The Brilliant Beer Co.
Like all other food and drink, there is large variation in the nature and styles of beer enjoyed around the world. These differences are probably driven by inherent differences in the natural taste profiles preferred in different areas of the world, and by the styles and nature of the beers most readily available in the market, which leads to a degree of acceptance and familiarity with domestic products.
However with international companies, rapid communications and globalization we live in a shrinking world. There has never been a lager range of beers of such good quality available to the discerning drinker. The offlicenses and supermarkets are stocking a wider range of products than ever before. However, there is an increasing tendency by many younger people to choose more fashionable and easy to drink brands, and some of the traditional beers are finding it difficult to have a larger enough turn over to justify the brand.
It is hoped by increasing awareness and an interest in some of the specialty and regional beers their future can be guaranteed for our continued enjoyment.
British beer styles
Although the term Ale was originally used only to describe the un-hopped beers, leaving the word Beer to describe the hopped products, Ale is now accepted as a common scribe a range of top fermented products found in Britain today.
Old ales are probable the closest in character to the traditional beers of the past. Traditionally brewed entirely from dark malts, now a mixture of pale and dark malts are used to produce a full, sweet, and rich beer, which is usually, but not always very alcoholic (8% - 9% alcohol). The beer has a relatively low bitterness usually derived from traditional English hops.
Mild ales may be considered as a weak version of the old ale, usually with alcohol around 2.8% to 3.5%. The beer is generally sweet and creamy with strong burnt or liquorice notes often derived from caramel (burnt sugar) and is generally called Mild on account of its low hop bitterness. The beer is usually dark in colour although some pale examples are available. It is particularly popular in the West Midlands of England where it has the largest share of the beer market. The bottled version is usually sold as "Brown Ale".
Bitters represent by far the largest sector of British beers and nearly every brewery in Britain has its own bitter ale. Standard bitter ranges in strength between 3% and 4% alcohol, with the premium ales between 4.2 and 5% alcohol. Bitters were traditionally served as cask conditioned beer, where a secondary fermentation occurs in the cask, and the yeast settled out before drinking through the actions of finings. Traditionally English hops are used to provide bitterness, and whole hops are often added to the cask, in "dry hopping" to give the beer a distinctive hoppy aroma.
Each Region in the United Kingdom has evolved its own special beers based on the water, raw materials, and tastes of the population, and each area is fiercely proud of its taste and heritage.
The South and South West of England produce a mid colour range "Bitter Beer", served with a low foam head to allow the full bitter aroma and taste to be expressed. It is also often dry hopped.
Wales tends to produce lower gravity light coloured beers with a delicate aroma and are traditionally consumed in large quantities in working men's clubs.
West Midlands prefer Mild Ales, but in the East Midlands towns such as Burton on Trent were probably the original home of the present bitter ale styles, which evolved from lower coloured fresh hoppy beers, originally brewed to service the British Empire. The unique feature of Burton ales is the high sulphate content of the water, extracted from wells drawing from gypsum beds. The sulphate tends to enhance the bitter and drying notes of the beer as well as imparting a sulphury taste and aroma in its own right, which can be a bit of an acquired taste!
South Yorkshire and Lancashire, the beers are quite light in colour and served with a characteristic creamy head which in itself has the effect of softening the bitterness and hop aroma.
North Yorkshire and Northumberland the beers become darker and fuller and have a burnt dry flavour contributed from the black malt. Although the beer has a relatively high analytical bitterness, the full impact of the bitterness is softened by the fullness of the beer and the creamy head. Northumberland is also the home of a higher gravity Brown Ale sold in clear pint bottles.
Scotland the beers tend to be sweeter and fuller still, with a low bitterness. The beer tends to be smooth and has a high drinkability.
There is a degree of overlap between Bitters and Pale Ales, although the name Pale Ale is usually reserved for the bottled
version of the premium bitter ales with typically 5% alcohol. Although most of the bottled beers are filtered after brewery
conditioning an increasing number of ales launched with live yeast which provide a natural condition in the bottle before
sedimentation to give a bright beer with careful pouring. India Pale Ale is a dryer and paler coloured beer, with a very high
hop rate and high acidity both of which contributed to the flavour and microbiological stability of the beer.
