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.