Anyone can enjoy a cold beer. But not everyone knows how to drink it right. In this article, we’ll explain the different types of beer, the best drinking habits for each type, and how to choose the right brand.
What is a beer?
A beer is any beverage brewed from barley that is fermented and then usually served at room temperature or slightly warmer. The term “beer” has been used since at least c. 1386 and was first recorded in English in c. The first alcoholic beverages were likely the spontaneous gifts of genius.
Beer styles can be broadly categorized as ale or lager, and each can be further subcategorized by colour and strength, with many subcategories in between. Ale is fermented at a lower temperature (around 22°C / 69.6°F) than lager (around freezing point; 6°C / 43°F). This difference in fermentation temperature affects the flavour and, to a lesser extent, the alcohol content.
The strength of the beer also differs between ale and lager, the former being around two-thirds weaker than lager. For example, ale may have a 5% ABV while a lager may have a 4% ABV. This difference becomes more pronounced as the strength decreases, with an ale at 3.5% ABV being less than half the strength of a lager at 5%.
There are, however, exceptions. For example, some wheat beers are stronger than lagers. Ale colour is often green or amber, and lager colour is typically golden. The carbonation level of ale is low, and the yeast used for ale fermentation is also different; the yeast used for lager fermentation is the same, and the two are not intermingled.
All of these differences in style and fermentation contribute to the differences in flavour between ale and lager.
Standard drinking guidelines
There are many different beer styles, and everyone has their preferences. However, one thing is certain: if you’re going to drink beer, you should drink a variety. That said, there are some general guidelines to follow when drinking beer. Keep in mind that most beer ranges in alcohol content between 4% and 10%.
While you may occasionally find a stronger beer, you are most likely to find a lower-alcohol beer. This is because stronger beers are generally marketed towards a more mature audience and may have stronger alcohol content, higher carbonation levels, more calories, and more sugar and ingredients that are not beneficial to your health.
When drinking beer, you should try to consume one or two standard drinks per sitting. A standard drink is one (12-ounce) beer. If you’re consuming red wine with dinner, you can have one drink; with a pale ale or lager, you’re allowed to have two.
The exception to this is if you’re eating high-fat or high-sugar food, such as a burger or cheeseburger, pizza, or steak sandwich. In these cases, you can have up to three drinks.
Which beer goes best with which food?
Pair a light lager with a light salad and pepper, or amber ale with mild or spicy foods. Dark lager beers are better with light or rich dishes. Light lagers are best with seafood and chicken, while amber ales are perfect with pork, fish, pasta, and vegetables.
Some important tasting terms you may not know
- Sour: Sour beers have been aged in barrels with Brettanomyces, a yeast used in sour ales. While these beers are generally sour, they also have other flavours, such as tartness and fruit, due to the yeast used.
- Hoppy: This refers to the amount of hop aroma in a beer. Higher-hopped beers have less of a grainy, earthy aroma than those with lower amounts of hops.
- Bready: This beer style features the aroma and flavour of Belgian candy sugar (aka. Belgian sugar).
- Creamy: This describes a characteristic yeast-produced sweetness in beers with a high level of residual sugar from the grains used.
How to evaluate different beers
When drinking beer, you want to pay attention to the overall experience from the aroma to the taste to the aftertaste. To do this, you want to take note of the aroma, the strength and flavour of the beer, how it feels on your tongue, and the aftertaste.
The stronger the beer, the higher the alcohol content, the more carbonation you feel in your mouth, and the more sour or bitter the aftertaste, the more likely it is that the beer is high in alcohol, high in calories, and high in sugar. The best way to avoid these issues is to choose beer styles with lower alcohol content, such as pale ales, pilsners, and lagers.
The best way to enjoy the rich diversity of beer is to learn about beer styles and brewing practices. That way, you can choose the right beer for you and your palate.