Week 15: Major Beer Producing Countries and Styles

Beer festivals are great not only because of all of the interesting local brews on offer but because, many times, many international breweries come to join in the party to show what's going on in the rest of the beery world. Join Beer Hawk University as we discuss two major beer producing countries and their prominent styles.

As we know, beer has had an impact on cultures around the world for thousands of years. While the importance of our favourite beverage has shifted in some societies over time, let's discuss two of today's most prominent beer nations and their most historic or well-known styles. (We don't want to overwhelm you in one lesson, so we'll get to the USA, the Czech Republic and Germany next week!)

United Kingdom

Ok, we'll categorise this under the "No Shit Sherlock" file but we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about our glorious ales first.

Beer

Week 15: Major Beer Producing Countries and Styles

Beer festivals are great not only because of all of the interesting local brews on offer but because, many times, many international breweries come to join in the party to show what's going on in the rest of the beery world. Join Beer Hawk University as we discuss two major beer producing countries and their prominent styles.

As we know, beer has had an impact on cultures around the world for thousands of years. While the importance of our favourite beverage has shifted in some societies over time, let's discuss two of today's most prominent beer nations and their most historic or well-known styles. (We don't want to overwhelm you in one lesson, so we'll get to the USA, the Czech Republic and Germany next week!)

United Kingdom

Ok, we'll categorise this under the "No Shit Sherlock" file but we'd be remiss if we didn't talk about our glorious ales first.

Beer has been Britain's most popular drink since the middle ages when the Alewives were responsible for brewing and the people consumed most of their calories through a pint. Unhopped beers until the 15th century were known as "ales" while, after the introduction of hops, hopped beer was called, well, beer. A tax survey from 1577 recorded 14,202 alehouses, 1,631 inns, and 329 taverns. This represented one pub for every 187 people in England and Wales. This isle has loved their beer from the word go!

The 18th and 19th centuries saw a bit of a brewing renaissance with the introduction of the porter style in London. The porter was the first beer to actually be brewed in a brewery and conditioned until it was ready to be consumed. This same century saw the birth of today's arguably most famous beer style: the India Pale Ale--or IPA.

While the 20th century was a bit of a dark spot on brewing in the UK--war, temperance and megabreweries being the largest culprits--CAMRA saved the Real Ale and, indeed, British culture from extinction. The recognition of Real Ale's importance to the Great British Pub (which should really be considered one in the same with British culture) can be directly attributed to today's popularity of beer. Championing hand-crafted, artisanal beers has given the modern beer movement--or the "craft beer" industry the foundation necessary for this 21st century beer culture. In fact, as of late 2016 there are more than 1700 breweries in the country with no signs of the sector slowing down. It's a long way from one pub for every 187 people but it is safe to say that today's beer culture will keep beer in the United Kingdom for many centuries to come.

Prominent British Beer Styles

These beer styles are uniquely British:

The Bitter

Finding its roots in the English Pale Ales from the late 1800’s, the Bitter includes the Ordinary, Best, and Special Bitter. These styles display the characteristic English hops on top of a sturdy malt profile while still being exceptionally drinkable and balanced.

English Pale Ale

The English Pale Ale is renowned for its drinkability, enhanced bitterness and balancing malts. Yeast strains used in this style lend a bit of fruitiness while English-variety hops display an earthy, herbal hop character. Medium-bodied, golden to amber-coloured and served clear, this quintessential English ale is one from which many others have derived.

English IPA

With its origins dating to the early part of the 1800s, the English IPA was no more than a pale ale that had been extra-hopped in order to survive the voyage to India. What we’ve got today is a dry and moderately-strong ale that is balanced towards the hops with a supportive maltiness.

Porter

The classic porter dates back to 18th century London and is the predecessor to all stouts. Noted for its restrained roasted character and bitterness, the porter is a moderately strong English brown beer. Leaning to the sweet side, the porter features a significant caramel or toffee character and malty complexity.

