become very and unnecessarily complicated.
Take something as straightforward as beer. This reasonably unfussy beverage, the third most popular in the world after water and tea, has, in many cases, followed the path of fine wine and Scotch Whiskey. You can enjoy them all on a rudimentary level. Pour yourself a big gulp and quaff it down. But there will likely be a spoil sport in your vicinity who will, at best, look askance at your “disrespectful” actions without comment, but not without an opinion; and will either call you out for your boorishness or subject you to a lecture of historic proportions. The choice is not up to you.
When I first was enjoying the satisfactions of hops, yeasts, grains and pure water, the choices were within the range of Falstaff, Dixie, Jax, Hamm's, Schlitz, Lone Star and hundreds of other brews now gone, or at least diminished. Craft beers were nowhere to be found. Beers from Europe would likely not last the journey to these shores. IPA would never be associated with beer. A home mortgage company maybe, but never a descriptor for a beer style. Beers with fruits or nuts? That's what your friends would think about you if the idea ever came up, which it never would.
But today walk into a beer emporium and just try to keep that confused look off your face. Rows of taps. Coolers stacked with beers from places you did not even know were places. And two-sided menus fully explaining not-in-laymen's terms about history, families, water, agriculture, brewing, temperatures, packaging, serving suggestions, food accompaniments and medals won.
Luckily there is still that guy hanging around, eyeing "chicks," and slurping PBR because he does not care what anyone else thinks. As if we did not know that piece of superfluous information.
In fact, if you have not stayed abreast of the beer industry, you are in for some major surprises. Craft beers are brewed in small batches, using recipes and techniques “perfected” by the brew master that either satisfy his palate or answers some curious question he can’t get out of his head. Craft beers by their very nature are not necessarily good or even thirst-quenching. Thankfully, however, many are downright excellent.
Consumers are not the only parties gravitating to Craft Beers in large numbers. Major beer corporate monoliths, like Miller SAB and Anheuser Busch are soaking up craft breweries as quickly as hungry softball players are scoffing free hot dogs at a picnic. Just when you think you have avoided the products of the big corporations, you find yourself gushing about a craft brew only to be told that as of 10 a.m. that very morning. Budweiser of St. Louis now owns the brand and the brewery.
Even venerable Coors Beer, a cult, often hard to find brand not that many years ago when cult brands were unheard of, is today a Miller Beer company.
Let’s take a look at a broad-stroke overview of beer styles and what defines them.
Pales are the product of warm fermentation and lighter colored grains, usually malt. This is one of the most popular styles of beers in the world, and it is divided into sub-categories:
* Blonde – a popular term in Europe, particularly France and Belgium. Example: Duvel
* American Pale Ale – a relatively new style, developed in America in the early 1980s, to create something lighter, easier to drink, but with a big hop presence. Example: Sierra Nevada
* Amber Ale – generally various shades of brown or copper, relating to the grains used. Often a difficult but middle ground distinction between American Pales and Indian Pales since these beers can be defined either by their malt quality or the hops. Example: Fat Tire
* Burton Pale Ale – a style developed in England, at Burton-upon-Trent to be more precise, that owes its flavors and weight. It is thought that this beer style is all about the waters of the Trent River, which contains high levels of gypsum. Example: Bass Ale
* English Bitters – Often defined as higher alcoholic beer, up to 7 percent, but actually can be as low as 3 percent. Sub-categories, divided by levels of alcohol, are called Ordinary, Special and Strong and there are different hops styles in the classifications. Example: Boddington’s
* Irish Red Ale – a style favored by the Irish for a lighter, though not necessarily red, feature of hops and lower alcohol, 4.5 percent. Example: Smithwick’s
* India Pale Ale – I’m not certain if everyone who drinks these beers likes/understands the beers, or if they just feel important/pseudo-knowledgeable ordering an IPA. Actually developed in England to withstand the rigors of the voyage to India, not the other way around. Example: India Pale Ale
Stout and Porter
Dark beers made using toasted grains, usually malts and barleys. Stout is a self-evident term, and the interchangeable use of porter is of English origin and refers to the preferred style of beer of the street and river porters, hard-working and evidently hard-drinking men who carried freight, often literally on their backs. Example: Sierra Nevada Stout
Yes, it’s that obvious. Or maybe not. Many of these beers have high amounts of toasted malt in the ingredient listings. Top-fermented and quite popular in Germany where they are made according to the strict beer-making laws of the Reinheitsgebot dating to 1516 Bavaria. Designated weisse, or weizen, and maybe accompanied by the term hefe, which means yeast. All of the classic breweries in Munich make a wheat beer, notably Spaten and Paulaner.
Made with bottom-fermenting yeast, lager is a derivative of the German word lagern, meaning “to store.” These beers are brewed, then put away in cool caves to age a bit and mellow, as well as undergo a continuing, slower fermentation phase.
Pale Lagers were developed in central Europe, particularly around the city of Pilsen, Czechoslovakia and are known today as pilsners. Examples: Warsteiner, Bitburger, Pilsner Urquell, Amstel, Grolsch
Belgian beers fermented with wild yeasts, which makes for “gamier” aromas and flavors, sometimes unpredictable in the outcome. There are breweries that add fruits, like raspberry, grape, strawberry and peach into the process which provide sweetness and flavors on the finish since lambic beers can deliver a harsh aftertaste.
The use of wild yeasts is tricky and brewing usually takes place only in the cooler months to minimize the introduction of unwanted air-borne elements that could take the open-fermented liquid into a bad direction.
Example: Belle-Vue, Boon
The warm weather is here, and you know what that means. A cold, frosty glass or mug of beer is the great thirst slaker. Of course, in the case of most New Orleanians, that is also true in the cool weather of December or January.
We are a consistent bunch, aren’t we?