My how things have changed. I remember when I first started sneaking into the back bar at the Centenary Hotel for a beer. Those days it was pretty easy, it was VB, XXXX or Gold on tap. It made it a little easier to not get busted.
Gone are the days of only having XXXX Bitter or Gold on tap, these days you ask for a beer menu.
And, the beer-toff in me, think it’s for the better, especially if you think of beer as more than just a cold drink to have on a hot day. Nowadays it’s Belgian Wit going up against Weizen, or Indian Pale Ale versus American Pale Ale. But don’t worry this quick crash course may help out.
The first thing to realise is that someone hasn’t just made up these names; it’s not a marketing department gone wild. Someone doesn’t just wake up and think “today I’m going to invent the Indian Pale Ale (IPA)”. The style usually came about because they were the best way to brew with the ingredients or techniques at the time. In the case of IPA it, alledgedly, evolved to be the big, hoppy, high alcohol beer so that it would survive the trip from England to India.
Beers can be basically split into two types: ales and lagers.
For the sake of definition you can say that ales are generally beers that are fermented at warmer temperatures and result in beers that are often fruity and have more complex flavours. Lagers have been fermented at cooler temps and result in a drier finish. Yet within those two groups you have further division, wheat beers for example, belong under Ale’s but are so different the nearly deserve their own grouping. Not all lagers have that pale gold colour, and not all ales are dark in colour either. Nor are the dark beers higher in alcohol than paler ones. Lagers make up nearly 90% of the world beer market, but those who are devoted to ales reckon that last 10% make up some of the most interesting beers you will ever try. I’m firmly in that second camp.
Have I lost you yet? Let’s have a quick look at some of the branches in the two camps.
It’s thought that the word lager has come from the German word for resting, lagern, as the beers were rested in caves to ferment and clarify. Lagers take in Pilsners, Helles, Bock, Doppelbock amongst many other styles. Most of the lager beer in Australia is a Pilsner styled lager, with Aussie brewers putting their own twist on it. Most Oz brewers have used cane sugar in their beers. This gives little flavour and can thin out the body of the beer, which is how we have managed to get lagers that are mild tasting, light bodied and very similar across the country such as VB, Fourex and Fourex Gold. This is changing with the advent of craft brewing, where brewers are bringing back the flavour.
Great Aust Lagers to try:
Blue Sky Pilsner: crisp and truly refreshing. It’s not real hoppy or bitter just smooth and refreshing. It’s 4.5% alcohol, and has a light floral aroma, an excellent session beer as it’s highly drinkable with a dry crisp finish.
James Squire Sundown Lager – It’s a crisp, clean beer with a touch of citrus, and hop driven flavours that make this perfect for summer.
Knappstein Reserve Lager – late hopping gives this a flavour profile that is rare to find in lagers and is very drinkable.
Ales are generally fermented by using a traditional top fermentation system. Ales hold some of the most interesting and awarded beers in the world, as well as some of the most well known beers such as Guinness. From Pale Ales to Brown Ales, Porters, Stout and Trappist Ales. Bitter Ale should ideally live up to its name, Pale Ales are not particulary pale, but more of a rich amber colour. Craft and large scale brewers make some of the best ale’s you will find anywhere in the world.
Great Aust Ales:
ENDEAVOUR True Vintage Pale Ale 2011 – took out 2nd place at the world beer Olympics. Great florals, with a touch of dried herbs, it’s fresh, lively and zippy, citrus and passionfruit, great bitterness and a smooth clean mouthfeel. But be aware it is a premium beer so it isn’t cheap.
Little Creatures Pale Ale – citrus and grapefruit aromas and flavours, balanced by malts. A good example of the Aussie style of the American Pale Ale.
Redoak Bitter – a beer that struck Gold at the 20112 Beer Olympics. Redoak have used a London ale yeast which gives a beer that has complex malt characters. This is a beer to try with the simple things in life, like Friday night footy and friends