Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Try a different style with confidence

Sips: Beer

By Ed Westemeier
Enquirer contributor

Some people are reluctant to try a beer that's new to them. Understandably, an unfamiliar style can be a bit intimidating when you don't have a clue what it will taste like.

To help, I'll list the most popular beer styles with a description of what to expect.

European Pale Lager

This style has several subcategories, including Bohemian Pilsner, German Pilsner, Dortmunder Export and Munich Helles. They're all light to medium gold in color, well-balanced, light- to medium-bodied, and have little aroma beyond a touch of graininess or a light hop scent.

They tend to be clean, crisp and refreshing. Pilsner styles offer the most bitterness and hop flavor, while the Munich style provides a bit more of a malty character. You won't find Czechvar in the Tristate, but you can get it in other cities.

That, to my mind, is the finest Bohemian pilsner in the world. Second best would be Pilsner Urquell (only the draft version, and only if it's fresh). Bitburger and Warsteiner are good German pilsners. Cleveland's Great Lakes Brewery makes a truly outstanding example in its Dortmunder Gold.

European Dark Lager

This style consists of just two types, Munich Dunkel and Schwarzbier. They're mainly malty beers, with little hop bitterness or hop flavor. The Dunkel is dark brown; the Schwarzbier is fairly black.

These are great beers to experience the flavor intensity of the darker malts. They are not bitter, and in fact may give a slight impression of sweetness, but even the aroma will tell you you're in for a powerful taste experience.

Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel and the Hacker-Pschorr and Paulaner Munich Dark or Dunkel brands are the ones to try. The Kostritzer Schwarzbier is the most widely available example, and an excellent one, but more German brands of schwarzbier are appearing all the time.

German Amber Lager

Midway between the first styles, this group includes the popular Oktoberfest and Vienna Lager, a closely related beer. Oktoberfest is a dark golden or red-amber color, with an aroma of rich, generally toasty malt. This is a well-balanced beer, although the best examples have a distinct malty component. Spaten, Ayinger, Paulaner and Hacker-Pschorr all make outstanding examples.

Vienna, on the other hand, has traditionally been considered a Mexican beer, where the style was revived after it died out in Vienna. Soft, malty complexity, with finish tending to dryness, are its hallmarks. Negra Modelo is the most notable example.

That gives you three major groups, all related but different. These are classic standards, so make a point to try some you're not familiar with.

E-mail Ed Westemeier at

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