Ever felt like you could never properly get up to speed with some breaking news story that’s captivating the nation? Like, you’ve missed the boat, it’s too far out of the harbour and you’ll just make a fool of yourself if you attempted to swim out to it? Well, that’s exactly how I feel about the basics of beer.
In what I’m sure would be to the disappointment of my froth-loving father, I didn’t immediately gravitate towards the brown nectar when I ticked over the 18 mark. And while I’ve grown more of an appreciation for it nowadays, the gaps in my knowledge force me to avoid getting around for fear of looking like a damn fool in this age obsessed with craft brews and such.
Working on the assumption that I’m not alone in this (tell me I’m not alone, pls), here’s the 411 on the basics of beer so we can all rest a li’l knowing we won’t be verbally dressed down by an excitable hipster next time we’re at the bottle store.
Basics Of Beer: Ingredients
Aight, to kick off your basics of beer lesson, you’ve gotta know what the hell ‘beer’ is and what’s usually in it. ‘Beer’, in layman terms, is an alcoholic drank made from cereal grain that’s been malted, given a flavoursome kick with hops, and fermented slowly. Most beers are composed of grain, hops, yeast and water.
Grains are transformed into sugar during the mashing process. To get it all malt-y, it’s soaked in water then germinated. It’s then “kilned” (which means dried/cured). It’s then milled, mashed and brewed for your pleasure.
Hops help to give your frothy its flavour and scent. They’re a big help with balancing out a beer’s sugary malt with bitterness. If your beer has been “dry hopped”, that means hops have been added after fermentation’s wrapped up to replace oils that’ve been lost during brewing.
Yep, it’s more than just an infection. It’s a fungus that transforms things into grog via carbonation (the process of fermentation). It has a huge role in the final stages of making a beer and impacts taste a great deal.
If you need an explanation for this, then may god have mercy on us all.
Basics Of Beer: Styles
As you know, there’s an overwhelming amount of beers out there. WHAT ARE THEY?! WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?! Surprisingly, each and every one of ‘em can be placed in just two categories (as determined by how yeast was incorporated): ales and lagers.
For Ales, yeast collects and ferments at the top of whatever it’s being made in under high temps so it goes from zero to one hundred really damn quick. They’re what gourmet-inclined humans would deem “rich”, typically having a more yeasty flavour than their Lager cousins.
“Pale” was tacked onto this beer’s name to help folks distinguish it from the Porter type (more on that later). As a rule of thumb, they’re copper-y gold-y colour with a crisp flavour from its hops. You can try Little Creatures Pale Ale, or James Squire Pale Ale to get acquainted.
India Pale Ale (IPA)
IPAs tend to pack more of a punch in terms of alcohol percentage. Think of it as a Pale ale that’s been hitting the gym seven days a week. Start off with Balter Hazy IPA.
Brown ales are, y’know, brown. They herald from North England, and are known to have nutty/strong malty flavours. Really treat your tastebuds with the 4 Pines Ben & Jerry’s Choc Chip Cookie Nitro Ale.
Stouts are thicc AF, extremely dark in colour (black looking) and get their flavour from roasted barley. Generally, you won’t sense any hop-like notes in Stouts – but you’ll defs notice the malt and caramel flavours. May as well start your taste test with the famous Guinness.
Porters are similar to Stouts, but they’re made from unroasted barely. They’re sweeter than a lot of strains and sometimes even contain notes of chocolate backed up with a sharp bitterness. Give Pirate Life Eyre Peninsula Coffee Bean Porter a red hot go.
Wheat beer, the beer of the Germans. They’re deadly serious about it too. By law, you have to make it with top-fermenting yeast and at least 50% wheat malt. The proteins from wheat give it is cloudy appearance (especially as most aren’t filtered. The yeast strains can often create notes of vanilla, clove and even banana. Blue Moon Belgian White is a good start.
Hefeweisen: Americans can’t get enough of it, with it being the most successfully selling strain in the country. It’s usually served with lemon to counter the hectic yeast flavours. Make your first taste an authentic one with Blue Moon Belgian White
Yeast in lagers sinks to the bottom of whatever it’s been made in and processed in cooler conditions than ale (to slow the process down significantly). The cool temps + yeast fermenting at the bottom makes less “esters” (a fancy way of saying flavour compounds). This process makes a clean/crisp beer.
Amber/ Red Lager
Of the Lager fam, Amber/Red Lagers are a hell of a lot darker and malty than the rest. If you’ve picked up a bottle and it just says “Lager” on it, then generally is’ an Amber strain. You can try it for yourself with Jack Abbey Amber Lager.
Pilsner is arguably the world’s most popular beer style. Born in Czechoslovakia, they usually have a medium ~body~ and more hops than most lagers, producing a gold colour and crisp/ clean/ smooth flavours. You absolutely have to start with the OG Pilsner Urquell.
Another German creation, Bock is made in autumn to be downed in the colder months. Expect heavy malt and a dark amber/brown coloured brew. Balmain Brewing actually makes its own bock, but generally, you’ll find this style in the imported section.
Doppelbock (AKA double Bock) is exactly what its name suggests: a heavier hitting Bock. It’s darker and stronger than Bocks, has a higher grog content and is heavier with its maltiness. It’s also much harder to find in Australia, tbh.
There you have it, folks. Putting the above to memory should serve you well – and best of all, it gives you an excuse to widen your repertoire (education is paramount these days, isn’t it?).