Beer for Lent

The Right Lager or Ale for Seasonal Observance

Lent is a time for somber reflection, fasting and repentance, but does that mean that the devout have to forgo their favorite beverage? In the tradition of fasting, drinking “liquid bread” is not only allowed, but appropriate during the Lenten season.

Doppelbock

In Munich, brewers hold true to this tradition by creating strong spring beers inspired by Doppelbock, a beer fashioned by Roman Catholic monks which was specifically designed for liquid fasting during lent. In the seventeenth century, Minim friars created this strong malty beverage that was dense enough to be considered a nutritious meal during fasting. This beer is double strong, hence the name “doppelbock.”

The most popular Doppelbock is named Salvator, Latin for savior. Many breweries end their Doppelbocks with “or,” such as Thomas Hooker Liberator and Duck- Rabbit Duck- Rabbitor.

Fish Friday

Beer is not reserved for liquid fasting during Lent. Throughout the Lenten season, Friday is a day to abstain from red meat and poultry. Shrimp, catfish, salmon and lobster can all be paired with the right beer.

Fried Seafood

Fried seafood, Salmon and Talapia can be dished up with a Pilsner, IPA or Wheat Ale. Pilsners are lagers that are very light in color. They are known to be rich in hops and embrace a prominent a bitter taste. A floral aroma is a trademark for this beer style. Live Oak Pilz from the Live Oak Brewing Company is an example of a Czech Pilsner.

Indian Pale Ales, or IPAs, were created for British troops stationed in India in the late 18th century. Because this beer had to travel long distances it was higher in hops, a natural preservative. English IPAs now have lower alcohol content, thus causing brewers to change the hop-malt ratio. American IPAs are preferred by many beer enthusiasts for their traditional strong hops and citric bitterness. They are golden in color, as oppose to the straw hue of a Pilsner. An example of an American IPA is the Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale.

The American Pale Wheat Ale is a highly carbonated ale. This beer style is less hoppy and has moderate bitterness compared to IPAs and Pilsners. Wheat Ales are often garnished with a lemon wedge, thus making them a perfect complement to fish. An example of a Wheat Ale would be Samuel Adams Summer Ale.

Crab Lobster and Oysters

Rich seafood, such as crab, lobster and oysters can be accented by an Irish Dry Stout or Porter such as Founders Porter and Murphy’s Irish Stout. This demonstrates the pairing of a heavy food with a heavy beverage the same way red wine is served with red meat.

Drinking beer does not diminish the somberness of the season, and can be done respectfully and responsibly. Whether you’re practicing a liquid fast or eating fish on Friday, beer can still be part of your Lenten diet.

Tasting & Evaluating Beer

A Quick Rundown of Beer Characteristics

Beer has been around for thousands of years, but a more formal approach to beer tasting only began to truly take shape in the last 40 years or so. In the 1970’s, Morton Meilgaard designed the Meilgaard Flavor Wheel, dividing aroma and taste characteristics into 14 sub-headings. Michael Jackson published World Guide to Beer in 1977, creating a numerical rating system for beer based on five categories. The American Brewers Association began compiling beer style guidelines, providing a consistency for descriptions, and the Beer Judge Certification Program was established to provide consistency in judging.

But you don’t need to be an expert to enjoy tasting beer, or to be able to rate the beers you try. There are simply a few common aromas and flavors to watch for and recognize. Pick them out, and you’re well on your way.

Immediately after pouring the beer, and before your first taste, take a moment to smell it. Much of the characteristic aroma of beer comes from the hops, and that aroma is usually described as herbal, pine, floral, resin or spice. The hops are also responsible for the characteristic bitter taste of beer, best tasted on the back of the tongue.

The malt, or grain, is responsible for most of the sweeter flavors and aroma in beer. The grain of preference for beer is barley, although wheat beer is a recognized style. Generally, beers made with rice or corn are considered inferior – these are cheaper grains and don’t produce the proper flavor. The aroma may be nutty, sweet, or grainy. Both the aroma and flavor may be described as roasted, caramel, toffee, toasted, chocolate, or coffee.

