It was nearing 9 am on a dreary Sunday morning a few weeks ago when the first beer bottle cap came off with a hiss. There were about 20 of us gathered for an all day beer training session with Mirella Amato, Canada’s only Master Cicerone. A cicerone is akin to a sommelier and a master cicerone is a rigorously certified, dedicated-to-the-craft, complete beer expert. There are just seven in the world and Mirella is Canada’s one and only.
Mirella was in Halifax for the inaugural Atlantic Canadian Brewing Awards and much of the room were Canadian Association of Professional Sommelier- Atlantic Chapter sommelier students. It was an honour to learn from her and we’re pleased to have a few copies of her excellent new book Beerology for the rest of our staff to enjoy as well.
Since we opened our doors 11 years ago, we’ve done our best to champion our amazing local craft breweries here in the Maritimes. You may have noticed that we’ve also been making a concerted effort in the past year or so to expand our beer selections in-store and incorporate these beer styles into our tastings, education and website.
In today’s post we’ll be covering the very basics of beer, but stay tuned for future posts about specific styles, brewers we love, revolutionary ingredients, and all the information about our products we can find for you.
What is in beer?
The four major ingredients are malt, water, yeast and hops. Each of these ingredients play an important role in how the beer looks, smells and, of course, tastes. Ultimately, the major difference between winemaking and beer brewing is how much control the brewer has on every stage of the brewing process.
Types of Beer
The basic types of beers include ales and lagers. Ales have been around a long time while lagers are relatively new, only a few hundred years old. While these beers have similar brewing methods and the same basic ingredients, they utilize different types of yeast to ferment the beer. (Quick refresh: fermentation is the process that allows yeast to convert sugar to alcohol. This is an important part of winemaking, too)
Ales are fermented at relatively warm temperatures for short periods of time, their hops and fermentation style give them a strong, complex style with lots of aromas. They also come in many varieties, including Bitters, Milds, Abbey Ales, Pale Ales, Nut Browns, etc.
Lagers are cold fermented for longer periods of time, this gives them a crisp and refreshing flavour with higher carbonation. Lagers are some of the most popular beers in the world, including varieties like Pilsners, Bocks , Steam Beers, etc.
Finally, just to keep things interesting there are also hybrid styles of beer, but we’ll leave that for our next post.