CHOW Tips:  Beer

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Beer is considered to be a social lubricant in many societies and is the world's most widely consumed and probably oldest of alcoholic beverages; it is the third most popular drink overall, after water and tea.  Sales of beer are four times those of wine, which is the second most popular alcoholic beverage.

CHOW Tips offers plenty of beer info, like what the best new craft beers are, how to pair beer with food, how to identify off flavors in beer, and more.

Choose from 12 quick and easy CHOW Tips that will help you become a beer connoisseur. (Chalifour Flowers and Gourmet)



Beer is the world's most widely consumed and probably oldest of alcoholic beverages; it is the third most popular drink overall, after water and tea.  It is produced by the brewing and fermentation of starches, mainly derived from cereal grains—most commonly malted barley, although wheat, maize (corn), and rice are widely used.  Most beer is flavored with hops, which add bitterness and act as a natural preservative, though other flavorings such as herbs or fruit may occasionally be included.  The strength of beer is usually around 4% to 6% alcohol by volume (abv), although it may range from less than 1% abv to over 20% abv in rare cases.

Beer is one of the world's oldest prepared beverages, possibly dating back to the early Neolithic or 9500 BC, when cereal was first farmed, and is recorded in the written history of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia.  Archaeologists speculate that beer was instrumental in the formation of civilizations.

Today, the brewing industry is a global business, consisting of several dominant multinational companies and many thousands of smaller producers ranging from brewpubs to regional breweries.  There are even breweries in Middle Eastern countries such as Iran and Syria, and in African countries.  After the merger between InBev and Anheuser-Busch, the new Anheuser-Busch InBev company became the largest brewer in the world, followed by SABMiller when it acquired Royal Grolsch, brewer of Dutch premium beer brand Grolsch.

A microbrewery, or craft brewery, is a modern brewery which produces a limited amount of beer.  A brewpub is a type of microbrewery that incorporates a pub or other eating establishment.

Beer forms part of the culture of beer-drinking nations and is associated with social traditions such as beer festivals, as well as a rich pub culture involving activities like pub crawling and pub games such as bar billiards.

While there are many types of beer brewed, the basics of brewing beer are shared across national and cultural boundaries.  The vast majority of beers are either an ale or a lager.

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Ale is a type of beer brewed from malted barley using a warm fermentation with a strain of brewers' yeast.  The yeast will ferment the beer quickly, giving it a sweet, full bodied and fruity taste.  Most ales contain hops, which help preserve the beer and impart a bitter herbal flavor that balances the sweetness of the malt.

There are several types of ales, each with its own varieties:

Real Ale:

Real ale is the term used for "beer brewed from traditional ingredients, matured by secondary fermentation in the container from which it is dispensed, and served without the use of extraneous carbon dioxide".  It is applied to bottle conditioned and cask conditioned beers.

Pale Ale:

Pale ale is a beer which uses a top-fermenting yeast and predominantly pale malt.  Pale ale was a term used for beers made from malt dried with coke.  For most consumers, "bitter" and "pale ale" are synonymous.  It is one of the world's major beer styles.

Mild Ale:

Mild ale has a predominantly malty palate.  It is usually dark colored with an abv of 3% to 3.6%, although there are lighter hued milds as well as stronger examples reaching 6% abv and higher.

Brown Ale:

Brown ale is a style of beer with a dark amber or brown color.  Brown ales from northeastern England tend to be strong and malty, often nutty, while those from southern England are usually darker, sweeter and lower in alcohol.  North American brown ales are usually drier than their English counterparts, with a slight citrus accent and an aroma, bitterness, and medium body due to American hop varieties.  Fruitiness from esters are subdued.  When chilled to cold temperatures, some haziness may be noticed.

Old Ale:

Old ale is a term commonly applied to dark, sweet malty beers in England, generally above 5% abv, often also called Winter Warmers; also to dark ales of any strength in Australia.  The primary characteristic is strength; the average alcohol content by volume ranges from 6.0% to 8.0% abv and some Winter Warmers reach 10% abv or more.


Porter is is a dark-colored style of beer.  It is generally brewed with dark malts.  Many breweries brew porters in wide varieties, including, but not limited to, pumpkin, honey, vanilla, chocolate and bourbon.  Specialized porter brews continue the tradition of aging in barrels, and the use of bourbon barrels is not uncommon.


Stout is a dark beer made using roasted malt or barley, hops, water, and yeast.  Stouts were traditionally the generic term for the strongest or stoutest porters, typically 7% or 8%, produced by a brewery.  There are a number of variations including Baltic porter, dry stout, and imperial stout.  The history and development of stout and porter are intertwined.

