The world of beer is shrouded in many myths and misconceptions; some easy to contemplate, others, downright ridiculous. In this post, we’ll attempt to shed some light on a few beer untruths.
Myth 1: Lager isn’t beer – ale is beer
‘Lager isn’t beer’ is a completely false misconception bandied about by many cask ale drinkers in the UK. Ironically, I’ve heard the same phrase used in North American in reverse to describe lager as “normal beer” – somehow suggesting that ale was not beer, but separate and distinct in unto itself. This is, of course, completely incorrect.
Beer can be broken down into two distinct categories: lager & ale – they are both beer. This difference comes down to the types of yeast used and how they ferment.
Lager uses a bottom fermenting yeast that ferments at cold temperatures, while ale uses a top-fermenting yeast (that’s the top of the fermentation vessel, by the way) and this variety ferments at warmer temperatures. Both varieties have a huge impact on the final flavour of the beer, but the basic ingredients of water, barley, hops, and yeast still apply in both styles of beer.
Myth 2: Cloudy beer is bad
False. In fact, some beers – German Hefeweizen Wheat beers for example – are cloudy by definition. Generally speaking, for commercial reasons a lot of beers are filtered to improve clarity and make them more visually appealing – but it is not strictly necessary in many cases. Sediment can often enhance flavour, and as our appetite for craft beer continues to grow, there’s a growing trend toward unfiltered beer.
Cask beers, for example, are naturally unfiltered and unpasteurized. But this does not mean they have bits floating about in them. Instead, the beer sediment drops naturally to the bottom of the cask – often assisted by isinglass finings – to produce a bright, but unfiltered beer when it reaches your glass.
Similarly, bottle conditioned beers include a small amount of yeast sediment that allows the beer to continue developing in the bottle – in a similar way to cask ale.
When pouring, many brewers advise leaving the sediment behind in the bottle. However, this is, again, not strictly necessary. You can pour the sediment in if you so wish; it won’t do you any harm. It will change the mouthfeel and flavour slightly, and it’s packed full of B vitamins for added health benefits.
To summarise, filtering beer during the brewing process or otherwise is fine if you want the end result to be really crisp and clean. But ultimately, there’s something to be lost in flavour. Think of it like straining freshly squeezed Orange juice; yes you’ll get a lovely clean drink, but you’ll ultimately lose other positive textures and flavours in the process.
Myth 3: British Cask Beer is warm
Notions of warm and flat cask beer in Britain are another one of those false misconceptions with origins that are easy to understand. Basically, It depends on your idea of warm. Cask beer is typically served at approximately 12 degrees Celsius; room temperature perhaps, but not exactly a comfortable one!
Nevertheless, if you’re used to drinking mainstream beers served at temperatures close to freezing, you could conceivably perceive cask beer as warm.
With that in mind, take a moment to think about why mainstream beers are served at such low temperatures. They’re sold to us through clever marketing as crisp, refreshing, and often, smooth. Rarely is there any real mention of strong flavour. The reason is; the colder something is, the less you can taste and smell it, and this allows producers to mask undesirable flavours. But when a beer has nothing to hide, why would you want to mask the flavour?
The truth is, different beers are suited to different serving temperatures, ranging from chilled – but not freezing – to just below room temperature. As a general rule of thumb, the darker and more complex the beer, the warmer you want to serve it. Barley wines are fantastic at just under room temp, for example.
Myth 4: Beer is less complicated than wine
Perhaps the worst myth of all – the notion that wine is a more refined, sophisticated drink for the dinner table while beer remains a drink for the working classes is just outright snobbery.
Crafting beer is a real art; arguably just a complicated if not more so than wine. Take the basic ingredients of beer when compared to wine. Beer has a minimum of 4 ingredients, while wine has only 1 – yet somehow the process is described as somewhat more of a pseudoscience when compared to beer.
Take France as an example. If you’ve ever heard the French talk about wine, you might be familiar with that rather ambiguous phrase ‘terroir’ – pronounced ter-wahr, which is a French terminology that is basically used to describe the ‘sense of place’ affecting the grapes and ultimately the wine. While I don’t dismiss there is something to be said for the importance of where the ingredients come from – do these same notions of ‘terroir’ not apply to beer?
Of course they do, where the hops come from matters, where the barley or wheat grows matters, and the water, definitely matters. With so many more ingredients and possible combinations involved in beer making when compared to wine, you can easily argue that beer is just as complex and ‘sophisticated’ – if not more so.
If anything, the idea that beer is somehow unsuitable for the dinner table is more about glassware and bottle design than anything else. In fact, recent theory from some food experts would suggest some foods go better with beer than wine – cheese is perhaps the best example.
Myth 5: Beer gives you a belly
Our 5th and final myth for today is no truer than the concept of eating too much bread making you fat. It all just comes down to your calorie intake, and it’s proven by science as recently stated by the University of California professor Charles Bamforth:
“The beer belly is a complete myth. The main source of calories in any alcoholic beverage is alcohol. There’s nothing magical about the alcohol in beer, it’s just alcohol.”
So you see if you eat or drink too much of anything you will potentially get a belly; we could just as easily rename them Wine bellies!
5 Beer Myths, busted.
So concludes today’s beer myths – we hope you’ve learnt a thing or two about beer. If not, we hope you enjoyed the ride all the same. Do you have a beer myth to share? What misconceptions about beer get your blood fermenting – let us know in the comments below.