Sunday, April 01, 2001

Columnist offers free beer

By Ed Westemeier

        OK, the headline was my April Fool's joke, but to make up for it I'll help you avoid becoming an April fool in your next bar discussion.

        There are some weird beer myths and misinformation (you might call them urban legends) floating around. Here are some of the stranger ones I've heard, along with the real scoop.

        Myth: Bock beer is made from the sludge at the bottom of the fermenting tanks when breweries do their spring cleaning.

        Fact: There's not a word of truth in this old story. Brewers clean their tanks after every batch, and bock beer is a wonderful style of German lager that happens to be associated with spring.

        Myth: Darker beer is stronger than lighter beer.

        Fact: Color has nothing to do with the alcohol content of beer, and here's a good example. Draft Guinness, the darkest beer I know, is about the lowest alcohol imported beer you can buy. Regular Budweiser, one of the lightest colored beers around, is more than 27 percent stronger.

        Myth: Guinness contains lard to give it that creamy head.

        Fact: This is a particularly nasty myth, aimed at vegetarians to scare them away from a wonderful Irish stout. There's 'absolutely no truth to it. In fact, this makes no sense at all, because the slightest trace of animal fat will effectively kill the head on any beer.

        Myth: Canadian beers are stronger than American beers.

        Fact: Typical beers from both countries are about the same strength. Canadian brewers usually refer to the alcohol percentage by volume, while American brewers usually use the percentage by weight. I'll spare you the calculation, but 4 percent by weight is roughly equivalent to 5 percent by volume.

        Myth: “Light” beers have far fewer calories than full-flavored beers.

        Fact: There's not as much difference as you might think. For a given quantity, the average light beer has slightly fewer calories than the average mainstream beer, while craft beers typically have a little more. A bottle of Anchor Steam Beer has 152 calories, Budweiser about 140 and Bud Light about 117. If you have two bottles of the craft beer and simply walk an extra 20 minutes, you'll burn up the extra calories.

        Myth: Green bottles are a sign of higher quality beer.

        Fact: Sadly, it's just the opposite. Green bottles came into use after World War II, because of a shortage of brown glass. Brewers continued to use the colored bottles for marketing reasons alone. Green glass gives about the same protection from light as a clear bottle, and far less than brown. That's why beer in green bottles is much more likely to develop a sulfur-like, “skunky” odor than other beers. Believe it or not, Heineken is only sold in protective brown bottles in Europe.

        Myth: Beer is more flavorful in a frosted mug.

        Fact: Again, it's exactly the opposite. Extremely cold beer, like any other really cold liquid, numbs the taste buds. That's why Europeans serve beer cool, not cold. It's also why that last sip from your glass often seems better than the first because it has warmed up enough to let you actually taste it.

        Do you have a favorite beer myth you'd like to get the straight dope on? Send me an e-mail and we'll tell you why not to be fooled.

        Ed Westemeier is a master beer judge, home brewer and writer who lives in New Richmond. He welcomes questions by e-mail at


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