Wheat Beer:

Wheat beer is brewed with a large proportion of wheat although it often also contains a significant proportion of malted barley.  Wheat beers are usually top-fermented.  The flavor of wheat beers varies considerably, depending upon the specific style.

Barley Wine:

Barley wine or Barleywine is a beer style of strong ale originating in England.  It is called a barley wine because it can be as strong as wine and typically reaches an alcohol strength of 8 to 12% by volume.

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Lager is a type of beer of Central European origin made from malted barley that is brewed and stored at low temperatures.  The cooler conditions also inhibit the natural production of esters and other byproducts, resulting in a "cleaner"-tasting beer.

There are several types of lager:

Pale Lager:

Pale lager is a very pale to golden-colored beer with a well attenuated body and a varying degree of noble hop bitterness.  Pale largers are the most widely-consumed and commercially available style of beer in the world, and includes Budweiser, the world's highest volume selling beer.  However, pale lagers are often unpopular with beer connoisseurs; on the prominent beer rating site's list of the 50 "Worst Beers in the World," 35 are pale lagers.

Dark Lager:

Dark lagers typically range in color from amber to dark reddish brown, and may be termed dunkel, schwarzbier, Vienna, or Baltic porter depending on region or brewing method.  Dunkel is German for "dark", so is the term for a dark beer in Germany.  With alcohol concentrations of 4.5% to 6% by volume, dunkels are weaker than Doppelbocks, another traditional dark Bavarian beer.  Schwarzbier, a much darker, almost black beer is mainly brewed in Saxony and Thuringia with a chocolate or near liquorice flavor, similar to stout.

Pilsner, Bock, Dortmunder Export and Märzen are all other styles of lager.

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Beer Measurement

Color based on Standard Reference Method (SRM)
SRM Example Beer Color  EBC 
   2  Pale lager    4
   3  German Pilsener     6
   4  Pilsner Urquell    8
   6   12
   8  Weissbier   16
  10  Bass pale ale   20
  13   26
  17  Dark lager   33
  20   39
  24   47
  29  Porter   57
  35  Stout   69
  40   79
  70  Imperial stout  138

Beer measurement is the means of assessing beer by bitterness, by strength and by color.  Bitterness is the most sensitive of the tastes, and is perceived by many to be unpleasant, sharp, or disagreeable.  Common bitter foods and beverages include coffee, marmalade, beer, olives, citrus peel, and lemons.  The bitterness of beer, which is provided by the hops used during brewing.  The bittering effect is less noticeable in beers with a high quantity of malt.  The perceived bitterness is measured by the International Bitterness Units scale (IBU), defined in co-operation between the American Society of Brewing Chemists and the European Brewery Convention.

Beer color is determined by the malt.  The most common color is a pale amber produced from using pale malts.  Pale lager and pale ale are terms used for beers made from malt dried with coke.  Dark beers are usually brewed from a pale malt or lager malt base with a small proportion of darker malt added to achieve the desired shade.  Other colorants—such as caramel—are also widely used to darken beers.  Very dark beers, such as stout, use dark or patent malts that have been roasted longer.  Some have roasted unmalted barley.

Alcohol by volume (abbreviated as abv or ABV) is a standard measure of how much alcohol (ethanol) is contained in an alcoholic beverage (expressed as a percentage of total volume).  Beer ranges from less than 3% abv to around 14% abv, though this strength can be increased to around 20% by re-pitching with champagne yeast, and to 55% abv by the freeze-distilling process.  The alcohol content of beer varies by local practice or beer style.  The pale lagers that most consumers are familiar with fall in the range of 4–6%, with a typical abv of 5%.  The customary strength of British ales is quite low, with many session beers being around 4% abv.

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Draught Beer

Draught beer is served from a cask or a pressurized keg.  Draught beer from a pressurized keg is the most common method of dispensing in bars around the world.  A metal keg is pressurised with carbon dioxide (CO2) gas which drives the beer to the dispensing tap or faucet.  Some beers may be served with a nitrogen/carbon dioxide mixture.  Nitrogen produces fine bubbles, resulting in a dense head and a creamy mouthfeel.  Some types of beer can also be found in smaller, disposable kegs called beer balls.

In the 1980s, Guinness introduced the beer widget, a nitrogen-pressurised ball inside a can which creates a dense, tight head, similar to beer served from a nitrogen system.  The words draft and draught can be used as marketing terms to describe canned or bottled beers containing a beer widget, or which are cold-filtered rather than pasteurized.

