Cleary Benjamin Franklin, founding Father of the United States and cultural icon, drank a lot of beer in the new dawn of democracy. Beer was simple and basic, the drink of good times, long nights, new adventure, and rebellion.
But in the current era, what was once simple has become artisanal. Things once uncomplicated are now complicated, and it’s hard to see beer as freedom. Beer culture all over the world has flourished and expanded. For a person new to beer, it’s difficult to know what to try because beer is now fancy. Beer, once a drink to cure thirst, government problems, or a broken heart, is now an art.
The artists behind the explosion of malt and hops are the craft breweries. These breweries are small, independent, and traditional in their methods. These trend setters and taste makers are gaining global influence. Their craft, the common beer, has been elevated in their hands, and is now anything but common.
the flavors of beer
Brewers insist their drink remains uncomplicated, and entering the world of beer is not an intimidating party to crash. Beers exist for every taste, and it’s an exciting adventure to find your flavor. Beer experts insist on seven categories of flavor for beer:
- roast, and
Let’s imagine, for a minute, that you and I are at a taproom. The walls are lined with jewel bright bottles of liquor, the lighting is low and moody, and we are sitting at the high wooden bar. People are laughing, and in the air is the tang of spilled alcohol. The bar tender hands us a small platter, on which are four or five glasses of beer. This is called a flight, a sample of different beers. On one end, a sparkling yellow liquid, and on the other, a glassful of something so dark and thick it looks like syrup.
The light varieties are often approachable and friendly and are made with a base of wheat. These beers have a very mild, spicy aroma, and are part of the flavor category ‘fruit/spice.’
Wheat beer varieties abound, but a great place to begin is the Belgian wheat or German hefeweissen (literally ‘wheat beer’) . These beers have a sweet mouthfeel and are very light on bitterness. A Belgian style blonde ale, for example, is refreshingly carbonated, a cheerful yellow color, and sweet. A German hefeweissen will have an aroma of cloves and, unexpectedly, banana. A wheat beer conjures memories of nights around bon fires, of summer and the setting sun. A good craft wheat is a terrific way to enter the glowing, golden world of beer.
Let’s imagine we’re back at the bar in our imaginations. We have finished our wheat beer, and now we move onto a Belgian Golden, a beer in the ‘tart’ category.
Despite the name, Belgian Goldens can range from a yellowy gold to a clear, copper color. These enjoyable beers are characterized by their fruitiness and tang, and have a sharp aroma of hops. Remember, when you’re drinking a beer, to also inhale the heady scent that comes off the collar of foam. Craft beers exude flavor, and you’re missing out if you don’t taste with your nose. The Belgian Golden that we’re drinking in our minds is tart and has a quick sour sharpness, and at the first sip, the taste of raspberries is obvious. Every sip of a craft beer is a kind of adventure into discovering how many different flavors one can taste.
the classic lager
The classic ‘beer’ is a lager or pilsner, and falls into the ‘crisp’ and ‘malt driven’ categories from the presence of malt.
Malt creates a toasty and nutty flavor. These beers have a lot of carbonation, giving effervescence . They’re a good honest beer…not flashy or challenging to understand or enjoy.
India pale ale
Moving on, we get to the IPAs, or India Pale Ales. Here is where hops shine. Here is where sharpness and bitterness rules. Here is where I lose my nerve.
India Pale Ales shimmer with citrus aromas and flavors and a kind of bitterness that explodes on your tongue. In my opinion, these beers are not for the beginner. They are bright and summery, but the hops command the flavor. Even though this variety of beer will never be my favorite, it’s following is sure; the IPA category is the most-entered category at the Great American Beer Festival, and is the top selling beer at supermarkets and liquor stores across the country.
A good craft IPA has a lot going on. It can be floral, fruity, citrusy (I always taste grapefruit), and even taste like pine trees. The presiding adjective for this kind of beer is ‘bitter’, and is an acquired taste. But the majority speaks: IPA is here to stay.
And the final beer on our flight, the beer that makes my knees go weak, is the dark beer. Dark beers are obvious first by their color and then by their heady aromas of coffee, chocolate, carmel, and everything right with the world. Dark beers fall under the ‘roasted’ and ‘smoke’ categories. The “porter” and “stout” varieties in this class of beer conjour images of forests, warm fire, and poets huddled over typewriters.
The taste of a porter or stout is silky and rich. The sweetness of the beers comes from the malt used in their production. To counter the sweetness, hops are also added to create a rich and complex flavor profile. And to add even more dimension, grains cooked over fire adds ‘smoke’. Stouts take the porter profile to the next level, with richer malt flavors, increased bitterness, and thicker, richer texture. Dark beers are heavy and delicious and filling.
No matter what style ends up being your favorite, there is so much to discover in the world of craft beer. Brewers have perfected the art of beer, taking a common drink and elevating it to adventure. Go on the adventure.