If I had to choose one style of beer to drink for the rest of my life, I’d cheat and choose two: pilsner and IPA (India Pale Ale). When I got my package for this project I was thrilled to find samples of both.
I grew up in an ale house (as in a house where ales were the prefered beer of choice, not as in a cute term for a pub). I’ve recently heard ale described as the frat boy of the beer world and it’s a decent description. Compared to lager, an ale is typically loud and proud, bold and bitter, darker and drastic. They often contain higher alcohol content and are stronger tasting.
The technical difference between an ale and a lager (which are the two main methods of brewing that most beer originates from) is how they are made. Ales are top-fermented (meaning that the type of yeast used ferments from the top of the tank downwards) and happily ferment under warmer conditions in less-time than the bottom-fermented lagers do. Lagers, in comparison, tend to be pale (usually yellow), subtle and are often seen as easier to drink.
Although there is a very popular beer that markets itself as an IPA, many beer purists debate whether it’s an IPA at all. If you use that beer as the basis for defining what an IPA is, you’ll likely be shocked when you try others. An India Pale Ale generally embodies the spirit of an ale. It’s often bitter-to-very bitter, bold tasting and unapologetic in its flavor. One of the things I love about IPAs is their versatility when it comes to pairing with food (they are awesome with cheese, fermented things like pickles, pizza and other bold flavors).
A Pilsner is a lager — although it’s often very hoppy and bitter. It’s probably an abomination to call it the ale of lagers but I suppose I just did. Pilsner originated in the Czech Republic. People often describe it as crisp or refreshing and it’s a fantastic beer to serve throughout the summer.
A few years ago I heard a beer guide claim that women can taste bitter better than men. I have no idea if this claim is true or if it’s utter drivel, but I have observed my friends over the last few years since and have found that many of my female friends find IPAs and Pilsners too bitter and many men enjoy them. That’s nowhere near scientific proof, but it's interesting food for thought (or real scientific research) and there are, of course, exceptions.
Before discussing the three samples we had, it’s worth noting the importance of temperature when it comes to beer and flavor. Chilling beer suppresses its flavor and a beer can taste radically different when it’s cold compared to when it’s warm. A lot of people struggle with the idea of warm beer but serving it at room temperature often makes the flavours explode. The next time you are home with someone else and want to see just how radically different a beer can be, open two of the same beer (one warm, one cold) and share both. In some cases the difference will be subtle, but in many (especially strong flavored ones like these) it will be drastically different (for good or bad).
Dana and I had the chance to sit down and try out these three great beers and below we've given you a gender-rounded idea of each (we drank all cold):
Pugnacious Pale Ale Grand River (4.5%), American IPA
It smells a bit like pizza dough cooking (which is a fantastic thing), pours amber and very carbonated. I detected a caramel taste, while Dana found it much more bitter than I did. I would definitely pair this with pizza or anything with bread and cheese. This is a great gateway into IPAs — not overly bitter, but still representative of the style.
Stone Hammer Pilsner (5%), Pilsner
It's a lighter summer beer. “Fresh”, it starts crisp, but ends bitter. Refreshing and really easy to consume. I’d pair this with whitefish (especially grilled or fried like, fish and chips or fish tacos).
Amsterdam Boneshaker (7.1%), American IPA
Amber and bitter it almost hits you like menthol (in a great way). Far less carbonation, it was boozy and had a fantastic consistency (it felt ‘thicker’ when consuming). Most of the bitterness came in the aftertaste. Dana found this one to be much less bitter than I found it, so our gender theory went out the window. Barbecue would be an ideal match especially with bold flavours like ribs or red meat.
All three beers were full-flavored and will grace our fridge again soon. Only, next time, we’ll try them warm.
Dana Harrison and Joel MacCharles write about local food, cooking, preserving and the people that inspire them to explore the bounty that Ontario has to offer. They recently celebrated 1,200 days of consecutive publishing through their website (www.wellpreserved.ca) and are both big fans of Ontario Craft Beer.