Cask-conditioned ales (or cask ales) are unfiltered and unpasteurized beers.  These beers are termed "real ale".  Typically, when a cask arrives in a pub, it is placed horizontally on a frame called a "stillage" which is designed to hold it steady and at the right angle, and then allowed to cool to cellar temperature before being tapped and vented—a tap is driven through a (usually rubber) bung at the bottom of one end, and a hard spile or other implement is used to open a hole in the side of the cask, which is now uppermost.  At this point the beer is ready to sell, either being pulled through a beer line with a hand pump, or simply being "gravity-fed" directly into the glass.

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Bottled Beer vs. Canned Beer

Most beers are cleared of yeast by filtering when packaged in beer bottles and cans.  However, bottle conditioned beers retain some yeast—either by being unfiltered, or by being filtered and then reseeded with fresh yeast.  It is usually recommended that the beer be poured slowly, leaving any yeast sediment at the bottom of the bottle.  However, some drinkers prefer to pour in the yeast; this practice is customary with wheat beers.  Typically, when serving a hefeweizen, 90% of the contents are poured, and the remainder is swirled to suspend the sediment before pouring it into the glass.

Many beers are sold in cans.  People either drink from the can or pour the beer into a glass.  Cans protect the beer from light (thereby preventing "skunked" beer) and have a seal less prone to leaking over time than bottles.  Cans were initially viewed as a technological breakthrough for maintaining the quality of a beer, then became commonly associated with less expensive, mass-produced beers, even though the quality of storage in cans is much like bottles.


The temperature of a beer has an influence on a drinker's experience; warmer temperatures reveal the range of flavors in a beer but cooler temperatures are more refreshing.  Most drinkers prefer pale lager to be served chilled, a low- or medium-strength pale ale to be served cool, while a strong barley wine or imperial stout to be served at room temperature.

Beer writer Michael Jackson proposed a five-level scale for serving temperatures: well chilled (7 °C/45 °F) for "light" beers (pale lagers); chilled (8 °C/46 °F) for Berliner Weisse and other wheat beers; lightly chilled (9 °C/48 °F) for all dark lagers, altbier and German wheat beers; cellar temperature (13 °C/55 °F) for regular British ale, stout and most Belgian specialities; and room temperature (15.5 °C/59.9 °F) for strong dark ales (especially trappist beer) and barley wine.

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Beer Glassware

Beer glassware comprises the drinking vessels made of glass designed or commonly used for drinking beer.  Different styles of glassware complement different styles of beer for a variety of reasons, including enhancing aromatic volatiles, showcasing the appearance, and/or having an effect on the beer head.  Several kinds of beer glassware have a stem which serves to prevent the body heat of the drinker's hand from warming the beer.

Weizen Glass:

A weizen glass is used to serve wheat beer, tend to foam a lot, especially if poured incorrectly.  It tends to be taller than a pint glass, and generally holds 500 millilitres with room for foam or "head".

Pilsner Glass:

A pilsner glass is used for many types of light beers, including pale lager or pilsner.  Pilsner glasses are generally smaller than a pint glass, usually in 250 ml or 330 ml sizes.  They are tall, slender and tapered.  The slender glass and the broad top will help maintain a beer head.

Pint Glass:

A pint glass is a drinking vessel holding an imperial pint (568 ml ≈1.2 US pints) of liquid and is usually used for beer.  Four common shapes of pint glass are found (nonic, conical, jug, and flared top), though others are available.  Pint glasses are generally used for drinking stout, porter and bitter.


Typically used for serving brandy and cognac, a snifter is ideal for capturing the volatiles of aromatic beers such as Belgian ales and barleywines.  The shape helps trap the volatiles, while allowing swirling to agitate them and produce an intense aroma.

Tulip Glass:

A tulip glass not only helps trap the aroma, but also aids in maintaining large heads, creating a visual and olfactory sensation.  The body is bulbous, but the top flares out to form a lip which helps head retention.  It is recommended for serving Scottish ales, American double/imperial IPAs, barleywines, Belgian ales and other aromatic beers.



CHOW Tips:

WINE:  The best cheap wines, how to properly chill wine, wine tasting, wine paIring, and more.

SPIRITS:  How to taste fine spirits, when to blow on your liquor, how to make the perfect martini and more.

MEAT & POULTRY:  How to choose fresh meat, how to grill, how to make the perfect hamburger, and more.

SEAFOOD:  22 back-of-the-house secrets from chefs, such as how to buy fresh fish, and how to smoke or grill seafood.

PRODUCE:  Tips that will help you get your daily recommended servings of grains, cereals, fruits, and vegetables.

CHEESE:  How to buy cheese, how to cut and serve cheese, whether or not to freeze cheese, and more.

COFFEE:  Banish bitter coffee from your repertoire. CHOW Tips will help brew a delicious cup every time.


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