If you feel a little intimidated by the large selection, you're not alone.
Garrett Oliver, author of "The Brewmaster's Table" and brewmaster at The Brooklyn Brewery, visits The Early Show Wednesday to give some selection tips and, he hopes, take the mystery out of choosing a beer.
Oliver explains the basic recipe for beer hasn't changed much since the first batches were brewed centuries ago in Mesopotamia.
The ingredients for beer are barley malt, yeast, hops and water. But from there, a brewmaster must choose from a long list of malts, roasted grains, unmalted grains, sugars, dozens of hops and hundreds of strains of yeast to create a unique beer.
The first step in making beer is malting the barley. Barley is a tall grass that looks a great deal like wheat. Barley can grow in temperate climates all over the world, giving local beers a distinct flavor. Oliver says some of the best malts in the world come from the United States, England, Scotland, Canada, Belgium and Germany. Malted barley is barley that has been germinated until it starts to sprout a new plant, then dried out in a kiln. Malting turns the starch inside the seed into a soft, white powder.
The second ingredient in beer is hops. Despite what most people think, Oliver says, hops are not a grain but actually a flower, acting like a spice for beer. Hops grow on vines and come in dozens of varieties.
Next comes the yeast. Yeast is a single-celled organism in the fungi class. There are many species of yeast, but for brewing purposes, the two most important types are ale yeasts and lager yeasts. Oliver says when a brewmaster is choosing yeast for a particular beer, the most important question is whether the yeast rises to the top of the vessel at the end of the fermentation, or does it drop to the bottom? Ales are brewed with "top-fermenting" yeasts at close to room temperatures, typically between 62 and 75 degrees F. Ales encompass the broadest range of beer styles including bitters, pale ales, porters, stouts, barley wines, Trappist, lambic and alt.
Lagers are brewed with "bottom-fermenting" yeasts at much colder temperatures, down to 32 degrees F, and over a longer period of time. This is called "lagering." Lagers run from dark colored amber beers to pilsners, which are more golden colored.
Oliver presented five types of beers for us Wednesday:
- Schneider Weisse Beer: This is a German wheat beer that, he says, is great with salads, such as mesclun with goat cheese and lardons. German wheat beers are very light with subtle aromas of bananas, cloves and a slight hint of smoke. The fruity, smoky character also works nicely with the lardons (bacon), he says.
- Sierra Nevada Pale Ale: This beer, according to Oliver, is becoming an American classic. It's dry and snappy with a bright citrus flavor and aroma of American hop varieties. He suggests pairing this beer with chicken quesadillas. The hops give it the bitterness to cut through the cheese and stand up to chile, and the flavors to link up wonderfully with lime and cilantro, he says.
- Brooklyn Lager: This is the sort of beer you would have seen in America before prohibition. It uses caramelized malts to give a slight caramel sweetness that is nicely balanced against snappy hops, says Oliver. The brewmaster says he would pair this lager with a charbroiled steak or BBQ ribs. The caramel flavors, he says, link up with the browning and char on the steak or the ribs, which makes this a perfect match.
- Chimay White: This world-famous beer is brewed by Trappist monks in Belgium. Oliver says it's strong, spicy and highly aromatic but retains a nice light texture on the palate. He would pair this with spicy crab cakes. The beer has enough bitterness to work with spices, and enough flavor to match strong flavors.
- Samuel Smith's Imperial Stout and Lindemans Framboise: These are two beers which are perfect for desert dishes, says Oliver. It may sound odd to pair beer with desert, but Garrett says this is a perfect example of why he believes beer is much more versatile than wine.
He would pair both these beers with a chocolate mud cake. The Imperial Stout is perfect, he says, because it has a deep chocolate flavor from roasted malts.
The Framboise is a traditional Belgian beer that has been made for centuries. Brewers make it by aging raspberries in beer until the fruit is consumed by the yeast. The beer is like a raspberry sorbet, says Oliver, which is another perfect match for chocolate.
Once you have chosen your beer, Oliver recommends using beer glassware to drink the brew. He says it enhances the enjoyment of the beer. If you don't have specific beer glassware, Oliver suggests trying drink beer out of your wine glasses, because it will help you experience the complex bouquet a great beer has to offer.