There is also a degree of aroma and flavor that comes from the yeast. The fermentation process can produce esters, which give beer a fruity aroma. These esters are common in ales, but should be non-existent in lagers. The varieties are almost endless – banana, pear, apricot, citrus.

There are also odors and tastes that shouldn’t be present in beer. The descriptions are self-explanatory – fishy, oily, chlorine, skunky, cooked vegetables, sour, vinegar, solvent-like, cabbage.

Finally, there are descriptors used for beer that have to do with the body, or mouth-feel, or the beer. Beer may be thin, medium, or full-bodied. If you haven’t tasted many beers, think of ice cream – the difference between a bowl of a light ice milk and a bowl of a gourmet ice cream. The flavor may be the same, but they feel very different in your mouth.

If you began trying out new beers on a regular basis, you may want to makes notes about which beers you’ve tried, and what you thought of them. With hundreds, if not thousands, of beers available, it doesn’t take long before it gets hard to remember what you think of which one, unless it was either outstandingly good or incredibly bad. There are journals and forms designed specifically for beer tasters, but a formal journal isn’t a necessity. You may find a small spiral notebook works as well.

Should you read beer reviews? Yes and no. If you’re new to craft beers or beer tasting, you may find it helpful to look up beers you’ve tried at sites like Beer Advocate. Reading the reviews may help you put a name to the flavor or aroma that you couldn’t quite pinpoint, or help you figure out what gives your favorite beer the taste you love. But if you’re going to try out a new beer, hold off on those reviews until you’ve judged it for yourself. No matter how experienced the reviewer, they may taste something you don’t, and you may find flavors they missed.

Most importantly, 100 reviewers may find that Joe’s Beer is a great example of the style, and they may be absolutely right – but that doesn’t mean that they all liked the beer, or that you’ll like it. Like and dislike are very subjective things. And in the end, beer tasting is really all about the search for your perfect beer.

How to Host a Beer Tasting

Enjoy some Suds with Friends with This Guide

Beer used to be thought of as a lesser choice of beverage, one that was drank out of convenience, but not usually known for its taste. But the microbrewery movement and the popularity of craft beers has spurred a revolution, and it’s time you got your friends involved and in the know with this fun party.

Educate Yourself

First, you’ll need to learn a little about beer, but don’t be intimidated by it. You can buy some great books that will tell you all about the beer-making process and the history of beer. It might even be a good idea to purchase one of these books and have it out during the party so that your guests can educate themselves. You don’t have to be an expert, though: your knowledge of beer can be surface-level and you can still have loads of fun trying out different beers.

Choose a Variety

Locate a specialty beer store (they’re more common than you think!) or order beers online that you think your friends might like to try. An interesting spread of different types of beers will feature different varieties of beers (porters, lagers, ales and stouts) and beers from different regions of the country and the world (the Pacific Northwest and Belgium are beer-producing areas that offer a lot of selection).

Lay out Your Spread

It’s important when tasting beer that you leave all the beer in its bottle; some of the bottles are impressive or different or showcase a unique label, and you want your guests to see that. Think about assembling a spread either geographically or by the color or variety of the beer. Then you’ll want to provide small tasting glasses – coffee shot glasses work well since they’re a little larger than those used for hard alcohol, and you definitely want clear glass so that you can compare the color and clarity of the beer. But remember to keep the glasses small – this isn’t a kegger!

Encourage Conversation

Even if your guests aren’t really familiar with brewing or a wide variety of beers, they can still enjoy talking about what they’re tasting. Encourage them by starting a non-fussy conversation about how it tastes, whether you like it and where it’s from. Be armed with a few facts from your research, and soon everyone will be joining in with what flavors they taste, which is their favorite and more. Be sure to remember where you bought the beers, because people will want to write down their favorite to get some.

