Saturday, November 16, 2002

Educating the palate

I'm really surprised. I've been trying single bottles of many different types of beer, to try and see what makes certain types of beer tick, and learn what good and bad are in the world of beer.

Tonight I tried a Pilsner Urquell, the quintessential example of the Pilsener style. The first time I had a Pilsener-style beer, I hated it; I thought it was too bitter, too harsh on the palate. Tonight's was the first true Pilsener I'd had in years.

I loved it. There was a sweetness from the barley I'd never tasted before, and the bitterness that had so offended me years back is nothing compared to an Arrogant Bastard Ale, or even a decent India Pale Ale, both of which I've come to love for their hoppy character.

But back to Pilsner Urquell. Evidently the pungent aroma that I remembered and dreaded, but was pleasantly surprised by this time around, comes from Urquell's reliance on Saaz hops, and the particular lager yeast and extremely soft water native to the Pilsen region of what used to be Czechoslavakia. How cool is that?

I also (finally) tried a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and now I see what everyone's been raving about. Surprisingly mild, with a lot of complexity nonetheless, a wonderfully lingering head of foam and a smooth, smooth finish. And bottle-conditioned, just like my 2Red will be.

I'm sure by now people are going to wonder exactly who I think I'm kidding, talking about beer as if it had the refinement and complexity of wine.

Guess what? Beer requires more care and different ingredients than wine, and can absorb just as much personality from the region where it originates as wine can, and from more different directions - hops, water, yeast and grains. Wines only really have yeast and grapes, and from what I understand it's mainly about getting out of the grapes' way. It's even customary to age some beers (India Pale Ales, for example) in oaken barrels, and some barleywine-style ales can age for years before truly coming into their own.

So anyway, I'm fast becoming a beer nerd, and loving every minute of it. :-)

Some additional reading, for those interested. This too.


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