Picture this: you're at a summer BBQ and the rosé runs out, the Margarita pitcher's empty, and you're looking at a cooler of beer. All those colorful bottles and cans can be truly overwhelming if beer isn't typically your bev of choice. But never fear, The Lush Life is here, with your beer crash course! Trust us, you will want to bookmark this.
Nobody can deny that beer is having a major moment- when even your neighborhood dive has 30 craft beers on tap, you know there's something of a revolution going on with an incredible range of deliciousness on tap for EVERY palate out there. Are you ready to discover your favorite? Let's go!
Know Before You Go (to the bar): Beer Basics
SO beer. What exactly is it?
Beer is brewed from 4 basic ingredients: water, malted barley, yeast, and hops. The brewmaster can also add an endless array of different fun ingredients to the mix: various types of grain (wheat, oats, rice, corn), fruit, spices, coffee, chocolate, even oysters--- you name it, somebody has probably tried to make a beer with it!
How many types of beer are there?
Only 2! Lager and ale. There are many beer styles--- but every beer will be a member of either the lager or ale family. All you really need to know about these is that ales are richly flavored, full-bodied, or fruity beers, created by using a top-fermenting yeast, which sits on the top of the brew. Lagers are a product of bottom-fermenting yeasts which tend to clump together at the bottom of the vessel, resulting in a more delicate, cleaner beer. (For further reading on the full spectrum of beer production, click here for extra credit.)
What on earth are hops?
Oh, Hops. Beer geeks love to obsess over them. Hops are a flowering vine, and adding them to beer acts as a natural preservative- and also adds some aromas and flavors (often sharpness or bitterness) plus they're a flavor counterpoint to malt. 'Malting' means toasting the grains before extracting their sugary starches. The darker they're toasted, the darker the beer. A malty flavor contributes a sweet richness, and the best beers have a nice balance between the malt and hops!
What's better, bottle or draft?
They both have their merits- draft beers are often fresher, and bottles can get 'skunked' (ew) if they're not stored the right way. But whichever you choose, just know that a well-crafted beer should never be served ice-cold--- when beer is ice-cold, you can't taste it! There's a reason why certain beers are better that way, and.... let's stay away from those ;) The rule is: lighter lagers should be served at 45-50 degrees F, richer ales at 50-55F, and for a big boozy stout or porter? 60 degrees, or cellar temperature, is juuuust right.
5 Classic Beer Styles: Which Is Right For You?
Now that we're down with the essential beer terminology, let's explore our style options!
#1- Light and Crisp: Pilsner
Pilsner is a light, crisp, lager beer that originated in the Czech republic in the mid-1800s. Today there are 3 styles of Pilsner: German, Czech, and European. German Pilsners are light straw color, with earthy and bitter aromas. Czech style pilsners (Pilsner Urquell, Radegast) are more golden in color but lighter tasting and foamy. Finally, European Style Pilsners (Stella Artois, Heineken) are a bit sweeter.
Great Pilsners to Try: Radeberger, Warsteiner, Oskar Blues' Mama's Little Yella Pils
#2- Sweet, Light and Creamy: White Ale
'White', or wheat, ales (also known as Witbier in Belgium or Weissbier in Germany) are produced by adding a high proportion of wheat to the malted barley- at least 50%. White ales are also brewed with fruit and spices like cloves, coriander, and orange peels (a practice that started back in the day in Belgium when hops weren't widely available as a preservative, so herbs and other plants did the trick). ‘Hefeweizen’ (literally ‘yeast wheat’) is a German-style unfiltered wheat beer (hazy due to the yeast particles suspended in it). Light, creamy and slightly citrusy sweet, white ales are luscious with aromas of coriander, orange peel, clove, banana and vanilla.
*Lush Tip: you may see White Ales served with an orange or lemon slice.... Try to resist! If the beer is well-crafted, it should be perfectly tasty on its own- and hitting it with a blast of citric acid will upset the balance.
Great White Ales to Try: Allagash White, Harpoon UFO White, Weihanstephaner Hefeweizen, Hooegaarden
#3- Refreshing, Aromatic and Bitter: IPA
IPA- short for India Pale Ale- originated in England in the 1700s, when legend has it that an intrepid brewmaster fortified his bitter ale with higher alcohol and more hops to sustain it through a journey to India where colonists were homesick for a taste of their native ale. Whether this is just a myth or not, today's IPAs will always exhibit the alcohol and heavy hopping that distinguished the original!
Bracing and refreshing, IPAs can burst with citric notes or grapefruit-like flavors, as well as sharp phenolic aromas like pine. They have a clean, dry, and somewhat bitter finish. This is an aggressive style that's not for the faint of heart- people tend to love them or hate them--- I suggest you give it a shot and see for yourself!
Great IPAs to try: Stone IPA, Bear Republic Racer 5, Blue Point Mosaic, Sam Smith IPA
#4- Rich & Fruity: Belgian Trappist (or Abbey) Ale
If you're looking for a strong, rich, fruity and hearty beer- go for a Trappist Ale! This style came from Cistercian Monks in Belgium: they would brew and sell beer to support the monastery. As monks have always lived under strict dietary rules, they began brewing heavier beers so they were able to take in the necessary calories needed for survival- without violating their religious vows. There are still 8 Trappist Monasteries in the world that brew beer today; other breweries rocking out this style may call them Abbey Ales.
*Lush Tip: you might see them designated as a 'Dubbel' or 'Tripel'- this translates to the alcohol content! A Dubbel (double) is up to 9% ABV (alcohol by volume). Tripel (triple) is over 9%- yowza!
Great Abbey Ales to Try: Chimay, Ommegang Abbey Ale, Tripel Karmeliet, Victory Golden Monkey
#5- Dark and Robust: Stout
If you like it dark and decadent, stout may be the answer to your beer prayers. You've probably heard of Guinness, the most famous stout, which technically is a Dry or Irish Stout. Other common styles include Imperial Stout, Milk Stout, Chocolate Stout, Coffee Stout, Oyster Stout, and Oatmeal or 'Breakfast' Stout. Believe it or not, in the late 19th century, stouts were marketed as being 'restorative’ elixirs for invalids- and doctors were even prescribing Milk Stouts sweetened with lactose for nursing mothers.
The best stouts have a creamy smooth texture and rich flavors of coffee, dark chocolate, molasses, figs, dates, plums, black currants, and spicy fruitcake.
Great Stouts to Try: New Holland Brewery 'The Poet', Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout, Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout