A beer drinker’s glossary

By Natalie Sit

Believe it or not, there will come a day when you stop drinking Kokanee. On that day you will realize there are better-tasting beers out there.

So here is some helpful information for when you decide to become a mature beer drinker.

Most beers lack a distinctive smell. However, each beer has a specific taste. According to the Western Brewers Association, there are two general types of beer: ales (top-fermented beers) and lagers (bottom-fermented beers).

Lagers are crisp beers because of the malts used and their unique fermentation process. Unlike other beers, both are fermented at a lower temperature, creating a light yellow colour unlike the rich gold colours found in other beers. Examples of lagers include the much-consumed Canadian, or lesser knowns like Alley Kat’s Charlie Flint Lager (described in this supplement). There are several types of lagers including pilsener (not the brand) and bock beer, a heavier beer darkened by malts.

Ales are fermented at a higher temperature and give a more fruity, full-bodied taste with less carbonation. Wildwood Grill and Brewing Company produces several lagers, ales and stouts of their own and according to Wildwood General Manager Mark Wight, the difference between lagers and ales is pretty obvious.

"If you ever try to drink a Budweiser quickly, you’ll ending up having gas because of the carbonation," explains Wight. "If you try and drink an ale quickly, it’s tougher to do because there’s less carbonation."

There are several beers that fall under the category of ales.

Bitters are darker than ales, low in carbonation and like the name implies, taste bitter. If you want a good bitter beer, head over to England. If you have problems getting there, you can enjoy some bitters in town such as Boddington.

Pale ales are known for their distinctive copper colour. Their taste is also distinct-they are full-bodied, slightly acidic and heavily hopped.

India Pale Ales were specially created for British troops serving in India. To preserve the beer for the long trip, the beer was heavily hopped.

Next are cream ales. According to the WBA, a cream ale is the North American term for a very pale, mild ale which might contain corn. But it is still top-fermented like an ale.

Then there are porters, which were originally a lighter-bodied companion to stouts. Porters are typically dark and fruity, even thought both traits are unusual for a beer with a heavy foam.

Stouts like Guinness have a creamy aspect, but finish with a malty and hop-filled taste. Stouts are also known as cascade beers-one can pour a stout straight into a cup without tipping it. The foam clearly settles with the head on top.

Lambic beers are "wild" beers because they’re fermented with wheat, barley malts and wild yeasts from Brussels. After several years of fermenting, lambics are bottled without removing the yeast. Lambics are extremely dark but also maintain a fruity character.

The last kind of ale is called a "dry" beer. While they are liquids, dry refers to the residual sugar left after fermentation. With this beer, most sugar is converted to alcohol. It has a crisp flavour, clean finish and little aftertaste.

The serving temperature of beer is more important than most people realize. Light beers should be well-chilled at 7 C. Wheat beers are best had at 8 C and European lagers at
9 C. Regular ales and stouts weight in a little warmer at 13 C. Strong dark ales should be drunk at 15.5 C, no more no less.

Now that you know what kind of beers are out there, how do go you about tasting them? Well first, get the right glass. Wight prefers pilsener glasses but there are many other types of glasses.

"Pilsener glasses have a stem so that when you’re tasting it your fingers don’t warm it up," says Wight. "Also, grease from your fingers doesn’t dirty the glass, so you can see it better. I like a little bulb too, so when you tilt it back it hits the right spot-straight down the middle of the tongue."

So, you’ve got the beer and the glass, all you need now is your palate. Palates are essentially the snooty way of referring to how a beer tastes and the effect it has on your taste buds.

Unlike wine tasting, Wight suggests you swallow a little bit to get the full effect on your palate. More importantly, you don’t need to sip water between beers, (hence watering down some of the essential ingredients of beer-wink, wink).

"You could clean your palate between each beer but it’s not totally necessary simply because the alcohol content is lower than wine," says Wight. "Extra alcohol causes your palate to fail more quickly. Unless you’re doing a tasting of 50 types of beer, it’s not totally necessary."

So how would a beer connoisseur like Wight analyze the much-vilified Molson Canadian?

"Molson Canadian. Crisp, definitely palatable, but no redeeming factors of taste quality," proclaims Wight.