Beer 101: Like Fine Wine and Champagne, Beer Has it’s Own Chic World

By Fabiana Santana

girl drinking beer at partyFor most of us, beer was the official introduction into the world of alcohol. Whether it was a sneaky sip from a half empty can during a parents party, or the first time you ordered a brew from the bar, chances are you and beer go way back. But despite your fondest memories (or those you care to forget, thanks to beer), beer is a beverage worth exploring.

Beer is essentially just four things: barley, hops, yeast and water. Yeast is responsible for creating the alcohol in beer (just like in wine) and different kinds of yeasts can be used to make different kinds of beer. The two main categories of beer yeast are ale and lager. Ale is top fermenting – meaning that it rises near the surface during fermentation. Lager yeasts, on the other had, are bottom fermenting. They ferment slower and at colder temperatures. For the most part, supermarket sold bottled beer is brewed in large batches, mass-produced so that they can get on shelves quickly. And while that stuff gets the job done, there are whole worlds of cool craft beers that will make you rethink how you taste beer.

Matt Rutkowski has been an avid craft beer enthusiast since 2005. He joined Spiegelau, USA, a division of Riedel Crystal in January 2007 and has an Advanced Certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers. In the spring of 2008, the company, renowned for their crystal wine glasses, introduced The Spiegelau Beer Classic Glasses. Since then, Matt has been on a nationwide tour of the country’s finest craft breweries, festival and fine beer focused restaurants and the Spiegelau Beer Classic Glasses have become the “new standard” for the growing number of serious beer aficionados. Beer tasting dinners are becoming more common offerings in restaurants, and beer menus are just as long as the wine list in trendy NYC hotspots including Resto (111 East 29th Street, 212-685-5585) in Murray Hill and the soon to open Zengo (622 Third Avenue. www.richardsandoval.com) restaurant by celebrity chef Richard Sandoval where over 26 Latin and Asian beers are on offer. “The cuisine at Zengo marries traditional Latin and authentic Asian flavors,” Sandoval says. The beer, “from light ales to darker varieties” pairs perfectly with those flavors.

Matt was eager to give us single women a little lesson in beer so that we could hop on the brew bandwagon just in time for summer.

What is a craft beer?

Craft beer is also known as an “artisan” beer because it is produced in small batches. Craft or artisan beer is available in a dynamic range of styles such as Ale, Wheat and Lager.

What is the best way to serve/enjoy beer?

In a glass from the Spiegelau Beer Classics Collection! You’ll find that the aromas and flavors are truly enhanced by the shapes offered in this collection. As far as the temperatures to best enjoy your beer, most Americans prefer the temperature of their brew to be cold, but not freezing.

How should someone order beer in a bar/restaurant if they are new to experimenting with beer?

If a restaurant or pub offering a detailed “beer menu” you can usually assume the staff has knowledge of the options offered. One of the best ways to try something new is to ask the staff for a recommendation based on a favorite style or brand you prefer.

What beer is best to make beer cocktails with?

Generally, I do not endorse the idea for beer cocktails but they are becoming so popular now a days that you can’t get away from it. In the instance that you’d like to test one out for yourself, I say keep it simple. Try a “Shandy,” popular in the UK (mixing a lager style beer and ginger-ale) or a “Radler,” popular in Germany (blending of a pale German beer and citrus soda) are pretty tasty. I find lighter beer styles work best when mixing into a beer-cocktail since they offer a cleaner, more refreshing palate as the base for the mix.

Can you recommend any food/beer pairings for someone interested in experimenting with a beer tasting party?

When you mention a tasting party most people think only about wine. But, I think a good alternative is a beer and cheese tasting. From my experience, as a general rule the sharper the cheese the less acidic and more malted forward beer you should pick. And the creamier the cheese, the better it will pair with bright, acidic/sour and/or bitter beers.

Try these suggestions:

  • Creamy Cheese w/ Bitter Beer: Saga Blue Cheese paired with Dogfish Head “90min IPA”
  • Camembert paired with (any) Belgian (or Domestic!) Saison “Farm” Ale
  • Sharp Cheese with “Maltier” Beer: Beemster XO with Brooklyn “Black Chocolate Stout”
  • Asiago with Cigar City Brewing “Maduro Oatmeal Brown Ale”

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