The Barley wine is usually the strongest beer brewed by any brewery with 7 to 10% alcohol, and is quite often sold in nip (1/3 pint) bottles. The beer is golden or amber in colour made from ale malt with a small addition of crystal malt . It tastes alcoholic and warming with a high bitterness often with a strong hop aroma produced by dry hop addition. The beer is also very fruity and usually sweet. It is most important to get the correct balance between the sweetness and bitterness.
Porter is believed to have originally produced in 1722 by Ralph Harwood in London. It is a full bodied beer produced with high levels of dark rather than roasted malts to give a full smoky, burnt notes, rather than the bitter acrid notes associated with Dry Stout. It reached it peak sales in the 18th century after which time it was replaced by bitter and stout. Porter is currently enjoying a small resurgence through the Regional and Micro Brewers.
There are a number of different styles of Stouts, although they are all very dark with a black or black/dark red hue. The colour is mainly derived from either roast barley or roast malt. The best known style is Dry or Irish Stout, which is the predominant beer sold in Ireland and has a following in areas as far apart as Malaysia, Nigeria, North America and the Caribbean.
The predominant flavours of Dry Stout are malty burnt, bitter and drying, with high hop bitterness and strong burnt flavour from roasted barley. However it is usually served slightly chilled with a thick creamy head (assisted by nitrogen racking and dispense) which softens the bitterness and makes it a full flavoured beer.
Sweet Stouts tend to be low in alcohol (2.8 - 3.4% alcohol) and are low in bitterness with a very high sweetness which either comes from sugar primings or by stopping the fermentation early to leave a higher proportion of unfermentable sugars in the beer.
Historically Stout has been perceived as a restorative or health giving drink, and this image is enhanced by Milk Stout which used whey sugars or lactose for priming, and in Oatmeal Stout which has a small proportion of oats in the grist, to give the beer added smoothness.
Imperial Russian Stout
The most alcoholic Stout (around 10% alcohol) is Imperial Russian Stout originally brewed for export to the court of Catherine the Great, it is now available for the domestic market and export. The beer is very alcoholic with a thick, meaty, burnt, liquorice taste and high bitterness, which should not be drunk for at least one year after bottling and generally improves with storage like vintage wine.
The first lagers beers brewed in Great Britain were in the 1870's in Wrexham and Glasgow, but lager did not achieve great popularity until the 1960's and now accounts for over half the beer volume consumed in the United Kingdom. There are few indigenous lagers produced in the UK with most Brewers produce license brands of Lager from all over the world.
Belgium Beer Styles
The Belgians produce a range of special beers as well as a full range of lagers and higher gravity ales similar to those described as British Beers. It would be impossible to cover them all in a few pages, therefore some of the principles used to produce the specialty beers will be described:
Lambic, gueuze and fruit beers are produced through spontaneous beer fermentation. Instead of adding cultured yeast the fermentation is carried out by air-born micro-organisms wafted in the warm wort overnight during cooling in large open shallow vessels. The naturally colonised wort is fermented in wooden containers for minimum 9 months. A secondary fermentation of the lambic beers in the bottle gives a young gueuze, and addition of fruit produces the real lambic-fruit beers.
Natural Lambic and Fruit Flavoured Lambic are chosen because of their high refreshment value and they stimulates appetite and hence is often drunk as an aperitif or with food. Typical fruits added are:
Amber and dark top fermented beers
There are a range of amber and dark beers such as Pale Ales and Belgium Ales which are dark non-acidic beers. These beers are top fermented , fullbodied, strong flavoured and aromatic, and are brewed from a mixture of lager and coloured malts, which together with caramel contributes to the colour. In many cases herbs and spices are added to the kettle (e.g. dried orange peel, pepper, coriander, liquorice etc.).
Wheat beers are pale hazy beers normally still containing live yeast in bottles or kegs. The beer often has up to 50% un-malted wheat; sometimes 5 % oats is added. It is fermented with a top cropping yeast strain or with a mixed culture of top fermenting yeast and lactic acid bacteria.
