For us twenty somethings who have never touched a beer but natty-ice before, I’ve decided to through together a guide to try and bring some clarity to that ancient drink called beer. So, next time you go into a bar you (kind of) know what you’re ordering, or you can try and outsmart the local liquor store clerk.
Some things to know. Most European beers (and all Germany beers) follow the Reinheitsgebot.
What is this large funny looking word you say? Well it’s translated (more or less) as purity law. It basically says that it’s illegal to brew beer with anything but hops, wheat, barley, or water.
Now why would they do this? To try and understand this you have to think in medieval times people put whatever the hell they damn please in their drinks. So, when brewing beers they would stick whatever they wanted in there from town to town, and nobody really knew what beer was anymore. This was actually common practice and the most common type of beer in medieval times. Until people started tripping and going crazy from the weird stuff they were putting in it. This type of beer was called Gruit. Some micro brews are looking up old recipes and if you brew your own beer you may be able to find a recipe that the vikings drank.
To reconcile the crazy beer brewing a bunch of burly men got together and made this law. Hence today you have fairly standard forms of beer. In America, micro-brews aren’t bound too much by this tradition and many have diverted and experimented making some really nice new beers and flavors.
Here is a simple guide to what you might find at the bar or store:
- An Ale is brewed with top fermenting yeast. This means that while it is brewing the yeast float on the top. The yeast eventually settles toward the bottom making everyone a bit happier. Styles of ales include Porters, Stouts, Brown Ales, and Hefeweissen (or wheat beers). The difference in colors comes from the grain that is used and how long certain parts of the brewing process occur. Wheat beers are almost sweet and are usually cloudy. You can get a kristalweissen which is a wheat beer that has had the yeast filtered out and has a very light flavor. Stouts and Porters use darker grains and have a much stronger flavor.
- The other major category are Lagers. These are what you normally find and this beer was designed so it could last a while. These beers start their fermenting from the bottom. So, that yeast never makes its way up top. This affects the flavor and appearance of the beer. This type of beer is usually force carbonated and took much later to develop. The most well known type of lager is a Pilsner.
- Like I said there are also many hybrid beers and new types arising now. A lot of microbrews in America make Christmas Ales (an ale with nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves), Blueberry Ale, Pumpkin Ale. Mead is sometimes also talked about but this is fermented with honey instead of barley or wheat.
- Some mixed drinks you might come across in Germany are a Radler (beer mixed with lemonade or fanta) or a Diesel (beer mixed with soda).
Check out this sweet graph and article describing all the different types of beers and what “family” they fall under. These pages are also interesting if you want to read about specific types of beer and how they are brewed or how they are different from other ales or lagers. Here, here, and here.
What weird types of beer do you know?