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Many Americans imbibe exclusively low-quality beer and either don't realize it or don't care. And while there are certainly problems in the world more worthy of my attention, this one in particular stokes my passion, and I long to correct it by making readers aware that there are categories of beer other than "light."

Styles of Beer

The two major styles of beer are ales and lagers. The former is made with top-fermenting yeasts, is brewed at a higher temperature than lagers, and is usually served only slightly chilled. The latter is made with bottom-fermenting yeasts, brewed slower at colder temperatures, and is often served thoroughly chilled. For wine-lovers, ales are similar to red wine, strongly flavored and complex, while lagers are more similar to white wine - usually light and crisp.
You must respect the bubbles.

Ales

Common styles of ales include pale ale, amber ale, porter, stout, and wheat beer, among many others. Each has a highly distinct flavor profile. A particular favorite of beer snobs is the India Pale Ale, an accidental success that supposedly occurred when the English experimented with extra hops and higher alcohol content in an effort to preserve their beer on its trip to the colonies in India, resulting in a powerfully bitter, herby delight. It's rumored that the rest of the world was exposed to this concoction when a ship wrecked on its way to India (viral marketing stunt much?).

The Imperial (or Double) Pale Ales "Pliny the Younger" and "Pliny the Elder"" produced by Russian River Brewing Company are called two of the best beers ever made, and take second and third place respectively in the top 250 beers on Beer Advocate. If you're lucky enough to be in a city where it's occasionally available, be prepared to wait in line to drink. For something more accessible and available by the six-pack, I recommend Sierra Nevada's "Torpedo" for an herbal punch in the face. Turoni's "Blue-Eyed Moose" is also worth a try on tap.

If strong hop flavors aren't your thing, Hefeweizen (German wheat ale) is a particular favorite of mine for day-to-day drinking, especially in the summer. It basically tastes like a delicious, citrusy glass of liquified bread, and is much better than it sounds. Turoni's seasonally-available Hefeweizen is beyond delicions, and even though it doesn't make the top of the list on Beer Advocate, I'd recommend Schlafly's version to anyone. Red or brown ales are also great choices for casual drinking (try "Rivet" at Tin Man).

Also of note are Trappist Ales, originally brewed by monks and incredibly balanced and delicious, and dark, smoky-flavored stouts.

Lagers

If you lost your beer virginity at a frat party, you probably lost it to an abomination known as the modern American pilsner (Busch, Natty Ice, etc.) or as Beer Advocate describes it, the American Adjunct Lager. If you're lucky, you were at least given a Genessee or Corona, but that is tragically unlikely.

Nearly everyone hates his/her first swallow of beer, and it's no wonder when this is what we have to work with. But in recent decades, America has had the pleasure of discovering varieties of lager such as bocks, Maerzens/Oktoberfests, Dortmunders, and authentic pilsners and recreating them within microbreweries. What a wonderful time to be alive!

If you've ever had Samuel Adams' "Winter Lager," you've already had a very tasty, crispy bock, with subtle notes of spice and citrus (you can pretty much count on Sam Adams to guide you through every variety of beer successfully). Another dark, readily available lager is Heineken's "Dark Lager," a huge improvement over the original Heineken. "Dead Guy Ale" is a fantastic variety of Helles Bock, as is Turoni's version available in the spring.

So, now that you know better, you have no excuse to crack open another Bud Light and feel that you have made the right choice when there are so many inexpensive and delicious varieties of beer available in stores. All you have to do is research and experiment to find the variety that suits you in a world of seemingly limitless flavor possibility.

What's your favorite brew, and where is it available?



9:22 PM

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