Throw in Some Food

No party is complete without food, of course, so you should serve some snacks. Try serving snacks with a variety of tastes, like sweet ones and salty ones, and then ask your guests how the beers combine with each of the foods. There’s no real science to it, but some fun foods to try matching with different beers are chocolate, meats, cheese, fish and breads. Go wild!

Tasting beer can be an enjoyable way to get together with friends and learn about a new culinary sensation. With a little effort, you can bring the joy of beer to your friends and have a great party, too.

Ales and Lagers 101

From Budweiser and Coors to fruity ales

Whether you’re new to the beer world or have been enjoying beer for years, it can be overwhelming to be confronted by the selection of beers available at a beer bar or liquor store, especially if your beer experience has been restricted largely to the American mass-market beers. And while you don’t have to know the lingo to experiment and enjoy new beers, learning the basics may make it easier to pinpoint your preferences and help you search out your own ultimate beer.

Despite all the different styles, colors, and flavors, in the end, there are really only two styles of beer – ales and lagers. These terms don’t refer to a particular color or taste, but rather describe the type and behavior of the yeast used in the brewing process, as well as the process itself.

Ales are “top-fermented.” In other words, the yeast collects or floats along the surface of the beer. More importantly, these beers generally are at fermented at higher temperatures, ranging from 60-75 degrees. Because of the higher temperature, these beers have a quicker fermentation period, often a week or less. The yeasts used for ales also product by-products called esters. Esters create a wide range aromas and flavors, as well as textures, that will surprise a novice beer drinker.

Lagers are brewed with bottom fermenting yeast. Just like it sounds, these are yeasts that gather or sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel. The term lager is derived from a German word, lagern, which means to store, and is a good description. Bottom fermenting yeast work much more slowly and at much lower temperatures, around 34 degrees, and so require the beer-in-progress to be kept for a longer period. Lagers are also often stored to mature after fermenting. The yeasts used in lagers produce fewer of the ester by-products than seen in ales, and so allows other flavors, such as hops, to become more noticeable.

If your exposure to beer has been solely through the so-called “mass market” American beers, you’ve become familiar with lager. Budweiser, Coors, Miller, Michelob – these are all lagers. The range of flavors noticeable in lagers is more limited than that is ales. They’re going to be hoppy, malty, sweet, or dry. There’s definitely nothing wrong with these flavors, but there are fewer variations, which explains why many people insist that all beers taste alike.

There are still few selections of ales from the big brewers, but the number of macro or micro brewer producing ales is growing rapidly, and these could be good choices to expand your beer horizons. The most common flavors are usually described as flowery or fruity, such as plum, apple, pear, grass, and hay, but the yeasts can also produce flavors as unique as vanilla, cloves, or butterscotch. These are not flavors added to the beer (although there are any number of beers with unique ingredients and flavors added), but are essentially a searched-for side effect of the brewing process.

In the end, the best way to learn beer is simply to taste it. There are so many beers that it’s hard to imagine that it would be impossible to find something appealing. Many restaurants are featuring micro-brews and macro-brews along with local brewers, making it easy to try something new. Beer bars and brew pubs are also becoming more common, and most are glad to give patrons an opportunity to sample a taster glass or two. A good bartender or waiter is a fantastic resource; he or she should be able to ask a few questions and make recommendations based on what you’re partial to.

And luckily, many excellent beers are relatively inexpensive. A six-pack is generally not a budget breaker. If you hate the idea of wasting a beer if you decide don’t like it, find a couple of adventurous friends and arrange a “beer swap” – trading out a few bottles makes it even easier to try something new.

Ten Classic Beer Styles to Try Before You Die

If you haven’t tasted these types of beer, you don’t know beer

Most beer drinkers don’t know the difference between a lager and an ale (and many couldn’t care less!). Even more mysterious and intimidating to most beer drinkers are the many, many beer sub-styles that exist. And don’t confuse beer styles with beer brands. Budweiser, Heineken, Beck’s and Corona may be different brands, but they are all the same style of beer: pale lager.

