Decoding Beer Styles
In the interest and proliferation of good beers in this city and country, we have decided to decode beer for you. Yes, there is more to beer than just the 330ml pint bottle you chug it down from.
By now we know that beer is a fermented alcohol drink made of water, malts, hops and yeast. Hops for instance cannot be grown in India, they have to be imported. They are quite difficult to grow, moist temperate climate on the 48th North parallel, and most international brewing companies have contracts with grower. Hops were originally added as preservatives and antibacterial to beers but the value add of flavor that they add to the brew made them even more special. When it comes to malts, not all variety of barley works well for beer and what style used is very crucial for the flavors in a beer. Most locally grown barley in India is not suited for brewing, but since the special strain of barley required is expensive to import, most Indian beer companies make do. A lot of work still needs to be done on this front.
All of these components play crucial role in the quality and taste of beer, but it is yeast which is paramount. Yeast defines the style of beer the unfermented wort (Find out what wort is, here) will be. Beers are categorized into 2 – lagers and ales. Surely, you’ve heard of them but did you know it is the yeast strain and the fermentation process which is responsible for the creation of these beers styles.
Ale is the original beer with its roots in Babylonian civilization. The all important yeast floats to the top of the fermentation tank while converting sugar to alcohol. Temperature is the other important factor for the ales; the fermentation process takes place in 15-25 degree Celsius. As a result of this yeast strain and temperatures the beers tend to be robust, flavorful and complex.
Apart from beers which have ‘ale’ in their name like Pale Ale, India Pale Ale or Amber ale, Stouts, Porters, Belgian, Wheat beer are also styles of ales. In India, locally brewed ales aren’t commercially available. Those that are available are limited to brewpubs and microbreweries in Bangalore, Delhi NCR and Mumbai.
Lager was discovered by fluke in the late 15th and early 16th century in Bavaria where they brewed ales in summer and stored them in cool caves, they called the process lagerung. A different strain of yeast which would stay active in colder temperatures, approximately 1-15 degree Celsius, would sink to the bottom of the vat continuing with the fermentation process. The process was slower as compared to ales and the beers were fresh, clean and crisp; they also traveled better.
Globally, majority of commercial beers – from Budweiser to Tsing Tao, also shown in our featured image – are lagers even though they may put different names to it. When you see a bottle which says Pilsner, Bock, Dunkel know that they are all lagers.
There are also beers which are a mix of ale and lager known as Hybrid beers. These can neither be called ales or lagers because of the fermentation process and yeast strains used. California Common for instance uses bottom fermenting yeast but the temperature at which the fermentation takes place is much higher. These beers tend to be on the drier side but with a lot of malt notes. California Common, Kolsch and Altbier are good examples of hybrid beers. While we haven’t come across anyone in India who has experimented with this style and made hybrid beers available to consumers, ask the local brewpub around you whether they are experimenting with this style; let us know too!
Stay tuned, IWL Beer Infographic coming soon!
Featured Image: The Pint Room