On the occasion of the Mondial de la biere, which wrapped up this weekend in Montreal with awards for attendees' favorite beers, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind when savouring artisanal brews.
When it comes to beer, some brews are made for indiscriminate quaffing, while others call for thoughtful and epicurean appreciation. Like exceptional wine or whisky, well-crafted beer deserves to be treated with respect.
Brush Up On The Main Categories
For newcomers, the number of different types of beer on offer can be overwhelming. But a little knowledge on the ways beer is categorized can go a long way in guiding your tasting experience. Overall, beers typically fall into one of two categories: lagers and ales. Lagers, which are brewed at cooler temperatures with yeast that quickly settles on the bottom, typically offer clean, smooth and crisp flavors. Ales, in contrast, are known for sweeter, richer and often more complex flavors, the result of higher brewing temperatures and yeast that floats on the surface of the beer before settling.
The sub-categories of ales are virtually endless, but some of the most popular are pale ales (light-colored, hoppy, malty beers), porters (brown beer made with roasted malt), stouts (dark beers made without hops and with roasted barley) and amber ales (sweet, malty amber-colored beers).
Respect The Ideal Serving Temperatures
Between pilsners, Belgian whites and stouts, each type of beer has its own ideal serving temperature. So it's a good idea to consult the label before putting your beer in the fridge. In general, lagers should be served cold (39-45°F/ 4-7 °C), while ales should be served cool (45-54°F/8-12 °C) or at "cellar" temperature (54-57°F/12-14 °C) depending on the type. In case your beer doesn't come with any indication on the label, Ratebeer.com provides a useful guide.
Choose An Appropriate Glass
There is an ideal tasting vessel for every type of beer. Pilsner glasses -- which are tall, thin and usually slightly wider at the top -- are ideal for serving pilsners and other lagers. For stronger and more flavorful beers such as IPAs and Belgian ales, consider a snifter. This stemmed glass, which balloons at the center and becomes smaller at the top, captures volatile aromas and concentrates them right under your nose.
Goblets, which have a similar shape but do not taper inward at the opening, are also appropriate for Belgian ales. Pint glasses, though perhaps less ceremonial than some of the other vessels, are a safe bet for most types of beer. Finally, thick glass beer mugs are a good way to ensure that the beverage stays at its ideal temperature, as the handle keeps the hand from warming the contents.
Keep The Glass At The Right Temperature, Too
Placing beer mugs in the freezer may seem like a good idea on a hot summer day, but a frozen glass is likely to make the beer inside too cold to taste, particularly when it comes to richly flavorful ales. When serving lagers, however, chilling glasses in the refrigerator for a few hours can help to ensure the beverage is served at just the right temperature.
Pair Beers With Complementary Foods
Like wine, beer truly lives up to its potential when paired with certain ingredients. Belgian white beer, for example, is ideal with raw salads, seafood or fruit. Pale ales often provide a perfect accompaniment to mussels, grilled foods or steak tartare and also pair nicely with hearty desserts such as waffles. Amber ales stand up well to dishes with strong flavor, such as foie gras, smoked fish, grilled red meat or caramel desserts. Finally, dark beers such as porters and stouts are best paired with oysters and other shellfish, sushi, game, or chocolate mousse.
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