All told, there are approximately 70 styles and sub-styles of beer in the world. The only way to truly understand and appreciate this variety and diversity is to be intrepid and try as many of them as you can. There’s no guarantee that you will enjoy all of these, but at least you will have a better understanding of the world of beer –and maybe even a increased appreciation for the brewer’s art.

As you search out these various styles, be aware of regional interpretations and aggressive marketing strategies that pay little respect to brewing history and tradition. Brewers have a penchant for personalizing their brews with oddball ingredients or techniques and label hype often serves to confuse the consumer further.

To the point, then, here is a starter list of ten classic beer styles you should try before you die. To be true to brewing history and tradition, these should all be from their country and/or locale of origin.

  1. Pilsner- this hoppy golden lager was born in Plzen, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) dating back to 1842. It was the first golden beer of any kind –and now its many imitators make Pilsner the most popular beer style in the world.
  2. Dry Stout– this dark roasty ale that is traced back to Ireland is typified by the inky beer brewed in Dublin by Guinness. Note that the Irish “dry” stout is just one of five different stout styles produced in the beer world.
  3. Lambic– this tart, spontaneously fermented ale can only be found in the Senne River Valley near Brussels, Belgium. Wild, airborne microflora is responsible for lambic fermentation. It is also produced in fruit-flavored varieties.
  4. Doppelbock– this rich, malty lager is a Spring (Christian Lent) staple in Bavaria. Like its name suggests, it is a “double bock,” meaning it is a stronger version of regular bock beer (6.5% to 8% alcohol by volume).
  5. Flanders Red Ale– this reddish colored sour, oaky ale is somewhat rare outside of the Flanders region in northwestern Belgium. Its distinctive character comes from long term fermentation in old oaken vats.
  6. Witbier- this pale, perfumy, citrusy wheat ale traces its roots to Hoegaarden, Belgium. Its pleasant fruity aroma and flavor is derived primarily from the use of the lemony coriander seed and Curacao orange peel.
  7. Rauchbier- this brownish smoky lager is a gift to the beer world from Bamberg, Germany. The smokiness of the beer comes from smoking the barley malt over beechwood fires.
  8. Weizenbier- this cloudy, spritzy golden ale is a Summertime favorite from Bavaria, Germany. Alternately known as weissbier (white beer), this wheat-based beer with the towering white head of foam is a great thirst-quencher.
  9. Berliner Weisse- this pale, sour ale from Berlin, Germany, is also wheat-based, but it is much paler and more acidic. Some Berliners choose to drink their weisse “mit schuss” –with a shot of woodruff or raspberry syrup to cut through the bracing tartness of the beer.
  10. American IPA– this spicy, citrusy, malty, tangy ale is a hop-driven India Pale Ale from the good old U.S. of A. The use of all-American hop varieties gives this brew an assertive tangy, citrusy character.

Some of these beer styles are relatively easy to find in the United States, but others may not be. Searching them out in your travels abroad make the experience all the more fun and rewarding.

The Basics of Ale

Pale Ale, Dark Stout, and Everything in Between

The history of beer dates back almost as long as the history of civilization, with beer recipes being found dating as far back as 2050 BC. And these early beers were all ales. In fact, the term “beer” didn’t come into being until the 1400s, when it was used exclusively to refer to fermented beverages that were made with hops.

There are many varieties of ale, and it can sometimes be difficult to group them into tidy categories. Generally, the easiest way to divide them is by their color or by the style associated with their country of origin. The styles listed here are far from all-inclusive.

Pale ales are brewed with pale barley malt, and as the name implies, are generally very lightly colored. This category would include English pale ale, American pale ale, and Belgian pale ales & Belgian ales. IPAs (India Pale Ale) could also fit into this category, although they generally have much more pronounced hoppiness than most pale ales.

There is a wide range of beers that could be described as golden, amber, red or brown. As the names imply, they have a noticeably darker color than the pale ales, and often a stronger hop flavor. Examples would be American amber or red ales, English special bitters and extra special bitters, and Scotch ales. The German Kolsch ale, English mild ale and English dark mild ale could also fit into this category.

