I realized that my most recent post may have been confusing to some people since I was talking about beer glasses, but didn’t define the types of beer they could be used for. I thought that everybody (read: the rest of the world) knew what the different words meant. But wandering the beer aisles at work yesterday (there are three) made me realize that there are a lot of different ways to ferment those hops and malts. So if you’re not a brewer yourself (or exceedingly wealthy with a rather odd hobby), maybe I can shed light on some of it. Or not – as you will see, it is a really confusing world out there.
Starting with beer. Beer is created by turning a starch (malted barley and/or malted grain) into a sugar and then fermenting the sugar. Now would be a good time to remember your high school chemistry, since I don’t see anywhere that a liquid is mentioned in that equation. Beer is usually flavored with hops, although other flavorings such as herbs or fruit may occasionally be included (if you want to be able to say you are having a healthy drink).
Hops come from a flowering plant that is not used for anything other than flavoring beers. Hops are the bitter counterpart to the sugar mentioned above. Did you know that the bitterness of beers is measured on the International Bitterness Units scale? I don’t know how that works, but I wonder if it could be used on people. Hops have an antibiotic effect that favors the activity of brewer’s yeast over less desirable microorganisms. Another health benefit! Hops also aids “head retention”, which sounds dirty but is not.
Now we move further into the maze and talk about lager. Lager is a type of beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures. Pale lager is the most widely consumed and commercially available style of beer in the world. Bock, Pilsner and Märzen are all styles of lager. So while you may think you are a regular guy who only drinks beer, not that “fancy” stuff, it’s probably lager you’re quaffing. Interesting note: Pilsner takes its name from the city of Plzeň, Bohemia, Czech Republic, where it was first produced in 1842. The original Pilsner Urquell beer is still produced there today. (At least I thought it was interesting.)
For those who prefer something a little heavier, we have the stouts/porters/stout porters. Porter is a dark style of beer originating in London in the 18th century, descended from brown beer (lots of hops and brown malt). Stout is a dark beer made using roasted malt or roasted barley, hops, water and yeast. Stouts were traditionally the generic term for the strongest or stoutest porters, typically 7% or 8% alcohol, produced by a brewery. The name is thought to come from its popularity with street and river porters. (Useful trivia for your next party) The name “stout” for a dark beer is believed to have come about because a strong porter may be called or “Stout Porter”. So you have the answer to my opening question. Stout will probably not make you fat, but it has a good chance of making you drunk.
Saving the best for last, we’ll tackle the ales. Anyone from the Detroit area will probably know that there is Vernor’s ginger ale and pale ginger ale. Vernor’s makes the best ice cream float in the world. Called a Boston Cooler for some reason. Pale ginger ale can’t stand up to the ice cream. Wimps.
But I digress. Ale is a type of beer brewed from malted barley using a warm fermentation with a strain of brewers’ yeast. The yeast will ferment the beer quickly, giving it a sweet, full bodied and fruity taste. Most ales contain hops, which help preserve the beer and impart a bitter herbal flavor that balances the sweetness of the malt. Sounds pretty harmless and well-balanced, right?
Let’s meet it’s tamer sounding cousin, pale ale. Names can be deceiving. Pale ale was a term used for beers made from malt dried with coke. (I assume the kind used in smelting, not snorting.) By 1830, the expressions bitter and pale ale were synonymous in England. Breweries would tend to designate beers as pale ale, though customers in the pub would commonly refer to the same beers as bitter. It is thought that customers used the term bitter to differentiate these pale ales from other less noticeably hopped beers such as porter and mild. Apparently porter is darker but less bitter tasting. Bitters vary in color from gold to dark amber and in strength from 3% to 7% alcohol by volume. It’s probably just me, but bitters sound like something a doctor would have prescribed in the 19th century for a headache.
One more note: a Black and Tan is a beer cocktail (those words don’t belong together). It’s a blend of a pale beer (usually pale ale or lager) with a dark beer (usually stout or porter). Apparently the beer equivalent of a Rusty Nail (Drambuie – sweet whiskey with Scotch – sharp whiskey). The Brits need to be given a wider range of alcohol to work with.
So I leave it with you to decide how much bitterness you can stand in your drink. You might want to balance with the amount of bitterness you have in the rest of your life. Or you may want to just embrace your inner bitterness.