The glorious world of craft beer
This article was originally published in September 2012
Almost all beers are made using the same steps and ingredients and every beer is either an ale or a lager. There now are nearly 2,000 craft breweries in the United States reviving ancient recipes, perfecting the classics, and developing new styles completely.
Our beer aisles at PCC are bubbling over with these craft brews, many from artisans right here in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a primer with staff picks and other tips for even the most avid beer aficionados.
Pale ale — hoppy, medium-bodied, with a flavor that balances the hops and malted barley. Despite the name, pale ales typically are bronze or even reddish.
Staff pick: Pike Brewing Co.’s Pike Place Pale Ale — a bright, medium-bodied beer with nutty malt character balanced with floral hops.
India pale ale (IPA) — originally produced in England to export to British soldiers stationed in India, IPA had the level of alcohol (7-8 percent) and hops (act as a preservative) to withstand the voyage of up to six months. Today’s IPAs are slightly more bitter than regular pale ale.
- Schooner EXACT’s 3-Grid IPA — a blend of hops from Yakima to give it a big, juicy, tropical, citrus flavor balanced by light caramel and soft bready malts.
- Left Hand Brewing Co.’s 400 Pound Monkey (a PCC exclusive) — earthy and herbal hops, well-balanced by bready malt.
- Pike Brewing Co.’s Double IPA — big, full-bodied and rich; bouquet of grapefruit and other citrus. Flavorful biscuity palate.
- Bear Republic’s Hop Rod Rye — a floral hop aroma and subtle caramel notes with a slightly earthy and spicy rye character.
Wheat beer, Weizenbier, Witbier — brewed with raw wheat along with barley, usually medium-bodied with citrus notes and a yeasty aroma.
Staff pick: Boulevard Brewing Co.’s “Zon” Weisse — refreshing with subtle flavors of coriander and orange peel.
Belgian-Style ales — usually medium-bodied and very fruity and floral.
Staff pick: Sierra Nevada’s “Ovila” series — brewed according to centuries-old European monastic traditions.
Belgian lambic — unlike conventional ales, which are fermented by carefully cultivated strains of brewer’s yeasts, lambic beer is produced by spontaneous fermentation: it is exposed to the wild yeasts and bacteria said to be native to the Senne Valley in Belgium. This process gives the beer its distinctive flavor: dry and cidery, usually with a sour aftertaste. It is light-bodied with little hop flavor or bitterness.
Staff pick: Lindeman’s fruit-infused lambics include black currant, peach, cherry and raspberry and pair well with fruit desserts.
Porter — dark-brown ale with chocolatey malt flavor and often a refreshing hop bitterness.
Staff pick: Deschutes Black Butte Porter — dark but not too heavy, and more malty than hoppy.
Stout — the darkest and heartiest of beers, with a chocolate-coffee flavor and fuller body than other ales. This is achieved by brewing with barley that has been dark-roasted to the point of charring (think espresso beans compared to a medium-roast coffee). It is both darker and maltier than porter.
Staff pick: North Coast Brewing Co.’s Old Rasputin — a rich Russian imperial stout with chocolate and coffee aromas, big, complex flavors and a warming finish.
Märzen — commonly called Oktoberfest, this is a lager style that originated in Bavaria. It’s usually medium-to full-bodied and is characterized by a malty flavor and a clean, dry finish.
Staff Pick: Bayern Brewing, Inc.’s Oktoberfest — malty but not too sweet, with a lovely, crisp hop note. Makes us wish it was Oktoberfest year-round!
Pilsner — a crisp, golden-colored, highly-hopped lager; pilsners are a fairly dry style of beer with a strong malt flavor. Pilsner is the most popular lager in the world today.
- Full Sail Brewing Co.’s LTD Pilsner — spicy, floral hop aroma, malty medium body and a smooth finish.
- Left Hand Brewing Co.’s Polestar Pilsner — light and crisp.
- Bayern Brewing, Inc.’s Pilsener — smooth, hoppy flavor.
- Lagunitas Pils — a Czech-style pilsner that’s fresh and golden, with flavors of toasted malt and honey.
How beer is made
- Malt (sprouted and dried barley) or other grains are mixed with hot water to create “wort,” which is sort of like a tea. The malt is what gives the beer its body and flavor.
- Hops act as a natural preservative and give the beer its aroma and bitterness. Hops are added to the wort. The mixture is boiled, then brewer’s yeast is added to initiate fermentation.
- Once fermentation is complete, the beer rests to develop its flavors, undergoes recarbonation and is bottled or canned.
Don’t drink beer ice-cold?
Beer that’s served ice-cold may have its flavors muted by the chill. Many beers, especially darker ones, are best at temperatures slightly warmer than the fridge.
Beer with vegetarian food
Beer and meat are a natural pair but matching beer and vegetarian dishes isn’t so intuitive. Here are tips for pairing beer with five ingredients common in vegetarian dishes.
- Avocados — refreshingly bitter beers such as IPAs.
- Onions — slightly bitter, hoppy pale ales.
- Root vegetables — they’re sweet, so they go well with a beer that also has notes of caramel, such as porters.
- Wild mushrooms — the umami flavors in mushrooms pair with aggressively hoppy, malty beer with a bitter kick.
- Tomatoes — amber ales with rich flavors and smooth finishes stand up to the acidity in tomatoes.
Terms you should know to be a beer geek
Lagers — made from yeasts adapted to cold temperatures. Most mass-market beers such as Budweiser are lagers: they’re light-colored and relatively low in alcohol. The result of the cold fermentation is a lighter, crisper, smoother beer.
Ales — fermented at warmer temperatures and often contain higher amounts of hops and malt, and have a fuller body and more intense flavor than lagers.
Session beer — Beer that has a mid-level alcoholic content, perhaps 5 to 6 percent. The term comes from the British concept of a beer that can be drunk over the course of a multi-hour session of drinking, without rendering the drinker drunk. Such beers also are referred to as “sessionable.”
Staff picks: Full Sail Brewing Co.’s “Session” series – Premium Lager, Black Lager and Red Fest (seasonal) — a session for every season!
Extreme beer — pushes the boundaries of brewing. Extreme beers may have alcohol contents that rival spirits, be aged in bourbon barrels, be made with a huge amount of hops, or use exotic ingredients.
- Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA — continuously hopped for a pungent hop flavor.
- Sierra Nevada’s Hoptimum Whole-Cone Imperial IPA — aggressive hoppiness, with notes of grapefruit rind, rose, lilac, cedar and tropical fruit, culminating in a dry and lasting finish.
Sour beer — Unlike traditional beer-brewing done in a sterile environment to guard against the intrusion of wild yeast, sour beers are made by allowing wild yeast strains or bacteria into the brew. The result is an acidic, tart, sour taste.
Some to try: Russian River Brewing Co.’s Supplication — a sour brown ale aged with sour cherries in used Pinot Noir barrels; New Belgium Lips of Faith’s Tart Lychee — a fruity but dry sour ale brewed with lychee fruit and cinnamon.