Tag Archives: Bitters

The Little Beer Primer

As alluded to previously, beer grew in popularity in England and Germany around the Roman age. Primarily due to the fact that growing grapes (for wine) in either Germany or England was a tad difficult at times. The Romans thought beer barbaric, but the outlaying regions of their empire didn’t really give a damn what those high-faloutin’ wine drinkers from Rome thought. Wheat, hops and barley were readily accessible. Grapes were not.

Ales: Ales are pervasive in Britain. Ales were initially beer made without hops (which were not abundant in the Isles), but over the past few centuries, that has now changed. Instead, ales are now distinguised by the “top-fermenting” yeasts that work at near room temperature (50-70F). Ales are often best served warm, as their complexity of flavors come forth better in that environment. Types of “top-fermenting” beers include the following:

Bitters:Bitters are beers which are bitter or very bitter to the taste because of the addition of hops.
Brown Ale:This is a style of beer that’s sweeter, darker, and less bitter than the typical American lager beer.

Pale ales:These golden brown ales are somewhat bitter and fruity.
India Pale Ale (IPA):This is a bitter, full-bodied ale that’s relatively high in alcohol.

Porters:This is a dark beer with a heavy foam and a bitter flavor.
Stouts:This dark beer tastes strongly of malt and hops. Stronger than it’s parent brew, Porter.

Barley wines:Barley wines are golden to amber coloured very strong and heavy top fermented beers with a fruity and malty flavour and a bitterish aftertaste. Those special beers have an alcohol level over 9%.
Alt:Sweetish to very sweet and bitterish beer with often a burnt or roasted flavour.

Lagers:Lagers are brewed with “bottom-fermenting” yeasts at much colder temperatures, 35-50F over long periods of time (months). As lager yeast can survive, metabolize, and reproduce at lower temperatures. The result is a very clean, sparkling beer. Lagers are best served at slightly cooler temperatures than ales, 40-50F. Some of the typs of lager include the following:

Bocks: Bocks are brewed in the fall 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. There are several typs of bocks, including-

Helles Bock – Helles Bock is an amber to light coloured, rather strong, sweety barley beer specially brewed in the spring and the summer. There are three types of Helles Bock, inlcuding Meibok (May Bock), Lentebok (Spring Bock) and Zomerbok (Summer Bock). Traditionally, Meibok was a stronger beer than the standard brew, because it was brewed before the summer and the quality of the beer had to be able to endure the summer temperature rises. The alcohol was used as a preservative. Meibok is amber to light in colour, rather strong, and usually somewhat sweet. Summerbocks are usually lighter and more bitter.

Dunkles Bock – Dunkles Bock, the original German bock-style, refers to a heavy low fermentation beer with a dark colour. There are several sub caetgories of Dunkles Bock, including Herfstbok, Winterbok, Dubbelbok and Tarwebok. The Herfstbok is the traditional German bock-style, the Winterbok is a much stronger and sweeter version, a Tarwebok is a variety where not only barley but also wheat is used to brew the beer. This results in a less heavier, less sticky beer.

Doppelbocks:A doppelbock is a stronger version of the Herfstbok mentioned above.
Märzen/Oktoberfest: A bottom fermented beer with a copper-reddish-brown color traqditionally brewed in March and April, and then stored in refrigeration for several months in order to be consumed at Oktoberfest.

Pilsners:Probably the most widely known in America, Pilsner is a light low fermentation beer with a taste ranging from neutral to bitter. Substyles of pilsener are export, luxe and dry beers.

Taste: Although types of beers will have similar characteristics, they all will have a taste that is unique to themselves. Guinness Stout does not taste like other stouts. A Taddy Porter will not taste like an Elysian Brewery Porter.

In fact, there will be differences in how the beer is served. Draught (Draft) beer will taste different from bottled, which will taste different from canned (which should be your order of preference …draft, bottled, and then…god help you…canned). And if you have a truly artisan brewery, the taste of the brew may vary from keg to keg, depending on when it was brewed and how long it has been tapped. It’s when your local brewery is at this level that they really can start competing with wine as a beverage of choice. When they quality of the barley harvest affects the taste of your beer, each brew becomes it’s own entity. And you can hang out with your wine snob friends and while partaking of your favorite brew, say “While this is a smooth drink, it’s still doesn’t carry the nuttiness of their release last fall.” And your friends will nod their heads, impressed.

And somewhere, the snobs of ancient Rome will be turning in their grave. After all, your still drinking a barbarian drink after all.