As much as the Belgians will tell you otherwise, most of the beer world is extremely concerned with style guidelines for beer. From a practical standpoint, having rigid style definitions makes sense as a measuring stick for quality, but many will argue that it also limits the creativity of the brewer. This section seeks to break down styles of beer that may be especially confusing or obscure. What’s the difference between a Pale Ale and an India Pale Ale? Ale and Lager? Read on and discover a world of styles….
Ale, Lager…it’s all beer right?! One point that many people who think about beer a lot less than I do might find confusing is the difference between ale and lager. I find it helpful to think about the two major groupings of beer as two trees with a multitude of style branches. Okay, so maybe the lager “tree” is a sapling compared to the oak tree sized ale “tree”, but lager accounts for something like 95% of all beer consumed around the world, so its important to consider it. The foremost difference between ale and lager is the yeast strain that is used in the brewing process.
Eisbock – The applejack of the beer world, supposedly developed by a mistake on a frosty evening in 1890 at the Reichelbräu brewery in Kulmbach, Germany. A barrel of beer was left out in the cold and froze solid. The brewmaster discovered that the freezing process had concentrated the beer and when thawed proved surprisingly tasty. Eisbock is produced today by only a handful of breweries and can reach an alcohol content of 11%. The perfect pairing for this beer would be something equally concentrated and made of chocolate: a flourless chocolate cake or chocolate truffle.
A world class Eisbock to try: Aventinus Eisbock
Rauchbier – literally translated as smoked beer, Rauchbier is the modern context is a specialty dark lager of the Franconian city of Bamberg. Before more controlled methods of roasting malt were invented, we imagine that the vast majority of beer might have had a smokey flavor, due to the malt being kilned by use of a direct smoke-producing heat source: fire. As smoke was definitely not a flavor most brewers wanted, as smokey beers disappeared as fast as the malt roasting devise devised by Anton Wheeler (cira 1840) could be distributed. The only place in the world where smoked beer was continually brewed into modernity is Germany, specifically Bamberg, where several breweries have dutifully continued the tradition of using beechwood logs in a direct fire kiln to impart a bacony, smokey accent that might be described as an acquired taste. A quintessential food beer, Rauchbier marries beautifully with parallel flavors such as smoked meats, and intensely flavored cheeses like aged Gruyere or Limburger.
A world class Rauchbier to try: Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen