What Theresa Bird doesn't know about beer probably isn't worth knowing. Join our expert as she explores the myriad styles of beer, including zingy American IPAs, session ales, refreshing lagers and pilsners via Belgian saisons and traditional London Porter and more.
Some people travel the world to find themselves, but I like to travel the world to find beers. So fasten your seat belts, ladies and gentlemen, as I welcome you on a short journey through beer styles.
Beer tasting with Theresa Bird and our beer buyer Freddy Bulmer
Beer destination 1: Pale Ales
We are quite blessed in the UK to have so many amazing variations of our favourite malt-based drink. So many in fact, it's hard to keep up with them. Why don't we start with something light to start our voyage of discovery; it's before lunchtime, so let's take it easy.
A 3.8% Bitter sounds good, doesn't it? Fruity notes, a light refreshing hoppiness and pale in colour. You might have already guessed it, this falls into the category of the UK's most traditional beer style – Pale Ales.
Pale Ales are defined by their distinct colour, fruity aromas and bitterness. Similar to wine, the characteristics of hops vary depending on climate and soil type. Ranging from floral and earthy notes in Central Europe and England, to bold pine and grapefruit aromas in North America and intense tropical fruits in NZ and Australia. With this wide array of flavours to play with, it's natural that there are many different styles of Pale Ales. The most well-known one, of course, would be the IPA.
This stronger version of our traditional Pale Ale, the much loved India Pale Ale, is packed with even more hoppy goodness. Ranging from crisp, dry and bitter IPAs that originated along the American west coast, trends are now taking us towards fuller-bodied, juicier beers coming from the East Coast. Think mango juice, a hint of pineapple and a bit of grapefruit. Who knew beer could taste this healthy?!
But there are even more different kinds of Pale Ales and IPAs. Most commonly found is the Session IPA, which is lower in alcohol and slightly less hoppy – making it 'sessionable', along with American Pale Ale, which use American hops, and Double IPAs and Triple IPAs, which are even higher in alcohol content and hoppiness (happiness?).
Now we've aced the USA, why don't we go on a little holiday to Germany and explore the country with the most amount of different Lagers. Maybe we could even hit Oktoberfest!
Lagers & Pilsners
Beer destination 2: Lagers & Pilsners
Now so far, we have only tried Ales – but what are Lagers? The main difference between the two big categories is yeast, the little helper that turns the sugar in our beer into alcohol and CO2 and creates some other amazing aromas and flavours along the way. The yeast used in Ales is top-fermenting and requires temperatures around 23°C, whereas Lager yeast is bottom-fermenting and requires lower temperatures around 13°C.
The first ever Lagers were brewed in the 18th century in the North of Bavaria, but there is one city that eventually stole the show – Pilsen in the western part of Czech Republic. The caves underneath Pilsen ensured an ambient temperature of 14°C, perfect for our bottom-fermenting yeast. And with refrigeration not being invented yet, this is the best we could do.
Pilsen, Czech Republic, the city that eventually stole the show for this style of lager
As the name suggests, Pilsners were eventually named after the city of Pilsen. Those crisp and refreshing Lagers are the hoppiest of the bunch, packed with many noble hops from Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland. But there are also maltier, sweeter, options on the lager shelves in shops, like Helles, Kellerbier or Maerzen, which is the beer traditionally drunk at Oktoberfest.
Yet there are more than just Lagers in Germany. Two almost forgotten beer styles have made a huge comeback over the last few years – Berliner Weisses and Goses.
'The Champagne of the North', as Napoleon titled Berliner Weisse, is a slightly soured wheat ale. The use of lactobacillus, a strain of bacteria also used in yoghurt and kombucha, gives this beer its distinct, delicately sour taste. Very pale in colour, low in alcohol, but with a pronounced tartness, this is the perfect summer beer.
Maybe one of the strangest beer styles out there, is Gose. Similar to Berliner Weisse, it has a slight tartness, but the key ingredients here are salt and coriander, giving the beer a fine savouriness. Originating in Goslar, this beer style is now associated with the East German city of Leipzig.
Beer destination 3: Saisons
But now we should be getting on our way back. As we journey home, we are stopping off in Belgium for a quick Saison, a pale farmhouse beer with distinct peppery yeast notes, and some Lambics: wild ales using a spontaneously fermenting yeast only found near Brussels.
Lambics are some of the most sought-after beers in the world these days. Just mentioning the names of some of Belgium's famous breweries is enough to make any beer geek's mouth water. The real artistry is showcased when producing Gueuze (yes, rather difficult to pronounce): a cuvée of different vintages of Lambic, which then gets bottled for secondary fermentation. A cider-like dryness and pronounced lactic acids give this beer an amazingly complex bouquet of different fruit and flower aromas.
Beer destination 4: London Porter
What a trip, eh? After all of this, all I want is the most London of beer styles, a Porter. The capital's hard water is perfect for brewing this beautifully malty dark ale. Roasted malts give porters and stouts their dark appearance and lovely coffee and chocolate flavours. Usually around 5%, some porters and stouts like to go 'imperial' and hit you a bit harder with an alcohol content of up to 12%. Let's share out one of those, sit back and relax.