Wednesday, January 16, 2013
A Tale of an Ale
Alright now that you are in deep and already reading the second posting of this blog, we need to establish one extremely important ground rule. This is the only rule I will ever make about the reading of this blog; while you are reading this you must be in the process of enjoying a beer. It doesn't matter what kind of beer it is as long as you are enjoying it to the fullest.
Now that we have the ground rules established it is time to expand on the topic of last time; ales and lagers. Today let’s focus on the ale side of the family. Now your typical styles might include Brown Ales, Amber Ales, and Indian Pale Ales. What gives it away that they are ales? That’s right the name! But there are plenty of other beer styles that are considered ales without the word incorporated into the name. A few that we will discuss today are going to be Wheat Beers, Porters, and Stouts.
Before we start talking about the ales that don’t have ale in their name, let’s take a little trip back in time to when England was an empire and was controlling India. The soldiers that were stationed there longed for the beers that were brewed in their homeland and so they began to transport large amounts of beer over to India via cargo ships. The first few ships however ran into a problem; the journey to India was so long that they needed to somehow preserve the beer and prevent it from going bad. The answer was hops. Along with making the beer more bitter and spicy, hops is also a natural preservative. So to solve the problem they added massive amounts of hops to the beer and then shipped it over to the soldiers. This process of putting hops into the beer while it was aging would later be known as dry hopping. The soldiers had such a taste for this extremely floral and bitter beer when they returned to England they requested it be made even though there was no need for the preservative qualities. And thus the Indian Pale Ale (also known as IPA) style was invented. Thanks to the microbrewery revolution that has come over the United States, we have seen a rise in this style of beer on the market.
Now let us talk about the difference between porters and stouts. Both were originally invented in England and once gave rise to the other. A porter (which was created first) is dark and moderately strong but you should be able to see through it when there is direct light. This style of beer often has a chocolate and spicy note to it that is well balanced with a bitterness coming from the addition of English hops. The porter is often referred to as London’s claim to its spot in the beer hall of fame. The porter began to decline in popularity over time but again this is a style that microbrewers and home brewers alike have begun to bring back into existence. A stout is very similar to a porter and is actually its successor. Stouts however tend to have more range in alcohol strength as well as a more coffee undertone to the beer. They even have a category called sweet stouts in which you can find oatmeal stouts. In bars this style of beer is often served with a nitrogen/CO2 mixture which allows the beer to have a tan head without actually over carbonating the beer. In Ireland a style known as dry stouts is often served at room temperature and is also generally lower in alcohol. What is the important thing I would like you to take from these descriptions? Before you look at a beer next time and instantly coin it a porter or a stout because it is “dark and heavy looking”, take a step back and look at the name. Appreciate that there are two styles of beer that are going for different tastes.
The final ale that we will discuss today is wheat beers. Wheat beers are in my personal opinion one of the final frontiers in brewing because it is an adjunct grain that still need to be explored. There are tons of different wheat beers being rolled out by microbreweries, craft breweries, and macrobreweries every month. Some styles become extremely popular such as the shandy; some styles never get a real following and crash before they get a chance to thrive. There is also a huge seasonal market for wheat beers in the United States and most major breweries no matter their size have begun to tap into this market. This seems like a perfect time to announce my weekly addition to this blog where I will review one or two commercially available beers. I am going to be honest about the beers, if I like them you will know and if I don't then you will know as well. The goal of this is to broaden not only my own taste pallet but also help promote the broadening of your own pallet.
I could go on about the ales but in truth that would constitute a book rather than a blog. I am merely trying to give an overview in which you can start your own search on the difference of ale styles. Next post we will discuss lagers, until then though make sure you keep your glass full!