* Please click here to read Part One of this series.
Now that we have taken a look at what beer is exactly, and how it is made, let us continue by examining some of the world’s most famous beer-making regions. When you think of beer, which countries come to mind? Well these days, almost every country on earth produces beer, and many countries produce really good beer. Even so, there are some major, classic beer-making countries that are worth a look.
It is hard to imagine England without beer. Her pubs and their ales are famous, practically the hallmark of beer. The fact is that England has been brewing beer since Beowulf was around, and probably much earlier, so they know a thing or two about the fruit of the stalk. The Celts made ale and mead, and the invading Roman soldiers enjoyed it daily. During the Middle Ages, ale was the staple drink for most of the English. And in the Early Modern Period, hoppy beer was the trend. These days, English beer can be divided into six basic styles:
1. Bitter ale: a pale-colored ale with a high amount of hops, producing a bitter, citrus flavor.
2. Brown ale: a brown-colored ale brewed from a warm fermentation of malted brown grains.
3. Mild ale: a light-brown ale using a low amount of hops, with a less-bitter flavor than other ales.
4. Old ale: a dark beer made almost entirely (or entirely) of malted grain, traditionally with a high alcohol content.
5. Porters and stouts: very dark beers incorporating bitter, roasted grains.
6. Archaic beer: beer in the style of older, out-of-style beers from history.
The ancient Celts brewed lots of sweet mead, but they also brewed ale. Due to a lack of hops in Ireland, this ale was made from pure malted grains. Eventually, English hops made their way to Ireland, so modern Irish beer uses them as well. The types of Irish beer are not as clearly-demarcated and regulated as English beers, but Ireland does have two broad categories. They include:
1. Red ale: red-colored ale with a relatively low alcohol content.
2. Stout: Guinness is Ireland’s most-famous stout; stouts are very dark, made from roasted grains.
It is hard to imagine German culture without envisioning men in Lederhosen dancing and clinking Biersteins at a Biergarten, as they drunkenly sing loudly into the night. Yes, das Bier is an important part of German culture, to the point that there are very strict laws in Germany dictating how it must be brewed — come on, would you expect anything else? German beers strives for purity, and while the German beer laws have loosened a bit, they still mandate strict controls, and any sort of additive to the beer must be completely filtered out of the final product. There are four basic styles of German beer:
1. Wheat beer: beer brewed completely from wheat, which can be dark or light and have a range of alcohol content from weak to strong.
2. Pale beer: pale-colored beer that can tend to be hoppy, often with relatively-high alcohol content.
3. Dark beer: beer made from roasted malts, that can be anywhere from sweet to bitter.
4. Unfiltered beer: beer of any color in which active yeast remain.
Belgium is a very interesting country. It is relatively new in terms of history, and it is an amalgamation of French and Netherlands citizens. But during its short history, it has developed a worldwide reputation for producing five things in excellence: French fries, waffles, chocolate, graphic novels, and beer. And when it comes to beer, Belgium produces many styles, perhaps more than any other country except the USA:
1. Amber ale: amber-colored ale that is not as hoppy and bitter as other international ales.
2. Blonde ale: gold-colored ale that is highly carbonated and heady, with a pilsner to sweet flavor.
3. Brown ale: ale with less bitterness and less alcohol content than others, but brown in color.
4. Champagne beer: made with a second fermentation like Champagne.
5. Dubbel beer: light-brown-colored ale traditionally brewed in monasteries, with active yeast in the bottle and relatively-high alcohol content.
6. Flemish red: red-brown colored beer made from roasted malts, multiple strains of yeast, and yogurt bacteria, with a relatively-high alcohol content.
7. Hoppy beers: Belgium grows hops, and some beers use it extensively to produce a bitter, hoppy flavor.
8. Lambic beer: wheat beer that is allowed exposure to natural yeast and bacteria in the environment and thus fermented.
9. Flemish sour brown beer: aged, sour ale.
10. Pils: standard pilsner beer, fermented at low temperatures.
11. Saison: pale ale with low alcohol content.
12. Scotch ale: sweet, heavy, brown ale.
13. Stouts: very dark ale, made from roasted grains
14. Table beer: brown or blonde ale with very low alcohol content to enjoy with meals.
15. Tripel: very strong ale with a high alcohol content.
16. Wheat beer: beer brewed completely from wheat, which can be dark or light and have a range of alcohol content from weak to strong.
17. Winter beer: seasonal, spiced beer with a high alcohol content, intended for consumption during Christmas season.
18. Archaic beer: beer in the style of older, out-of-style beers from history.
5. Czech Republic.
Many people do not think of the Czech Republic in terms of beer, but the truth is that the country has been steadily producing beer since the Early Middle Ages, and has a long, glorious beer tradition since then. The first known Czech brewery was a monastery in 933 CE. Most Czech beers are pale pilsners, meaning that they were fermented under cool conditions. However, under Czech law, there are four possible types of such lagers, and they may range from light and pale, to dark amber:
1. Lehké: light pilsner, brewed very cold.
2. Výčepní: beer intended for the tap, brewed cold.
3. Ležák: classic lager, brewed cool.
4. Premium: brewed warmer than the rest, but still cool.
Mexico? Yes, Mexico! There is much more to Mexican beer than sour Corona. The Mesoamericans had been brewing fermented corn beverages for a thousand years before the European invaders arrived, and once the Spanish brought hops, that tradition continued without stopping until this very day. While there are no legal or official styles of Mexican beer, most of it has a light, lager flavor that is fermented cold, and meant to be drunk cold with spicy food. One particular specialty of Mexico that comes from ancient Maya traditions, is Michelada: beer mixed with salt, lime, and chili peppers, and drunk cold. Delicioso!
7. United States of America.
One of the strengths of the US is its willingness to accept other ideas, then adapt and perfect them. Beer is no exception. Almost every style of beer in the world has a counterpart in the US. With the advent and popularity of craft beers and microbreweries, every style of beer has been explored, tested, taken to its extreme, and refined. The old style of American beer — watery, sour, bad, weak beer like Coors Light — is definitely out of style, and hoppy IPAs (India Pale Ale) are in. My personal favorite is Bear Republic’s Racer 5 IPA, with its extremely bitter, citrus hops flavor.
Join us tomorrow for the third and final part of this series, as we examine beer styles in a bit more detail, and then look at some fascinating beer culture around the world!