Pilsner was developed in Plzen in the Bohemian region of the Czech Republic in 1848. It popularized the process called lagering, where beer is gradually cooled to near-freezing temperatures so that yeast and other solids settle at the bottom of the fermenting container and create a clear, clean-tasting beer. Czech/Bohemian pilsners are characterized by a pale straw to deep golden color, flowery aroma and balance of bitter and malty flavors. Central European and German immigrants brought pilsner to the United States. The beer industry giants add corn or rice to the recipe and produce a beer that many connoisseurs consider bland.
According to beer expert Stephen Snyder, the first beer was probably created by accident when a mixture of wheat or barley and water was fermented by wild yeast. Some brave Neolithic soul discovered that it was a sweet, satisfying beverage that also produced a mild sense of exhilaration. People have been brewing and enjoying more styles of beer than the average person can consume in a lifetime. However, some styles are more common than others.
In the late Middle Ages, "ale" described a beverage brewed from malted grain and flavored with a variety of bitter herbs, while "beer" described a similar beverage flavored with flowers called hops. Today "ale" is any beer where the yeast rises to the top during fermentation. English pale ale is characterized by an amber color, a balance of sweet and bitter flavors and fruity undertones. India pale ale's extra hops preserved it when it was shipped to British troops in India. Irish red ale has a reddish color from the use of roasted barley, a sweet flavor and slightly "buttery" texture.
Originally, stout, an old-fashioned term meaning "strong," described any style of high-alcohol beer. Modern stout is a dark, malty ale with a flavor described as reminiscent of coffee. Stouts are categorized as "dry," "sweet" or "imperial." Dry stouts are more bitter than sweet stouts. Russian Imperial Stout is the trade name for a stout popular with the Russian royal court. However, it also used as a colloquialism for a sweet, high-alcohol ale made in the same style. Guinness is perhaps the best known stout.
Bitter isn't as bitter as the name implies. It actually refers to a style of heavily hopped English pub beer with a spicy flavor only slightly more bitter than ordinary pale ale. These beers range from bronze to deep copper in color, and have a fruity flavor with slight butterscotch undertones. Some Englishmen insist that true bitters are served only on draft but, according to Snyder, many champion bitters from the Great British Beer festival are also served in bottles.
Porter is a moderately strong, dark ale with a spicy, chocolaty flavor balanced with a "hoppy" bitterness. Porter is an ancestor of stout but has a lighter body. Originally created as working man's beer in the 18th and 19th centuries, porter nearly disappeared when pale ales, stouts and lagers became popular. During World War I, Great Britain's strict restrictions on raw materials and alcohol content eliminated it from the market almost completely. However, interest from American home-brewers helped revive it in the 1990s.
- "The Brewmasters Bible"; Stephen Snyder; 1997
- "Homebrewing for Dummies"; Marty Nachel; 2008
- Photo Credit Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images
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