Which beer is best?


HAVE you ever looked at a row of taps at your lo­cal bar and tried to de­cide what beer you would like to drink?

If you have, chances are you may have paused to pon­der what makes a par­tic­u­lar beer the way it is. What are th­ese beers that are listed in front of me?

To break things down into a very sim­ple de­scrip­tion of beers. There are two pri­mary types of beer which are ales and lagers. The pri­mary dif­fer­ence be­tween the two is that ales are brewed with ale yeast (Sac­cha­romyces Cere­visiae) which tra­di­tion­ally is fer­mented warmer and con­trib­utes a fruitier flavour. Lagers are fer­mented cooler with lager yeast (Sac­cha­romyces Pas­to­ri­anus) which tend to be cleaner, softer and more del­i­cate in flavour. But this is pretty generic and can vary.

I will at­tempt to guide you a lit­tle in the next few para­graphs in what you can ex­pect when you taste sev­eral com­mon styles. My de­scrip­tions are by no means ex­haus­tive and the vari­ances within beer styles can be great. To­day we will dis­cuss stout, porter, pil­sner, kölsch, pale ale and IPA. There is only one lager in this list. Not be­cause I don’t like lager. I ac­tu­ally love a good lager, and craft lagers are ac­tu­ally mak­ing a come­back. I have just gone with beer styles that many peo­ple would most likely recog­nise.

Stout is a black ale and is eas­ily recog­nis­able as most peo­ple will as­so­ciate this with Guin­ness. Dry stout/Ir­ish stout is prob­a­bly one of the most com­mon. It is light in body with a dry fin­ish, low to medium car­bon­a­tion, only around 4-6 per cent al­co­hol with a no­tice­able roast char­ac­ter to it. It does have a no­tice­able bit­ter­ness but most of this comes from the use of un­malted roast bar­ley, and not hops. The creamy head often as­so­ci­ated with Guin­ness comes from the fact it is served using ni­tro­gen and car­bon diox­ide. Porter is sim­i­lar in na­ture to stout and can range from brown to black in colour. Although dark malts are used in this style, a porter will nor­mally have less roast char­ac­ter and will have more choco­late and cof­fee char­ac­ter when you taste it. Tra­di­tion­ally less al­co­holic than stout (this isn’t nec­es­sar­ily true with mod­ern porter) it was con­sumed by the porters who worked the Lon­don docks.

Pil­sner are ex­tremely light in colour and are clean and crisp in flavour, often with a solid bit­ter­ness and hoppy aroma and flavour which can be de­scribed as flo­ral, spicy or herbal. Tra­di­tion­ally made with only a sin­gle ex­tremely lightly kilned malt, the char­ac­ter­is­tic clean flavour comes from brew­ing the beer at a lower tem­per­a­ture than ales and with an ex­tended pe­riod of cold mat­u­ra­tion. Ex­pect the al­co­holic strength of pil­sners to be around 4-5 per cent. Kölsch is a hy­brid ale tra­di­tion­ally only brewed in Cologne, Ger­many. Hy­brid as although it is tech­ni­cally an ale, due to lower fer­men­ta­tion tem­per­a­tures and the hop/malt com­bi­na­tions, Kölsch tends to have lager like qual­i­ties. Typ­i­cally light and del­i­cate in flavour and aroma and is some­times de­scribed as hav­ing some wine like char­ac­ter­is­tics. Nor­mally only 4-5 per cent al­co­hol.

Pale Ale is a very broad style as it can be Amer­i­can, Bel­gian, Aus­tralian or English. We will fo­cus here on the Amer­i­can style as it has had the most in­ter­est over the last 30 years be­cause of its bold char­ac­ter­is­tics. A very hoppy style with a solid malt char­ac­ter to help keep the bit­ter­ness in bal­ance. The use of pri­mar­ily Amer­i­can style hops can give flavour and aroma that can be de­scribed as herbal, Pine like, Resin like, Trop­i­cal or Citrus Like. Like the IPA, as more hops are com­ing out of breed­ing pro­grams, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of th­ese beers are al­ways evolv­ing. The strength of pale ales tends to range from 4-6 per cent.

IPA is an­other broad style and like Pale Ale is based on English her­itage. The IPA leans more to­ward the hop than malt and the bit­ter­ness can vary from firm to ag­gres­sive. The in­ten­sity of the aroma and flavour is also more pro­nounced. Big­ger and bolder than a pale ale in ev­ery way. Ex­pect an IPA to be any­where be­tween 5.5-7.5 per cent al­co­hol.

But I can tell that you want an an­swer to the age-old ques­tion. Which beer is best? I can­not tell you that un­for­tu­nately but I would en­cour­age you to try all beers with an open mind. You may just be sur­prised at what you find your­self en­joy­ing.

■ Ken­neth Friend is Head Brewer for 4 Hearts Brew­ing.

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