Fellow beer geeks stop here. This blog post is going to be remedial. I am targeting people with a newly discovered or casual interest in craft beer. I was recently at a neighborhood party, chatting with the usual crowd as I sipped on a Porter. "I just can't into drinking heavy beers because they are too thick- sort of like a meal in a glass," uttered one guest when he saw what I was drinking. If I had a dime for every time I heard similar comments, I would be retired and and living in Belgium. There are so many beer myths floating around that I have decided to address some of them.
Common Myth #1 "All beer is to be served ice cold"
You can thank the macro beer producers (Anheuser Busch, SAB Miller, Coor's) and their mega marketing campaigns for this one. The reason they want you drink them ice cold is because they don't want you to taste the poor quality. The fact is that the coldness numbs the taste receptors, thus masking the offensive flavors of the beer. Now you know why Coor's Light is so unappealing at room temp. The same principle can apply to other beverages. Have you ever had a chocolate shake and notice that it is sweeter and more chocolaty as it melts? That is because the coldness was numbing your taste buds. Is this starting to make some sense? I hope so.
I saw some respected wine and food expert (her name escapes me) on the Food Network do a segment on craft beer, and she stated that beer is to be served ice cold. The camera panned to a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Lindeman's Kreik in an ice bucket. I about jumped out of my chair. Did this "expert" even bother to do ANY research? Would she serve a Merlot ice cold? Enough is enough. Forget what the beer commercials and ignorant wine experts tell you. If you want the full sensory experience, then I would suggest you follow these temperature guidelines.
- Very cold (32-39F): Pale Lager, Malt Liquor, Canadian-style Golden Ale and Cream Ale, Low Alcohol, Canadian, American or Scandinavian-style Cider. Basically any beer you don't want taste.
- Cold (39-45F): Hefeweizen, Kristalweizen, Kölsch, Premium Lager, Pilsner, Classic German Pilsner, Fruit Beer, brewpub-style Golden Ale, European Strong Lager, Berliner Weisse, Belgian White, American Dark Lager, sweetened Fruit Lambics and Gueuzes, Duvel-types
- Cool (50-54F): American Pale Ale, Amber Ale, California Common, Dunkelweizen, Sweet Stout, Stout, Dry Stout, Porter, English-style Golden Ale, unsweetened Fruit Lambics and Gueuzes, Faro, Belgian Ale, Bohemian Pilsner, Dunkel, Dortmunder/Helles, Vienna, Schwarzbier, Smoked, Altbier, Tripel, Irish Ale, French or Spanish-style Cider
- Cellar (54-57F): Bitter, Premium Bitter, Brown Ale, India Pale Ale, English Pale Ale, English Strong Ale, Old Ale, Saison, Unblended Lambic, Flemish Sour Ale, Bière de Garde, Baltic Porter, Abbey Dubbel, Belgian Strong Ale, Weizen Bock, Bock, Foreign Stout, Zwickel/Keller/Landbier, Scottish Ale, Scotch Ale, American Strong Ale, Mild, English-style Cider, Barley Wine, Abt/Quadrupel, Imperial Stout, Imperial/Double IPA, Doppelbock, Eisbock, Mead
- There are a few examples of beers that can be served hot (like Unibroue Quelque Chose) if you want to get adventurous. I will address those at another time
Common Myth #2 "Dark beers are heavier and/or higher in alcohol"
I am not going to bore you with the science of brewing. There are many factors that determines a beer's body, but all you need to know is that there is no parallel with beer color and body. The color of beer comes from the variety of grain and how it was roasted. Grains roasted at a higher temperature will give a beer a darker color. The alcohol content of beer is determined by the difference of original gravity and finished gravity in the brewing process. Take the examples of a light bodied, dark colored Guinness (4.1% alcohol) versus a medium-full bodied, light-colored Kasteel Triple (11% alcohol). I could go on, but this comparison should be is enough to put this myth to rest.
Common Myth #3 "Dark beers have more calories"
The scientific formula to calculate the calories in a beer is too complicated to explain in this blog. The important thing to know is that most of the calories are directly related to the alcohol content. Let's use the Kasteel Triple and Guinness comparison again. A 12 ounce serving of dark-colored Guinness has 147 calories, while a 12 ounce serving of light-colored Kasteel Triple will have approximately 375 calories. If you want get a rough idea on caloric content of a 12 ounce craft beer, multiply the alcohol content by 34. This is a non-scientific formula, but it should get you fairly close. If you are watching your weight, you might want to stay away from barley wines, imperial stouts, and Belgian triples.
Common Myth #4- Ben Franklin once wrote "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."
I see this quote referenced by several beer writers, web sites, and beer enthusiasts. I have even seen it on T- Shirts! Researchers have looked into this and can not find it in any record of it, including Historian Bob Skilnik (author of Beer and Food ). He and others have basically concluded that the quote is phony, and likely a distortion on Franklin's writing about wine.
Common Myth #5- "Miller Lite is a Pilsner"
Yes folks the label is wrong. Macro breweries are all about marketing, and SAB Miller labeling this beer as a Pilsner is probably an attempt to create the perception of sophistication. The correct BJCP classification of this beer is Light Lager (sometime referred to as Pale Lager). The same classification applies to Coor's Light, Bud Light, Amstel Light, Budweiser, Molsen, etc. A true Pilsner has a more IBUs (hop bitterness), more body, and is not full of adjuncts. Pilsner Uquell or Staropramen are common examples of a true Pilsner.
This should wrap up the first installment of Beer Education 101. Understanding the building blocks of craft beer is an important part of appreciating the hobby. Your assignment is to remember these facts and politely correct anyone who has bought into these stupid myths. As far as that guest at the party, I did just that and gave him a sample of the Porter. Guess what? He liked it!