Beer is a beautiful thing – A perfect balance of four ingredients: water, malted barley, hops, and yeast. Recently I have been hearing vicious lies circulating about this wonderfully complex and diverse beverage causing people to dismiss entire categories or even colors of beer.
Tragic, I know.
Let’s bust open some of the most common beer myths, why don’t we?
Myth #1: Lagers are light beers.
Fact: Ales and lagers can represent the whole spectrum of the beer rainbow, from the palest American blonde ale or Helles Lager, to the darkest Russian Imperial Stout (an ale) or Schwartzbier (a lager).
While Pilsner, a light lager, is arguably the most popular beer in the world, there are many “dark” varieties of lager. The only thing that makes something a lager or an ale is the yeast used to ferment the wort (the sugary liquid the yeast eats to make beer).
Ales are made with “top fermenting” yeasts (saccharomyces cerevisiae) that prefer temperatures between 60-70 F. Some Belgian ale yeast varieties can even tolerate much higher temperatures thriving above 80 or 90 degrees.
Lager yeasts (saccharomyces pastorianus) are “bottom fermenting” yeasts that prefer temperatures in the 45-55 F range. These beers are best after a storage period at near freezing temps, ideally for a couple months. The German word lager, literally means “to store.” While we craft beer people love to hate on domestic lagers, your average American style pilsner is actually harder and more labor intensive to make than your favorite IPA. In addition to the extra fermenting time, there is less malt, hop, and yeast flavor to hide behind, making flaws very obvious.
Myth #2: “Hoppy” beers are bitter
Fact: Not all beers that have a lot of hops in them are bitter.
In the brewing process there are many different ways hops can be used. When hops are added to the beginning of the boil, that is where you get the bitterness – you might hear brewers refer to this step as the bittering hop addition.
The longer the wort boils, the more alpha acids in the hops isomerize and the delicate, floral, and fruity aromas get boiled away. The boiling converts hop oils into compounds that impart bitterness. When calculating IBUs (International Bittering Units), the measure of a beers bitterness, you must take into consideration when the hops were added to the process. The later in the boil the more flavor and aroma they will impart. If you’re boiling wort for 60 minutes, hops in the 30 minute range will impart hop flavor, while hops in the 15 minute to 0 minute range (end of boil) will impart much more aroma and very little bitterness. Furthermore, if you dry-hop your beer by adding hops into the fermenter, you impart almost no bitterness, but give the beer a wonderful, sometimes grassy, fresh hop aroma.
Recently we made a beer with plenty of hops, but added almost all of them into the middle and end of the boil, plus some dry hops. We used some crystal 60 malt to give the beer a nice bit of caramelly flavor. In sum, the beer has a great hop flavor and aroma due to the balance of slight malt sweetness and hop characteristics with almost no bitterness.
Myth #3: Dark beers are too rich, filling, or heavy.
Fact: Not all dark beers are rich, roasty malt bombs.
Those beers certainly exist, but to dismiss an entire category of beer simply based on color is just sad and wrong. How many times have you heard somebody say “I don’t drink dark beers.” I honestly don’t think I can count, but lots.
Guinness is the perfect example of a beer that is dark, with a light body and restrained roast characteristic. Sure, there’s some coffee flavor, with a hint of chocolate, but it is by all intents and purposes a very light tasting beer.
I didn’t learn this until we started home brewing beer, but most dark beers actually utilize a small percentage of dark malts. Even our Dry Irish Stout is only ~13% dark malt in the grain bill – the rest is just regular old two-row and biscuit malt, which alone would make quite a light looking beer. Much like Guinness, this beer has a light body and mouthfeel. It is not a heavy, dark beer, yet, it is a lovely shade of deep black brown.
So, the next time your friends start perpetuating these myths, remember these words of wisdom. Only YOU can stop this vicious cycle.