Owen Ogletree draws a pint of cool,
sparkling, cask English ale in the
Samuel Smith brewery cellar in
Tadcaster near York, England.

BREWTOPIA Beer Education

Test your beer IQ.

By Owen Ogletree
Athens Magazine Beer Columnist
BREWTOPIA Founder/Director

This article originally published in Owen Ogletree's
ON TAP beer column in Athens Magazine.

City Beer Guides


Everyone understands that fermented grape juice produces wine, but many seem in the dark regarding the complexities of beer - the world's most popular alcoholic libation. A complex beverage with a myriad of ingredients, styles, and methods of serving, beer involves intricacies that often confound the average consumer. Read on to explore eight popular ale and lager misconceptions.

Misconception 1: Ales exhibit dark colors, while lagers display yellow or golden hues. Actually, classifying a beer as an ale or lager has nothing to do with color, and everything to do with yeast and fermentation temperature. While lager yeasts love cooler temperatures and impart clean, non-fruity notes in a brew, ale yeast works best near room temperature and provides a complex, fruity quality. Terrapin Golden Ale boasts a lovely light blond color, fruity hints and refreshing drinkability. Conversely, Samuel Adams Black Lager pours with a deep ebony richness and clean, chewy, malty mouthfeel.

Misconception 2: Hops come from grain. Wrong again. Hops are resiny, green flowers from climbing vines indigenous to Europe. They impart floral, spicy, citrusy aroma, flavor and bitterness to balance the sweet malt of beer. Hops added to the brewkettle at the beginning of the boiling process provide bitterness to beer, while hop additions near the end of the boil add delicate flavor and aromas. Dry hopping (placing hop flowers directly into a fermenter or keg) lends the intense hop aroma profile found in Sweetwater IPA and Stone Brewing's Ruination Pale Ale.

Misconception 3: Light lagers provide health benefits. Sure, light beers contain the fewest calories of any beer style and might help melt away a few waistline inches (when combined with exercise and a low calorie diet), but light beers offer very little flavor and almost no nutritional value. Darker beers provide complex carbs, potassium and vitamin B. Like chocolate and red wine, the roasted grains in darker beers also pack loads of antioxidant flavonoids and polyphenols that reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and other disorders. Hops also contribute a variety of antioxidants, so for the greatest benefit, choose well-hopped beers such as India pale ales or dark ales like stouts and porters.

Misconception 4: Darker beers and flavorful microbrews contain much more alcohol, calories and carbohydrates than standard domestic lagers. Not always. 12 ounces of Budweiser contain 5% alcohol, 145 calories and 10.6 grams of carbs. Surprisingly, 12 ounces of the famous, black Guinness draft stout provide only 4% alcohol, 125 calories and 9.9 grams of carbs (high temperature roasting makes most of the espresso-like malt sugars and carbs in Guinness indigestible). Want lower calorie beer with a more refreshing, crisp, dry profile? Hoppy Sierra Nevada Pale Ale comes in at 5.6% alcohol, 175 calories and 12 carbs.

Misconception 5: English beers are served warm and flat.
In actuality, all English-style ales taste best at a cool 50-55 F - the same temperature as most pub beer cellars in the UK. This temperature allows full flavors of the toffee-like malt and spicy English hops to shine through. Like colder temperatures, too much carbon dioxide fizz also desensitizes the tongue, and the best pubs in England serve their traditional ales by way of hand-pull taps using bartender arm power to suck the ale up to the pint glass from special casks in the cellar. Since no artificial carbon dioxide goes into the ale to force the beer to the taps, these English cask ales contain a light, natural, soft carbonation sparkle. However, bottles and kegs of English ales shipped to the USA, such as Samuel Smith's Organic Ale and Fuller's ESB, do carry quite lively levels of carbonation.

Misconception 6: Light lagers go best with spicy foods.
Instead of simply cooling the palate with a cold, bland, light beer, try an American pale ale like Terrapin Rye alongside fiery dishes. For example, the citrusy, grapefruity flavors of American hops form a perfect match to Thai or Korean food. Experiment with sweet double bocks such as Optimator or Salvator with spicy Mexican dishes containing earthy black beans and chilis - and nothing pairs better with herbal Indian foods than peppery, herbal Belgian blond ales like Duvel or Saison Dupont.

Misconception 7: Frosted mugs make beer taste better.
Cold numbs the tongue, so putting an expensive, flavorful craft beer in a frozen glass constitutes nothing short of a travesty. Just as robust red wines taste best at cool room temperatures, most flavorful craft beers should be served around 50-55 F. Pour a gourmet beer into a large, clean, room temperature glass with enough vigor to produce an impressive head and release delightful aromas.

Misconception 8: European lagers should embody a skunky aroma and flavor.
That muskiness that sometimes accompanies a bottle of Heineken or Grolsch actually comes from light entering the green bottle and reacting with the hops to produce the same chemical found in the scent glands of skunks. Brown bottles and cans do a much better job of protecting beer from light, and kegged beer never suffers a skunky fate. Try a canned or draft version of Heineken or Grolsch to experience clean malt and hops the way the brewer intended.

2010 Brewtopia
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