I’m so far from a beer connoisseur it’s pathetic. But that doesn’t stop me from drinking beer on brew-saturated St. Patrick’s Day. My formal beer knowledge is limited to the few tidbits gleaned from hanging out with two beer snob friends whose man-purse doubles as a cooler for craft beer. After months of drunken observation, and many slurred debates over which alcohol rules, I realized our two camps – wine and beer – aren’t as far apart as we think.
Beer people talk about hops, malt and yeast; we talk about grapes and yeast. Beer people ponder bitterness, while we ponder tannins and acidity. We both savor chocolate flavors, coffee and aftertastes, and both liberally use the word “full-bodied” without getting horny. So maybe we can build a bridge so that those beer holidays pass without a wine craving? With the proliferation of small, craft-brewed American breweries, it’s easier than ever – just stop by a local brew pub to try the array of diverse beers available these days.
If you’re a fan of light, crisp sauvignon blancs, taste a Pilsner; a golden, malty and well-hopped lager (a generic name for pale, cold-fermented, cold-aged beer). The world-famous light-bodied Pilsner originated in the town of Plzen in the Czech Republic in the mid-19th century, and first arrived in the U.S. in the 1850s. Budweiser and Coors are examples of American Pilsners (although these aren’t considered craft-brewed beers).
Chardonnay drinkers, along with anyone who enjoys full-bodied chenin blanc or dry Riesling, should appreciate a crisp India Pale Ale (IPA) or smooth wheat beer. Pale ale, medium-bodied and aromatic with hops, is surprisingly not that pale – it’s amber to slightly reddish in color. Wheat beer, which you might have seen garnished with a lemon or orange slice, is a light-bodied ale made from malted wheat. While it is light and highly effervescent, wheat beer has a unique characteristic of tartness. Blue Moon Belgian White Ale and Hoegaarden White Beer are examples of wheat beer.
People who like wine with a little oomph like cabernet or zinfandel might enjoy the heavier, higher alcohol brews available – porter and stout. This is where the chocolate and coffee thing comes in, often on the finish or when you first taste the foam. Guinness, the infamous, robust Irish brew with a creamy head on it, is an example of a stout. Porter tastes a little lighter but is still a dark, malty ale.
For those uninitiated beer drinkers, I’ve squeezed a few tips from my beer people so you can drink without embarrassing yourself:
1. Don’t drink good beer from the bottle. Beer, like wine, needs to have contact with the air to allow its flavors and aromas to evolve.
2. Forget the frosted mugs, which cool the beer down to a temperature that doesn’t allow you to enjoy the full flavor of beer and can form ice crystals, resulting in watered-down beer.
3. Take the time to enjoy a fine beer: Pour it gently, savoring the aromas that are released as it flows into the glass. Hold the beer up to the light to admire the colors, then sip it slowly, moving it around your tongue to experience the beer’s body and flavor. Swallow the beer slowly to assess the finish: Does the bitterness at the back of your tongue balance the malt sweetness?
Liberty School 2000 Syrah (California) Blackberry laced with candied strawberries, then dipped in white pepper. Well-balanced tannins with a splash of liquid leather. $13. Sweetness= 2.