Dark ales are the porters and stouts. Porters get their dark color from the use of black or roasted malts, while stouts are generally known more for the use of roasted barley. People often assume that all dark beers are strong and bitter, but this is not the case. Irish style dry stouts are heavily hopped, and should have a noticeable bitterness. English style stouts, on the other hand, often have added sweeteners to off-set the bitterness, and can be noticeably sweet, leading to the terms sweet stout, milk stout, or cream stout. Oatmeal stouts have a slightly nutty flavor. Imperial stouts, also known as Russian imperial stouts, are known for their rich, malty flavor and higher than average alcohol content.

Barley wine ale is not a style well known in the United States. Traditionally a name used to describe the strong beers of home brewers, these beers have an alcohol content close to that of wines, and are usually found bottled rather than on tap. The beers are strong and rich, and are often described as dessert beers.

Similar to barley wine are the strong ales. These beers are usually identified as English, Scotch, or Belgian, and are typically dark, rich and sweet.

Belgian ales are often considered a class of their own. Belgium produces a variety of specialty beers that defy other classification, including dubbels (malty with a reddish color) and tripels (light gold with a high alcohol content).

Trappist and Abbey beers are based on the recipes dating back hundreds of years used in European monasteries. Trappist beers are brewed under the control of the monks themselves, and there are only a half dozen Trappist monasteries in Belgium brewing this beer. Abbey beers are made using similar recipes by commercial brewers.

Wheat beer, weizenbier or witbier, as the name implies, are not made with the traditional barley, but use a wheat and barley blend.

Christmas Dinner Beer and Food Pairing

Making your meal merrier with malted beverages

Many chose to open a large meal with a light dish. If you plan garden greens and vinaigrette dressing, for instance, look for a thirst-quenchingly tart and light-bodied, Berliner Weiss to pour alongside it. Similarly at home with a salad is the relatively rare Belgian gueuze, another effervescent brew with hints of citrus and rhubarb that finishes tart and dry.

Should your first course consist of fresh fruit or crustaceans (shrimp, prawns, or lobster), consider serving witbier (Flemish for “white” beer, the sweeter and more complex Belgian cousin to German Weissbier, also known as bière blanche). Spicy citrus notes in the aroma and flavor, together with its mildly sweet, malty palate, would safely and satisfyingly join such a delicate first course.

Main Course

Succulent veal pairs well with a subtly sweet, pale golden cream ale; while slightly more gamy lamb would be done more justice by a bronze, generously malted, German Altbier (“old beer”). India Pale Ales (aggressively hopped pale ales often called IPAs) are perfect foils for roast beef and brisket. It’s a virtual requirement that hearty steak dinners be accompanied by a robust dark beer in the style of porter, stout, or Schwarzbier (black beer). Sometimes opaque and often dry, these roasty flavored brews are also perfect company for the charred and smoky taste when your beefsteak is broiled or barbecued. The mildly smoky character of a German Steinbier (“stone beer”) or a semi-sweet and chocolaty Munich Dunkel (dark lager) would nicely suit a liberally glazed ham shank. If you choose to roast a bird this year, please consult my suggestions for complementary beers in my article about Thanksgiving beer pairing.

When seafood is on your menu, be sure to draw a mental line between lobster, crab, shrimp, or whitefish and the more assertive mollusks (clams, mussels, and oysters), salmon, or herring. For the more delicate former, a crisp, dry, golden lager such as a Pilsner should be offered; for the flavorful latter, a well-balanced pale ale is a more appropriate choice. If the salmon or herring are smoked, and you’re in a daring mood, try serving them with a German Rauchbier (smoked beer); but be forewarned that these acrid beers may be considered too austere by some. It bears noting that in England oysters and dry stout are considered a classic culinary combination.

Dessert Course

Christmas desserts run the gamut, but rich and/or creamy fruit or chocolate creations seem to be the order of the day. Sweeter, heavier beers are best suited to such concoctions. “Estery” — fruity and flowery — pale strong ales such as Belgian Tripels work well with fruity treats. So would spicy Belgian strong golden ales (occasionally labeled grand cru and spiced with coriander and Curaçao oranges). The perfect matches for chocolate baked goods are darker, roastier porters and stouts.