The partially clarified beer is always served chilled (maximum 5°C), allowing the chill haze (protein-polyphenol complex) to be formed in the glass which gives it a characteristic white hazy appearance (the beer is often called Blanche - white on account of its appearance). To bring out the flavour, orange peel, coriander and peppers are put into the boiling wort.
Speciality Dark and Pale bottle conditioned beers.
There are a range of dark and pale top fermented beers with include the Abbey and Trappist beers. Unfortunately only the Trappist beers are still produced in the Monasteries, while Abbey beers are commercially produced, which has resulted in some cases in a loss in the quality and diversity of these style of beers. The beers are high in alcohol at between 6.5% and 12%, and are full bodied, easy to drink and show a remarkably high flavour stability and resistance to staling. The production of bottle condition beer is very demanding, since it is produced without filtration and pasteurisation, requiring packaging free from beer spoilage organisms.
Pilsen Style Beers
Although justly famous for the variety of beers they produce, the Belgium's also produce standard Pilsen style lagers which are generally drunk as every day beers and account for the bulk of the beer consumed in Belgium. The Pilsen lagers are usually in the 5% abv range of alcohol, with quite high bitterness levels bitterness and often late hop character.
German and Central European beer styles.
In Germany beer is divided into four classes, dependant on the gravity of the original wort.
Einfachbier "Simple Beer" - OG 4.50P
Schankbbier - OG - 7.0 – 110P –
Vollbier Standard beer - OG 11 - 160P
Starkbier Strong beer OG over16.00P
Over 90% of the beers produced fall into the "Volbier" or standard category. It is important that the special beers such as “Hells”, “Pilsener”, “Dark”, Alt” and
Koelsch” beer have an original gravity above 110P (usually between 11 and 120P) and the “Kausen” or “Festival Beers” are above 130P.
Traditional Top Fermented Beers
Traditionally these beers are produced with normally top cropping yeast, however many of the strains used are now adapted to bottom cropping although they still exhibit the flavours and other characteristics of brewing with a traditional ale yeast. The beers do not normally require long maturation times.
Bottom fermented beers
These are also known as lager beers and are produced with a yeast which settles to the bottom of the fermentation vessel after fermentation. These beers also improve through storage after primary fermentation - hence the name "lager".
During the secondary fermentation in the storage tank the beer matures and becomes saturated with CO2 . Storage has to be carried out at low temperature - just above freezing. Nowadays more or less all beers produced world-wide are bottom fermented.
The best known examples are Munchner and Kulmbach Dark beers with an original gravity in the range of 12 – 130P. Classically they are brewed with hard water and use highly kilned dark malts. These beers tend to have a full malt flavour and are fairly sweet. Similar beers brewed in the norther part of Germany tend to be thinner and have a higher bitterness.
Malzbier - This is more or less a malt beverage and does not have much to do with beer as it is alcohol free, but it is very popular in some parts of Germany.
Pale Beers Pilsner
Today the Pilsner name is given to beers from all over the world. Pilsner lager originated in the town of Pilzen in the Czech Republic where the style was developed. It is a very pale beer, with an original gravity of 12 -130 P and rather strong hop flavour from the local Saaz hops. It has to be brewed with very soft water (as found in Pilsen) to give the clean and fine bitter character. In Belgium, Germany and Austria the Pilsner beers are brewed to an original gravity of 11 – 120P and are strongly hopped. They correspond to the original Pilsner from the Czech Republic with respect to the nature of the malt, hops and brewing water composition.
In other parts of the world the term Pilsner is used to describe Pale or Light Lagers, with a light flavour and low bitterness.
Dortmunder - As the name suggests this beer originated in the town of Dortmunder in Germany. It is less bitter and stronger with OG of 12 -140 P.
Munchner - The darker beer described earlier have been replaced by beers of lighter colour and are divided into Hells (original gravity 11 – 120P), Export (original gravity 12.5) and the stronger Festival Beer (Octoberfest Beer has an original gravity 13 – 140P) . Despite a fairly high hopping rate, the beers are soft and well balanced.
