I have a special treat for you today! A good friend of mine is here to talk all about one of my favorite things while I'm away in Las Vegas. I'll let her take it from here. Cheers!
Hi there! My name is Sarah Elizabeth, and Laura has awesomely allowed me to swipe her blog and all of you for the day. I write over at SEDiva Abroad, a place of inspiration, bucket lists, and romance. I am an American living in Cork City, Ireland, and one great reason to love living in Ireland is for the beer! The craft beer revolution that rules America is only just starting to take off here, but Ireland is already a great place to whet your beer appetite. I know so many people talk about beer with rich and complicated vocabulary all the time, and it's not for everyone. If you've ever felt even slightly overwhelmed or interested in what the heck those beer fiends are talking about, I'm sharing some tips and knowledge here today with a goodly amount of research, experimentation, and ridiculously random facts.
Lager, ale, stout, IPA, et cetera. You've probably heard all of these words from the men in your life or from the hipster beer snobs in your circle. Perhaps you know all of these terms yourself already - if so, sorry I called you a beer snob. Whether you know everything about beer or nothing, please stick around because I promise there's something in this post somewhere for you to learn, something that you don't already know yet. I absolutely promise. And you need to read my bad jokes and weird facts to add to your reservoir of random things to say at a party, too. So just stay, okay?
Broadly speaking, most people define beer as any alcoholic beverage made by fermenting grain, usually barley. As someone who's not only an avid beer drinker - should I be admitting that online? - but who has also visited both the Jameson Whiskey factory and Guinness Storehouse multiple times, I am obviously an expert and feel extremely equipped to educate you on the beer making process.
Basically, malted barley is soaked in water for a few days, breaking down the grain into simple sugars and making a syrup called wort. The wort is then mashed and hops are added to give it the bitter, beer-y flavor. Finally, the water is cooled, and yeast is added. The yeast feasts on all that sugar until there isn't any more. The brewer leaves the beer to age for as long as he so deems, adds a few ingredients for flavor, and soon we all get to drink it. Woohoo.
I've often heard people say "I'm not a beer person", and then discover that they love a certain kind of beer. In an effort to help them find something they like, I'll say, "What kind of beer was it you liked?" The number of people who can't pull the word "Red Ale" out of their !@# is shocking. So, let's get a few terms and iconic examples down, so the next time you're feeling adventurous and want to try a new beer similar to one you know you already like, you'll be safe. Knowledge is power, after all.
Beer type: Lager.
Iconic Examples: Bud Light or PBR (oh lordie, those are terrible examples, aren't they?)
Iconic lagers like Bud Light and PBR are well-known for being refreshing when ice cold and miserable when even a degree warmer. But there's a lot more to lagers than you think. As with all of these styles of beer, I could go on for ages (and I probably will; sorry about that), but let's keep it simple. Super generally speaking, lagers are characterized by light, clear, and clean flavors. They're generally golden or light amber in color, use simple combinations of ingredients (not much more than the necessary barley, hops, and water), and are considered to be very refreshing beers. Lagers are a favorite beer in the summertime and in warmer climates - most Caribbean islands each have their own specialty lager, such as Trinidad & Tobago's Carib and Barbados' Banks. Everyone's favorite Bavarian beers (such as Hofbrau and Spaten, two of my absolute favorites) are great lagers. In fact, in Germany, there's a beer purity law stating that only water, hops, and barley can be used to brew beer, giving German beer an incredibly crisp flavor.
Other examples (for the more adventurous): Spaten (German), Harp Lager (Irish), Molson Canadian (Canadian), Budweiser (American), Brooklyn Lager (American), LandShark (American).
Beer type: Red Ale.
Iconic Examples: Samuel Adams and Killian's Red (don't yell at me if you know these aren't really ales! Just read on!)
Ale is a confusing term really at this point because it is used to describe so many different things. I'm sure you've heard of Indian Pale Ale, Irish Red Ale, Amber Ale, American Pale Ale, and so many more. I'm using the term "ale" here a little incorrectly - to describe any red ale or even any flavorful red beer - but it is also the way that a lot of beer buffs use the term, so I hope you'll forgive my purposeful mistake. Red ales are very popular here in Ireland and also in the UK - ever heard of the English beer that can be served warm? You've found it (though I don't necessarily recommend it). Red ales are generally deep amber in color and a bit more flavorful and bitter than lagers. Back in the States, we use the term ale to describe a lot of lagers (such as Sam Adams Boston Lager and Killian's Red, both of which are actually lagers, who knew!) because of it's color and stronger flavor, which we don't usually expect in a lager.
Other examples (for the Ireland lovers - of course you are all my best friends - Up Ireland!): Smithwicks (Ireland), London Pride (England), Old Speckled Hen (England), 8 Degrees Sunburnt Red (Ireland), Franciscan Well Rebel Red (Ireland)**.
**I'm not sure if you can get these last two in America, but if you can find them, just know that I've been in love with the Fran Well's Rebel Red for 5 years, and you are now my best friend.
Beer Type: IPA - India Pale Ale.
Iconic example: Sierra Nevada.
IPA is a misconstrued term. An "ale" like the red, the India Pale Ale is characterized by its sometimes overwhelming hoppiness, taking that bitter ale taste to the next level. Again, I'm using IPA as a term here very loosely, referring to any Pale Ale that is characterized by strong hop flavors and sometimes even cloudiness and changing colors. The reason I say it's misconstrued is because we often label things like wheat beers (such as Shock Top or Blue Moon) as IPAs. IPA is often used interchangeably with any pale ale, such as American Pale Ale (such as Shipyard) and Irish Pale Ale (which is a thing these days). Both are very similar to a traditional IPA. We also often assume that IPA means blegh, which of course I'm going to argue isn't always the case, though I'm not a big IPA drinker myself. Basically, if you're looking for something with a bit more flavor, choose an IPA. These are the most experimental choices of all the beers definitely because every craft and big brewery does it differently. IPAs tend to have more ingredients and are a challenge to create. Different varieties or origins of hop flowers used in brewing change the taste incredibly, and brewers develop unique tastes for each IPA and have to work hard to balance taste and drinkability (ever had an IPA that was just too overwhelming?). IPAs are also favorites during the summer for their fruity flavors, which arise when hops from different places are used (they tend to absorb a bit of the scent or environment around them, resulting in citrusy or other flavors).
