All beer tates the same to me!

We’ve all heard it – “I don’t drink beer because it all tastes the same.”

It’s a shame that the attitude lingers. Not only is someone missing out on great beer experiences, it also means that the old idea that beer is somehow inferior is lingering on too.

After all, if I said all coffee or wine tasted the same, then I would be the one who sounded ignorant. But say the same thing about beer and you are somehow claiming a position of superiority.

So try this. Give your friend a couple of beers. Pick up a Hoegaarden witbier and one of the black beers that we do so well in New Zealand – most supermarkets will stock these options. There will probably be a range of blacks, so look for something fresh.

Now the fun starts – open the bottles. As for wine, there are different styles of glass to suit different styles of beer. Don’t worry about that for now. It’s much more important to have a clean, dry glass with no traces of detergent. Detergent kills head, and that’s one of the pleasures of beer.

The witbier pours a pale yellow-gold and may be slightly hazy. It’s bubbling like crazy, with a thick moussey head that’s as white as fresh snow. This distinctive head gave the beer its name – wit is Dutch and Flemish for white. It will be full of bubbles forming and rushing up to join the head – sometimes a witbier is so fresh and effervescent that you can see the bubbles hitting the head and bouncing back down. The effect is a bit like pouring methode champenoise into a flute, but this time the head persists.

Look at the black. It’s a darker, calmer story. The beer itself is clear but black or very dark brown. Hold it up to the light and you will see ruby red highlights. The head is tan and formed from tiny bubbles floating slowly up to form soft foam.

Now smell. Get your nose right into the glass and inhale long and slowly. In the Hoegaarden you’ll smell orange rind, which is added in production, and hops, the magic spice that makes beer so special. Spices are there too – not just hops but coriander seed and other aromatic spices. These are added directly in production, one of Hoegaarden’s unusual features.

Hoegaarden uses a distinctive ale yeast that brings out spicy and fruity aromas. Other related beer styles have banana or bubble-gum aromas, because this style of yeast can reproduce the same aroma compounds. And yes, it is an ale. Don’t be tricked by the pale colour.

The black beer is dominated by its dark roasted malts. They can smell of coffee and chocolate, although these haven’t been used in the production process. Although you wouldn’t know it from the labelling, black beers are largers and last year Montieths Black won an award in the European Lager category. The black beer is the local version of an old German style called simply schwarzbier – black beer. The lager yeasts add little to aroma. Black beers are malty beers so hops won’t make much contribution either.

Then taste. With the witbier, tasting is also about feeling. Those excited bubbles make the beer sparkle across your tongue and the crisp carbon dioxide gives the beer a refreshing sharpness that is mellowed by the spices and hops. Black beers are softer and can be warming rather than refreshing. The darkly roasted malts can leave a hint of scorched bitterness on the sides of your tongue. Wine writers talk about the difficulty of matching wine and chocolate. Why bother, when black beers present bitter chocolate and coffee flavours so well?

Two beers, one an ale and one a lager – but the lager is much darker than the ale. One is made simply of basic beer ingredients, the other includes spices and fruit in the mix. One beer has a sparkling effervescence and light white head, the other is smooth and rich. A witbier is excellent in summer, a black best in winter.

Black and white, ale and lager – all beer is the same? No way!

© Martin Craig, January 2011. Reproduction with permission
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One Response to “All beer tates the same to me!”

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