From new brews by the big boys, to the craft beer movement gaining momentum, there have been some fascinating developments in the local beer scene in the past year, and we’re not even talking about lockdowns and controversies over SOPs.
With that in mind, perhaps it’s time once again for a back-to- basics guide on beer, and a look at some of these new developments.
First of all, what is beer? Well, beer is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as a “carbonated, fermented alcoholic beverage that is usually made from malted cereal grain (especially barley), is flavoured with hops, and typically contains less than a 5% alcohol content”.
While there are over a hundred different recognised styles (and sub-styles) of beer, most of them fall into two main categories – ales and lagers. The main difference between the two is the yeast that is used to make them: Lagers use “bottom fermenting” yeast (which sink to the bottom of the tank when the beer is fermenting), while ales use “top-fermenting” yeast that is usually found on the top of the tank during fermentation.
There are other differences, like the temperature of fermentation and how long the beer takes to mature, but that’s a story for another day.
Today, let’s dive deeper into the different styles of beers.
Did you know that over 80% of beer consumed in the world is lager? In fact, when people mention beer, this style is usually the first one they think of. Heineken, Carlsberg, Tiger, Anchor... these very familiar brands are all lager or pilsner beers.
Characteristics of lagers include a clear, crisp straw-gold appearance (though some craft lagers can have different colours), a good head of foam and strong carbonation, as well as a clean, crisp refreshing flavour.
While there are several sub-styles of lagers, they all tend to be quite similar in terms of profile, from the easy drinking Pilsners to the light, malt-forward Helles and crisp Kolsch beers from Germany.
Not all lagers are from commercial brands, as there are some cracking craft lagers out there as well.
Some, like BrewDog’s Lost Lager and Pasteur Street’s God Water, are the brewers’ versions of the crisp, clean style of lagers, while others push the envelope further. For instance, Vietnamese craft brewer Heart Of Darkness, which was recently launched in Malaysia at Taps Beer Bar, has a deliciously refreshing beer called the Futile Purpose Cucumber Pilsner. Australia’s Beerfarm, on the other hand, puts an IPA twist on its lager with the hoppy India Pale Lager.
Heineken Malaysia recently launched a new beer called Edelweiss, a wheat beer from Austria with a heritage that can be traced back to the 17th century.
The first thing you’ll notice about the beer is its cloudy appearance and slightly sweeter flavour, which is a unique characteristic of most wheat beers.
As the name suggests, wheat beers are made with a larger percentage of wheat grain compared to barley malt, though it is also top-fermented like ales. The higher proportion of wheat gives the beer a uniquely cloudy appearance.
Taste-wise, wheat beers tend to be smoother, slightly sweeter and have a richer texture compared to lagers. There are several styles of wheat beers as well, including German hefeweizen (Erdinger, Paulaner and Weihenstephaner), witbier (like Hoegaarden), French wheat beers (Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc), and so on.
Stouts, porters, IPAs, barleywines, pale ales, IPA, steam ales... these different beer styles are actually ales. Of these, pale ales tend to have more balanced notes between the malt and hops, and are a good entry point to IPAs and the other hoppier styles for the uninitiated.
In Belgium and the Netherlands, stronger ales are commonly called dubbel and tripel, depending on the strength of the beer. Thus, a quadrupel is one step above the tripel, and is usually full-bodied, rich, complex and malty.
Porter is a style of strong ale made with roasted malts. The name was coined in 1721, when it was used to describe a hoppy brown ale that used to be popular with the street and river “porters” of London.
The strongest of these porters were called stouts, though thanks to the popularity of Guinness, the definition of stout has changed from being just a “very strong porter” to “a dark beer made from roasted malt”.
Much of the popularity of commercial stouts has to do with its presentation, which involves having a good head of foam. Guinness, for instance, is well-known for its two-part pour, which generates a creamy foam on top.
While this foam is generally quite hard to replicate when pouring from a bottle or can, Connor’s Stout recently released a canned version that requires one to shake the can until there is no sound before pouring it directly into the glass in order to generate the foam.
When it comes to craft beers, there are plenty of styles to choose from, including milk stouts (brewed with lactose) and imperial stouts, which usually have higher alcohol content and are richer in flavour.
For something utterly different, however, do check out the ones by Swedish gypsy brewers Omnipollo, especially the Noa Pecan Mud Cake, an imperial pastry stout that tastes more like a rich, decadent chocolate pecan mud cake in liquid form than a beer, and Lorelai, which is a (deep breath) Coconut Maple Toast Imperial Porter brewed with Toasted Coconut & Maple Syrup. Yes, it tastes as delicious as it sounds.
One of the most popular of craft beer styles, IPA stands for India Pale Ale, but the beer is not from India, and neither was it created there. The common theory is that the term refers to the well-hopped ales that used to be exported by British brewers to India, which became known as “pale ales for India”, and eventually “India pale ale”.
From West Coast IPAs and grapefruit IPAs, to just plain old IPAs, these beers differ mainly in terms of levels of hoppiness and flavour. There’s also the Double and Triple IPAs, which offer magnificent bursts of flavour and hoppiness, usually with a much higher ABV as well.
One of the recent trends in craft brewing are the hazy and juicy New England-style IPAs (NEIPA).
These beers are usually brewed using a process that adds in the hops during fermentation, instead of before, which reduces the bitterness of the hops and also gives the beer that signature ‘juicy’ profile.
There’s just one catch with NEIPAs though – they are often best drunk “fresh”, preferably within a month of it being brewed, and should be kept no longer than three months. This is because the hops degrade quite rapidly, resulting in the beer becoming a lot less flavourful.
This usually means that such beers from highly-rated brewers like New Zealand’s Deep Creek, Britain’s Verdant and Equilibrium from the United States would not get to Malaysia in time from wherever they were brewed.
Lately, however, craft beer importers like House of Hops and Farmer’s Bar have been air-flying limited quantities of these brands here to ensure that Malaysians can enjoy them as fresh as possible. (This also means the price is a lot more premium than even your average craft beers, though.)
Basically sour beers that are actually ales brewed to be intentionally sour, acidic, or tart, usually with the addition of wild yeast strains into the brew. It is a traditional beer style in Belgium and other parts of Europe, with styles that include Belgian lambics, gueuze and Flanders red ale, and German gose.
Belgian lambic beers are arguably one of the most unique beer styles of them all, relying on natural wild yeast and bacteria in the air to spontaneously ferment their beers.
Modern craft brewers have also been experimenting with sours, including Brewdog, which started its OverWorks brand in order to explore the realm of sours and wild beers.
Michael Cheang has barely scratched the surface of the world of beers with this article. Follow him on Facebook (FB.com/MyTipsyturvy), Instagram (@MyTipsyTurvy) and Twitter (@MichaelCheang) to know more.
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