taught high school biology for the past 20 years, I’ve enjoyed
traveling around the world during the beloved summertime.
Sampling beers in bars, restaurants, and brewery tours in other
countries sparked an interest in me regarding the history, production,
and style descriptions of this remarkable beverage. In the late
eighties I began to brew my own beer at home – with quite impressive
results on occasion. I even owned a homebrewing shop called
“Brewtopia” in Athens from 1995 to 1999. I was foolish enough to
make a trek out to the Great American Beer Festival in Denver, Colorado
in 1995 to experience almost 1500 craft beers made in breweries and
brewpubs all across the 50 states. I came home to Athens and
figured that our town could benefit from such a beer tasting, and thus
was born the Classic City Brew Fest in 1996. Running a beer
festival was much harder work than I ever imagined, but the event has
prospered and will celebrate its tenth anniversary on April 16, 2005.
Beer fascinates me. It is usually made from only four basic
ingredients: water, malted barley (barley that is sprouted and then
dried or roasted), hops (a spicy flower that grows on vines), and
yeast. Subtle variations on these humble components produce almost 100
distinctly different styles of beer that are currently recognized by
the Beer Judge Certification Program (BJCP). Most beer drinkers
in America are content with restricting themselves to only yellow
American Standard Lagers; but with all my tasting and study involved in
becoming a BJCP National Beer Judge I appreciate the complexity and
elegance of all the world’s beer styles.
There are basically two types of beer: lagers and ales. Lagers
are fermented at cooler temperatures using yeast cells that carry out
most of their activity at the bottom of the fermentation vessel.
Lagers are cold-conditioned for a period after primary fermentation,
and this process creates a beer that is very clean in flavor with
little fruity character. Being a lager has nothing to do with
color -- lagers can be light to dark in color and low to high in
alcohol. Ale is a more ancient style of beer that is fermented at
warmer temperatures with yeasts that reside at the top of the
fermenter. Ales have no period of cold storage and exhibit fruity
complexity from the byproducts of the active yeast.
Following is a brief primer of some interesting and tasty lagers and
- Bohemian Pilsners are richer in malt and hops than standard
American Lagers. They have a robust malt aroma and flavor
combined with a spicy, floral hop character from the use of exquisite
Saaz hops from the Czech Republic. Example: Pilsner Urquell.
- Cream Ales are like an American Lager made with an ale
yeast. These refreshing ales are pale gold in color with
interesting grain sweetness, balancing hop content, and hints of fruity
complexity. Example: Terrapin Cream Ale.
- Strong English Bitter Ales have malt and caramel flavors
that provide a pleasant counterpoint to the English hops that give a
spicy flavor and wood-like bitterness. These smooth ales are
often low in carbonation and have a medium body. Example: Fullers
- American Pale Ales range from pale golden to light amber in
color and can be quite light, refreshing, and effervescent in
mouthfeel. American hops stand out in these beers with a citrusy,
pine resin aroma and flavor. Example: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
- India Pale Ales are much like normal Pale Ales with more
malt and hops. In the 1800’s the extra hops acted as a
preservative for the beer on the long trip from England to troops in
India. IPAs have a pleasant, but intense hop aroma and
bitterness. Example: Sweetwater IPA.
- Oktoberfest is a dark gold to ruby amber lager with
distinctive, toasty maltiness from the use of rich German malts.
The use of light, floral hops balances the malt and provides for a
smooth brew that is usually made in the spring and enjoyed in the fall
(especially at annual Oktoberfest celebrations). Example:
- Doppelbocks are strong versions of malty German Bock
lagers. Complex malt sweetness is in the foreground with floral
hops in the background. Bock means “goat” in German, and these
strong beers can have a kick like a goat. They range from gold to
dark brown in color. Example: Ayinger Celebrator.
- Stouts and Porters are dark beers with grains that have
been roasted to varying degrees from brown to black. This process
imparts chocolate and coffee aromas and flavors that are quite
appealing. Think of these beers as cold, bubbly espresso with
alcohol. Examples: Young’s Oatmeal Stout and Samuel Smith Taddy
- Bavarian Wheat Beers are extremely refreshing wheat-based
ales fermented with a special strain of yeast that provides a complex
set of clove, vanilla, and banana aromas and flavors. Example:
- Belgian Witbiers (commonly known as White Ales) are made
with about 50% unmalted wheat and 50% pale barley malt. Their
yeast, along with additions of coriander and orange peel, produces a
remarkably fruity, tart, refreshing brew. Example: Hoegaarden Wit.
- Belgian Lambics are earthy, refreshing, complex, and
usually sour ales that are fermented using wild microorganisms resident
in the air around Brussels, Belgium. They are made with a portion
of wheat and often have added fruits such as cherries (Kriek) or
raspberries (Framboise). Example: Cantillon.
- Fruit Beers are best when made with generous portions of
real fruit (not extracts). An outstanding fruit beer should have
a color, aroma, and flavor that make the type of fruit used very
obvious. The fruit should be in balance with the malt and hops,
however. Example: Atlantic Brewing Company Blueberry Ale.
- Belgian Strong Ales exhibit layers of complexity from a
variety of malts, hops, candy sugar, and unique yeast strains.
These beers can be golden to dark brown in color and are fruity, spicy,
and malty with a warming character from their high alcohol levels.
Examples: Duvel and Chimay.
- Barleywines are ales made with such a huge amount of
fermentable malt that they approach and often exceed the mouthfeel and
alcohol strength of many red wines. English Barleywines
accentuate malt, caramel, and toffee-like sweetness; while American
Barleywines boast intense hop flavors and bitterness that dominate
their malt sweetness. Enjoy these beers on a cold night in front
of a roaring fire. Example: Flying Dog Horndog.
Drinking only American Standard Lagers is like condemning yourself to
eating nothing but white bread your whole life. Be bold!
Purchase some beers from varying styles and have some friends over for
a tasting. Order a sampler platter of all the house-made beers
when you visit a brewpub. Beer can be just as complex and
fascinating as any gourmet wine.