Bartenders Guide: Beer

"This is grain, which any fool can eat, but for which the Lord intended a more divine means of consumption. Let us give praise to our Maker and glory to His bounty by learning about... BEER."
- Michael McShane as Friar Tuck in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves

Opinions vary, but most people agree that beer is the oldest alcoholic beverage in the world. They've found pictures on cave walls, of people brewing it. It is supposed that during the dawn of man, beer was regarded as a mystical, healing beverage...the shaman's highest art.

I'm OK with that.

On the other side of the coin, here in the States, there's what I like to call the "Bud Light Crowd". You can insert any American Pilsner name there, Coors Light, Miller, whatever. From a bartender's perspective, the Bud Light Crowd represents a steady stream of income. They tend to be your most regular customers. They tip repeatedly, if sparingly, and they are thrilled if you make the effort to remember their brew and have it open before they can ask for it. The Bud Light Crowd has paid my rent, many a month. Nine times out of ten, they are hardworking, unpretentious stiffs who don't mind getting a little dirt under their fingernails, and the world needs people like that.

I don't want to knock the Bud Light Crowd, I just feel like those same people answered the questionnaire that made "Vanilla" the most popular flavor in the world.

There's a larger world out there.

Micro-brews and craft beers are undergoing a renaissance, right now...secretly injecting our corner bars and Pilsner-laden grocery aisles with flavor...and they show no signs of slowing. There is currently a movement to credential a Master of Beer with the title "Cicerone", giving him or her all the respect accorded to a Wine Sommelier...a good thing, because while I have made a career out of pairing food with wine, sometimes a beer is what you need, to really wash down those lamb chops. Even your local gas station probably has some fantastic offerings you haven't even tried, and let's face it...if you're having company over, no grown man should have beer in his fridge that costs less than $25 a case.

It's not about the money.

It's about living large, and feeling confident that you already know what Vanilla tastes like. Trust me, it will be there, if you feel like you need to go back to it.

It's time to move on.

Check out my quick-reference chart to beer styles HERE

Beer is the world's oldest and most widely consumed alcoholic beverage and the third most popular drink overall after water and tea. It is produced by the brewing and fermentation of starches, mainly derived from cereal grains such as malted barley, although wheat, corn, and rice are also widely used.

Most beer is flavoured with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative, though other flavourings such as herbs or fruit may occasionally be included. Alcoholic beverages distilled after fermentation or fermented from non-starch sources such as grape juice (wine) or honey (mead) are not classified as beer.

The most common method of categorising beer is by the behaviour of the yeast used in the fermentation process. In this method of categorising, beers using a fast-acting yeast which leaves behind residual sugars are termed "ales", while beers using a slower-acting yeast, fermented at lower temperatures, which removes most of the sugars, leaving a clean, dry beer, are termed "lagers". Differences between some ales and lagers can be difficult to categorise.

Here are the general characteristics of the two main types, which are further subdivided into several categories:

Ales generally use top fermenting yeast. This means that the yeast floats on the surface for the first few days and then settles on the bottom. Ales ferment at warmer temperatures (65-75°F) over a relatively short period of time. Ales have a wide variety of colors, aromas, tastes and strengths. Porters, stouts and Weizens are subcategories of Ale.

Lagers use bottom fermenting yeast, which does not float to the surface before settling. Lagers ferment at cooler temperatures (46-55°F) and are stored over several weeks. The cooler temperature and aging impart smoother, more subtle flavors and aromas than most ales. Your common American Pilsners, such as Miller, Coors, Rolling Rock, etc., are a sub-category of Lager beer.

There is a third type of beer far less common than Ales or Lagers, called Lambic. True Lambic is only brewed in the Payottenland region of Belgium. In Ales and Lagers the yeast is specially cultivated for fermentation. Lambic is exposed to open air instead, and fermented by naturally-occurring wild yeast.

See my quick-reference chart of beer types and descriptions HERE.