Christmas Candy

A word for those who pass candy at the end of a holiday meal: Explore the world of well-aged Belgian fruit-infused lambics. These are tart and sparkling beers to which macerated fruit (most often cherry or raspberry) has been added during fermentation. If these prove impossible to find, German Doppelbocks (dark, malty brews of considerable strength 6 – 8%), or rich Scotch ales (sweet and viscous beers with a mildly smoky backdrop) are full flavored “malternatives.”

A Word about Wassail

In the realm of tradition, wassail is punch, a concoction made of strong ale laden with spices, sugar, and floating pieces of fruit -such as roasted crab apple. To most modern brewers, however, wassail is a special winter beer to which has been added any number of spices or flavorings. These often include cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, anise, and even essence of spruce, among others. You may drink these wassails chilled, but serving them slightly warmed not only brings out more of their spicy flavor, it can also bring a glow to your cheeks.

Best Italian Beers – Craft Breweries In Italy

Top Italian Ales: Artisan Brewers and Bottled Beer from Italy

Think of Italian drinks and you think of sparkling Prosecco (Italy’s ‘champagne’), fine wines like Chianti and Brunello, or sunny liqueurs such as Limoncello. You certainly don’t think of beer. However, Italian beer is on the up: a growing band of craft brewers in Italy are producing the sort of delicious and inventive ales of which mama (and certainly papa) could be proud. In fact in his book World’s Best Beers (pub. Jacqui Small, £25) Ben McFarland declares that: ‘of all the up-and-coming brewing nations in the world, Italy is the one to watch’.

Le Baladin Brewery – Musical Yeast

Traditionally Italians have only really drunk beer with pizza, but since the 1990s there has been a growing appreciation of the sort of artisan beers that deserve to be savoured by themselves. There are now around 150 microbreweries and brewpubs in Italy. Perhaps the best known is Le Baladin, which McFarland features in World’s Best Beers. Baladin beers are produced in the hills of Piedmont – and they’re adventurous brews, sometimes made with spices, chocolate, coffee beans – and even myrrh.

Teo Musso, of Baladin, is a creative character – even rather eccentrically attaching headphones to the fermenting vessels so as to play music to the growing yeast. Most of Baladin’s beers are bottled and include Xyauyu (13%), a dark and powerful ‘oxidized’ ale that McFarland says has the character of wine; Super Baladin (8%) a beer that’s based on a 9th-century Belgian recipe, and Nora – an unusual beer that is made with ginger root and myrrh.

Beer with Chestnuts, Cocoa Beans – even Wormwood

But Baladin isn’t the only Italian brewer worthy of note. McFarland highlights over 30 different Italian beers, produced by brewers from Milan down to Rome. They offer an extraordinary variety of flavours and will often work with local producers to source local – sometimes unusual – ingredients, bringing an experimental zing to the industry. There’s Torbata, a bottle-conditioned ‘smoked ale’ that’s made at the Almond 22 brewery in Abruzzi and flavoured with chestnut honey, orange peel and cane sugar; Birolla, a delicious sounding dark ale from Il Birrificio di Como in Lombardy, made with roasted chestnuts and honey from local chestnut and thorn trees; Chocarrubica, from Grado Plato in Piedmont, a stout flavoured with cocoa beans from Sicily, and Chiostro, a Belgian-style beer made at Piccolo brewery in Liguria, that is spiced with wormwood – the ingredient that was famously used in absinthe and led to it being dubbed the ‘green fairy’.

Blueberry Beer

Amongst the other Italian beers that McFarland features are Montegioco Draco, a potent barley wine that’s brewed with fresh blueberries; Noscia, a pale ale containing honey and a hint of dried apricot, and Scires, an intense dark ale from Lombardy made with cherries. With so much variety, and so many acclaimed brews, it seems that Italian beer is well and truly on the map. Cin cin!