Other examples (for the flavor-loving beer adventurer): Goose Island IPA (American), BrewDog Punk IPA (Scotland), Smithwicks Pale Ale (Ireland), Howling Gale Irish Pale Ale (Ireland).
Beer Type: Stout.
Iconic example: Guinness.
Stout gets a bad rep from casual beer drinkers for being heavy and bitter. If this is your opinion, my question is this: have you tried it? Did you let yourself taste something that wasn't really there? Did you make up your mind before you started sipping? Because in actuality, you'd be shocked by how sweet and light stout really is. It is one of the least filling beers you can drink, and most stouts use chocolate, coffee, or caramel to get that dark color, so bitter it is not.
Did you know that Guinness isn't the only stout? I know it's very shocking to hear for the first time, but I promise I'm not leading you astray. Guinness is delicious - though I will admit it's an acquired taste sometimes - but there are other stouts out there as well. Stout is particularly popular in Ireland and the British Isles in general, which is of course where it all began (again, go Ireland!) But stout has become immensely popular all over the world - Guinness exports specialty stout all over the world, adapting the recipe to ensure its longevity in examples such as Guinness Extra Stout.***
Though Guinness has taken over the stout identity for like hundreds of years, Irish were brewing stout and porter for much longer, and there are other examples of the Irish staple here, such as Murphy's and Beamish, Cork's two stouts. You've probably heard that the Irish don't adore Guinness as much as we do back home - I can certainly attest that frat boys don't drink it out of bottles like water... actually there's no frat boys here at all, but I've never seen bottles of Guinness at a party except for one Thanksgiving when I bought cans of Guinness for all my American guests. But a good, fresh Guinness at a pub where it's poured often and fresh is the absolute best.
*** The story of Guinness shipping all over the world is actually really interesting, but too much for me to get into here. Check it out here!
A couple of important tips for drinking stout: Always let it settle first. When it first pours, it is a light brown color. Do NOT drink it. (Blegh). After it settles, it will be fiercely black with a lovely white head. NOW drink it. Additionally, fun fact, stout is incredibly fragile, meaning it goes bad very quickly, which is one reason why its exportation is very difficult and there are different recipes and breweries for Guinness all over the world.**** So drink it relatively quickly. Once it starts turning brown again, it's probably getting a little too stale. But then again, maybe you're not a beer snob yet...
****This is also the reason you can't find Murphy's or Beamish in the States very easily. It's too difficult and expensive to export kegs of stout.
Other examples (for the stout lovers out there): O'Hara's Irish Stout (Ireland), Kilkenny Stout (Ireland)*****, Dungarvan Black Rock Stout (Ireland), Murphy's Stout (Ireland), Beamish & Crawford (Ireland).
*****I was shocked when my dad told me he'd had a BLONDE stout, and I was like YEAH, RIGHT. Turns out I was wrong. Kilkenny is infamously blonde and still a stout!
Some More Quick Tips:
Some beer can be enjoyed warm. If you're in a rush and can't wait for your parents' expensive fridge's 15-quick-chill drawer, try a red ale. Unlike a lot of lagers, they can be quite refreshing when warm.
Some beer you should just never, ever, ever in a million years drink warm. These include Bud or Coors Light, PBR, Nattie, or any other beer you did a keg stand with in college.
Skunking beer is real. Don't leave already-chilled beer out overnight and then re-chill.
And definitely don't forget about the Guinness tip!
Beers that supposedly or definitely has a different recipe in Ireland than it does in the States:
Guinness - Definitely, though it depends on where you are and what variety of Guinness's stout you're drinking.
Budweiser - Unconfirmed, though Budweiser is brewed in Ireland under license by Guinness.
Heineken - Unconfirmed but this is absolutely, positively true. I despise the sour taste of Heineken in the States, and here in Ireland it's as hopeful and refreshing as sipping sunshine itself. I have a great story about Heineken's export history about why it tastes sour in America. It goes like this: back in the day, Heineken was brewed only in the Netherlands, and when they decided to start exporting it to the New World, they didn't preserve it properly and it went a little sour on each shipment sent over. The North Americans got used to that flavor, and when the capability to export it without a taste change came along, we didn't like the "real" Heineken, so they altered the "North American recipe" just for us. I have NO clue if this is true, but I share it at every party anyway.
Oh and by the way some penguins practice prostitution, there's a new Pirates of the Caribbean film coming out (that I am so sad I didn't get to be a part of - one of my biggest wishes!), a good chinwag means laughing (I think), and the word "craic" in Ireland is fun (no, literally, it means fun). Told you you'd learn something in this post....
If you enjoyed this mini beer education, we have a couple of freebies for you to download!! There's a cheat sheet and a beer diary printable here to make sure that you never again struggle to find a beer you love!! Print them, keep them, fill them out, share them - and together we can all be best beer snob friends! Welcome to the club!
What's your favorite beer? Got any fun facts about beer? I'd love to learn more and add to reservoir of fun facts!
Please note: This post was written for fun and for learning - it is not intended to encourage excessive or irresponsible drinking. Please stay safe and drink responsibly.