Mild

The ancestor of the modern British Mild can be traced back to the 1800’s with the darker versions appearing in the 20th century. Milds are typically light to medium-bodied with low bitterness and full of nutty, roasty malt flavour with a nice balance between quaffability and character.

Belgium

Belgium is arguably the greatest producer of the world's greatest beers. Let's discuss how those monks know what they're doing.

With brewing in Belgium dating back to before the First Crusades, suffice it to say, the Belgians have perfected it. Yet, they haven't mastered just one type of beer. Belgian beer runs the gamut from mouth-puckeringly sour to bold and luxurious; from spritzy and refreshing to tasting like a well-aged port. Trying to say what Belgian beer tastes like is like trying to catch a sunbeam. You can't.

While, today, Belgian brewing is mostly synonymous with monastic brewing, in fact Belgian brewing and beer styles have many sources of influence. Refreshing beers like the saison were brewed to quench the thirst of summer field workers in the early 18th century. The wide availability of wheat in the area was perfect for producing wheat-based ales like the witbier or lambic--the latter's origins being traced back with some confidence to the Romans in the first century!

It wasn't until around the middle of the 19th century where the first Trappist brewery, Westmalle, produced and sold their first ale. While certain monastic styles of beer--the singel, dubbel, tripel--are brewed all over Belgium (and indeed the world) only when these same styles are brewed by Trappist monks, within the confines of the monastery and for the sole purposes of supporting the monastery or charity can they be called Trappist ales (more on that in a future lesson).

All of this variety in flavour makes Belgian beers a perfect partner for food. Belgian beer culture is famed for the gastronomic importance it places on the humble beer and its ability to match with food. Presenting a beer properly, and with the respect it deserves, is of high importance in Belgian drinking culture. A beautifully poured beer with its high, billowing head needs a proper glass. As such, each beer should be poured into its uniquely branded glass shaped so that every sip and whiff of this glorious ale is presented in the best light possible. Then, and only then, would a beer deserve to be served with dinner. And in Belgium, that is each and every time. 

Hungry yet? Thirsty? Let's look at some of Belgium's most famous styles:

Prominent Belgian Beer Styles

Belgian Dubbel

Dating back to monastic breweries from the middle ages, Dubbels are still one of the most celebrated Belgian Trappist style ales. The dubbel generally displays a gleaming russet colour and has a complex flavour and aroma: spice, florals, dried fruits and plums. Moderately sweet and medium-full bodied, the dubbel finishes dry.

Belgian Tripel

The famed Westmalle Trappist brewery is widely regarded as the creator of the popular Belgian Tripel style. The Tripel is higher in alcohol than the Dubbel but lighter in colour and body. Spicy and fruity with a gentle sweetness and hints of alcohol lead to a dry and mildly bitter finish.

Saison

First made by Belgian farmers in the 1700s, the saison was brewed to provide refreshment during harvest. This rustic style is noted for its spicy, tangy and dry yeast character and sometimes a bit of funk from Brettanomyces. Assertively hopped with a refreshing finish, the saison is a highly versatile style.

Witbier

This 400-year-old Belgian style has found modern popularity thanks to Hoegaarden. Literally “white beer”, this Belgian wheat ale got its name because of its cloudy haze. A smooth mouthfeel and grainy malts meet a dry and spicy Belgian yeast character with notes of coriander and orange. The witbier is exceedingly refreshing.

Lambic

Traditionally crafted around the city of Brussels, Lambics are famed for their intensely sour character that gain complexity with age. Made with unmalted wheat in the malt bill, straight Lambics are spontaneously fermented and aged in oak. They are generally served “young” and uncarbonated at their home brewery. Gueuzes are blends of multiple lambic vintages and fruit lambics are created with fresh fruits like peaches, cherries and raspberries. Both gueuzes and fruit lambics have undergone bottle conditioning and are served effervescently carbonated.

We hope that's as interesting for you as it is for us! We think a beer tastes a bit better with a good story of its history behind it. We'll see you again next week when we discuss even more major brewing countries. Until then--grab a lambic or a porter and have a taste of culture! Cheers.