Wiener The original “ Vienna” had a medium colour produced from a well kilned malt and hard water. It is still popular in January in some southern parts of Germany and has a original gravity of 130P.
Bockbier It is a strong beer with an original gravity of a least 140 P. Orginally brewed for special occasions such as Christmas, Easter and Lent, these beers either have quite a light colour and high hop rate and or are dark such as the Salvator from Munich. The strogest beer is “kiliminator” which has an original gravity of 280P. The beer originated in town of Einbek, south of Hannover in Germany. In older times it was exported from here all over Europe.
Altbier - Produced in the lower Rhine valley in the Dusseldorf, it is a medium dark beer with an original gravity of around 120P.
Kolsch - The typical beer of Cologne which should only be brewed in Cologne. similar to Altbier but of pale colour.
Berliner Weisse - A beer produced mainly from wheat malt and of low original gravity of 7 - 80 P and produced in a special process with lactic acid fermentation. It uses a special strain of Wheat Beer Yeast which has the ability to form a volatile phenolic compound, 4-vinyl-guayacol and 4-vinylphenol which gives the beer the characteristic clove like flavour.
Weissbier - A typical beer from Bavaria. this beer is also produced from over 50% wheat malt - normally in the range 60 to 70% of the grist. It has an original gravity in the range of 11 - 120 P. After primary fermentation the beer is normally clarified by separation and wort and yeast ("Speis") are added for secondary fermentation, which can be carried out during maturation or in package.
As might be expected from the original home of lager yeast the largest volume of Danish beers are traditional Pilsen style with a clean malt flavour and fruity late hop character with an alcoholic strength in 5% abv range. The Danes also produce a variety of stronger and seasonal beers including darker Christmas beer, wheatbeer and stouts, although traditional lagers account for almost all the beer volume.
The Czech Republic is well known for its beers and has a long history of brewing dating back to the Middle Age. Most beers nowadays a brewed with an OG of around 10 But the Czech people still have a great love of their national drink with the highest per capita consumption in the world of 161.6 liters of some of the best and cheapest beer in the world.
Famous brands include:
produces in town of Pilzen, to be brewed from a very soft water. Typical its light colour and rather bitter with the typical bitterness of the
Czech aroma hops.
beer from town of Ceske Budejovice, also light beer, but less bitter and some flavour of esters.
There are approximately 88 breweries in the Czech Republic producing high quality product principally for domestic consumption.
New World Brewing
While initially the Middle East and latterly Europe were the cradle for the development of brewing, most of the growth is in the last 50 years has occurred in the New World. Some regions such as Africa and South America had their own brewing traditions developing beers similar to those described in our introduction.
With Western colonization either the German or the British brewing tradition was introduced, initially as imports and latterly as domestic production.
Most of the countries have concentrated on producing a lager style beer (which they often term Pilsener style) but it is usually lighter in flavour and hop character. The new world has developed its own style of beer to suit the climate, the indigenous raw materials and consumer preferences, a good example is the easy drinking light a subtle flavour of Budweiser which has become the largest beer brand in the world.
The early entrants to the new world brewing such as North America, Australia and South Africa have well defined beer styles of their own and their markets are fairly stagnant. The great growth in beer volume will South America and Asia particularly China and these countries still have the opportunity to stamp their beer styles on the world. From Asia Japan still continues to innovate and develop novel brands.
Any review is bound to look at the history of brewing and concentrate on traditional brands. However beer and the brewing industry is a thriving and dynamic industry anxious to innovate and produce new brands to excite and stimulate its customers, an example of which is Ice Beer – a light refreshing easy to drink beer.
At the same time the brewing industry has a responsibility to remember its tradition and heritage and where possible continue to supply the rich range of choices for the consumer interested in traditional beer styles.
Brewing is a craft industry designed to produce satisfaction in a glass. There are no beers which are better than others. The best beer is one you enjoy most, and no body should criticize your choice. At the same time other peoples preference may be different to your and their judgement is equally valid. The main issue to is to encourage choice so that everyone will find a beer which suits heir mood and taste.