Question about BEER -- how do you choose?
I have a question for all of you beer drinkers out there -- how do you categorize the beers that you drink, from good, better, best? For example, do you think:
-- Domestic beer is good, imported beer is better?
-- Macro beers are good, micro brews are better?
-- Lagers are good, pilsners are better, ales are best?
-- Locally-brewed is best?
I am trying to understand the thought-process that people go through when selecting and differentiating among beers. I don't actually really drink beer, so I can't figure this out, and unfortunately, need to understand this pretty quickly for some research I am doing.
Also, how would you categorize the following beer brands: Budweiser, Miller, Heineken, Chimay, Brooklyn Brewery, Ommegang?
Thanks a lot for your help!!!!
I think how it tastes to you is the biggest and only real qualification, and if you feel like enjoying something that tastes like a particular beer. Budweiser, Miller and Heineken are very similar products. Products brewed in huge quanities and sold to the mass market. Heineken differs in being an import, so some would feel it has more cachet for that reason. But I don't. I would prefer an Anhueser Busch product most of the time over a Heineken. Some would not. All of these products are amazing in their quality control, because it is very difficult to control the taste of such a light style, from batch to batch.
Fresh is the best. Go to an Anhueser Busch brewery and try a beer form their hospitality center. It will be the best Bud you ever have, because it is fresh and has always been maintained under perfect conditions. Fresh beer is better beer.
Lagers vs. Ales vs. something else, what do I feel like right now? Do I feel like a spicily hopped Czech Pils, a Black lager, an ale full of fruity esters, a stout, whatever, each style is something I enjoy from time to time. If I feel like one over the other, I may feel the other way tomorrow. There are days I prefer burgers to pizza and vice versa, too.
What do you like with regard to hoppiness is also a factor. A huge brewer is not going to use flavor and aroma hops, while a smaller brewer will. If you like hops, leave the big corporate brews alone.
How much do you like things that are a little different? A microbrew can be very different. Do you like seeing the fils advertised on network TV or small budget independent films? Beer is not much different. The smaller brews are quirkier, different. Sometimes you like one, sometimes the other.
I don't know that the thought process is any different than with anything else - utlimately it depends on the person and how willing they are to judge books by their covers. It's impossible to categorically say that any of those things are better. Corona is imported beer and it sucks. Dogfishhead 90 Minute IPA is domestic and it rocks.
Miller Lite is a macro brew and it's garbage. On the other hand, there are micro-breweries whose beer is also not very good. Sierra Nevada has huge production, and is still a great beer.
No offense intended to you, but if you don't drink beer I am a little puzzled how you think you can understand the thought process. The thought process is based on what style of beer you're in the mood for, and a knowledge of which breweries produce a quality product. What else is there to know? Does the size of the brewery matter? Not in the least!
Stone Brewing just built a giant brewery, and their beer is still excellent.
Good luck on your research.
In choosing a beer, I think a lot depends on the setting: with food, without food, summer, winter, etc. It depends what you are in the mood for. I have a different favorite beer for watching a baseball game at home on tv as opposed to watching the same game on a hot day at the ballpark.
As far as categorizing brewers, I think you'd have to start with at least two descriptors: Size & Objective. Bud/Miller/Coors are mega-brewers whose object is broad appeal. Chimay is a small-to-medium-sized brewery whose object is maintaining the traditional styles they are known for. Micro-brewers have much more complex objectives: some are reviving a classic style or styles; some are innovating with local tastes/ingredients; some are just hobbies of their backers/owners.
Many (if not all) breweries are in the process of transitioning from one group to another whether they know it or not; whether they care or not.
Try these sites for for more information & discussions:
beertown.com (craft brewing assoc. website with definitions & statistics)
beeradvocate.com (site about all things beer - styles & reviews, etc...)
At least initially, forget classifying beers by size of production. As others have shown, it's just not a 100% (or even close) framework for pegging and understanding beers.
As far as brand name, some breweries make numerous styles, while others make a very specific range or type - you can't just say Ommegang is better than Chimay is better than Budweiser (oh, ok, they're better than US made AB-Budweiser - but how about the Czech Budweiser?). Point is, better how? What do you consider to be the requirement for a good tasting beer?
If it's a beer, it's either an ale or a lager (small exception, re: Lambics - but ignore that). The yeast sat on the bottom (lager) or sat on the top (ale) during fermentation. In fact, that's a great place to start the differentiation process. Lagers need to be kept at cooler temperatures during the brewing process, while ales can have a much greater range. Lagers became popular in some countries (Germany), while Ales flourished in others (England).
To understand beer, start by asking which countries make ales and which countries make lagers? What styles are ales, and what styles are lagers? It's a good way to trace the origins of styles. (Why does Chinese Tsing-Tao taste like so many Mexican and American standard beers? Because they're all lagers started by Germans.)
There is only one way to learn this shit. Research. Lots and lots of research. Exercise that arm. Open that gullet. And taste! If you start with a basic framework (such as ales vs. lagers) and plug in each brew you have onto that framework, you can better understand not only the history and chemistry of beers, but your own tastes - you like Ales, you like Lambics, you like bitter, you like whatever...
As your knowledge and repertoire of samples increases and you need a better, more refined framework, seek out sites that specialize. As previously mentioned, one of the most informative is Beer Advocate. They tell you how to taste, not just what to taste:
As you differentiate styles, you will get to the point of differentiating by many more detailed factors - ingredients, alcohol content, specific gravity - everything that adds up to the taste and feel of the beer in your mouth. This requires a more extensive framework - my favorite is the Beeriodic Table:
(There are a couple of versions out there, but this was the original, and I think, still the best.)
I think it's like wine--you try different varieties, find ones you like, and then explore within that range. Just like wine pairs with food, some beers are appropriate for certain situations - chances are on a hot summer day a wheat, lager or weisse will go down more smoothly than a bock or a heavy beer that's more suited towards cold weather. Generally, beer flavor comes from hops/malt/yeast/barley in varying ratios--really hops-loaded beers are IPAs and tend to be bitter, beers that focus on malts are lagers--the more you try, the more you'll know about what flavors and balances you like.
I used to think domestic beer was crap but some recent discoveries (Sixpoint, Bluepoint) but I do generally find that microbrewed beers are more delicious than their mass-produced counterparts. They're not trying to appeal to everyone so there's more complexity and flavor.
Beer advocate is a great resource but I can find it a bit overwhelming at times (foam texture? viscosity? Dude, I want to know if it's 'effin amazing and that's it). They really give you a lot of options and help you pick wisely.
I love this site and have read it for weeks now and am finally registered and found a post I wanted to reply to. Hi, every1!!!
I have made beer for many years - here are some true facts. Good beer is meant to be drunk at a cool - not cold temperature, and good beer cannot be judged if u drink your beer very cold - like most Americans like it. A good beer should be drunk out of a glass so a head forms and a little bit of the head is drunk with each sip. If the head dissipates right after the beer is poured - it is not a good beer. U may still like it of course - we all have individual tastes - but if there's no head after 1 minute - it is not good beer. The head should be thick and foamy and last till the last sip. The water used to brew makes a big difference - spring water is too soft usually - the harder the water(more minerals) , the better (except for sulfur of course). Foreign beers are best - to most beer drinkers' tastes - but some microbreweries make excellent beers. Some folks like sweeter thicker beers and some like pale dry beers - there are gr8 beers in both categories. Try Fosters , St Pauli Girl, Canadian Labatts (not American Labatts), and Dos Equiis - which are my favorites - next to my own. I particularly like a dark sweeter beer - drunk when it is cool - not frigid - which masks the real flavor and hurts the taste buds of any1.
I think that in the interest of making things easy to understand, you're being a little too simplistic in your outline of what distinguishes a good beer from a bad one. The head of a beer is determined principally by style and not by freshness and is certainly not a concrete indication of quality. The head can vary from the thick meringue whip of a tripel to what's called a "lace," that is to say, nothing but a faint scattering of foam on the surface of lighter lambics and ciders.
Given that freshness is paramount in many brewing styles, I would hesitate to say that foreign beers are "best." Beers like Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams, Cellis White, Shiner Bock and even the ubiquitous Budweiser are all highly regarded both at home and abroad and represent a very complicated and precise style of beer making. Consider as well that the less the beer has to travel, the better the odds that it was kept in optimal condition and is more fresh. So as good as a fresh liter of Spaten is, if it has sat on the supermarket shelf all month after several weeks in shipping containers, it will not be nearly as good as a six of Buzzard's Bay right off the shelf.
At any rate, welcome to the site and good luck with the brewing.
Ernie is right. There are some indicators in the head that can tell you about quality of certain aspects of how the beer was made, but not all styles produce a voluminous head. Judging by your list of favorite beers, you seem predisposed to light macrobrew lager. When you get into more challenging styles like imperial stout, barleywines, and traditional lambics you'll see that amazing and complex beers exist that produce very little head.
Wow, there are so many ways you can with the answers on this question. First, if your a newbie to beer, let me tell you the flavors you get from beer are far more intriguing than that of wine, or at least in my opionion they are.
As far as what is better, it depends on your preferences in flavor and also food pairings.
As far as describing the beers you listed, here is my take:
Budweiser(Pilsner/Lager), Miller(American Lager), Heineken (Dutch type lager), Chimay(Belgian ale/They make a double I believe it's in the blue bottle and a Triple called Cinq Cents which is really good aged for a few years, Brooklyn Brewery (traditional Micro with an awesome Chocolate Stout and various other types as well), Ommegang (The best american version of Belgian Ale I've had, comes fairly close to Chimay) if you like more Winey, sourish flavors, Belgium makes by far the most flavorful types in the Beer industry..Good Luck on your research...Here is another link to a valuable site. http://www.allaboutbeer.com/
I can find many people who would dispute the claim that Chimay sits at the top. Have you ever tried Westvleteren, Rochefort, Westmalle ... ?
There are certainly many great Belgian beers, but I wouldn't make the blanket statement that they're the best.
As to abbey beers, well, Corsendonk is one, while Chimay is a Trappist ale. The term "abbey" usually refers to a beer made in the Trappist style.
re: Jim Dorsch
To elaborate, there are only six bona-fide Trappist monasteries in Belgium producing beer. There are other breweries that produce abbey-style ales which aren't abbeys.
As for which Trappist ale sits on the top, that's impossible to say since they're all so good. Rochefort is my personal favorite - particularly the Rochefort 6. But to say Belgians are "best" is a very strange comment. There's great beer made all over the world, the Belgians don't have exclusivity here.
I think your right Josh, I don't feel that any one particular country makes "the best" beer, in fact, it's all a matter of opinions and taste. I would hate to say that there is a best anything without even having tried another to compare it to.
I haven't hardly even touched on some of the beers people have spoken about here. But I will say this, the Belgian brews are out of this world and tend on tracking down some of the ones Jim spoke of.