Beer, the working man’s wine

Shame on all of you who think the best thing about beer is it’s cheap grog you can sip on all night. And woe to those who don’t realize beer can be as flavourful and varied as any wine, without the pretense.

When asked to write about the wonderfully varied bouquet of beers, I considered that there are few better people to ask about beer than writers. So I went to a gathering of a certain local writers’ group, which shall remain nameless. Each tried a different local brew, and when we compared results, it was clear that every good beer has a personality all its own.

Randolph first ordered one of Calgary’s greatest brews: Wild Rose Brown. It’s dark in colour, but medium in flavour. You can taste the roasted barley, but this ale stays true to its name and is never too strong to be enjoyed by all.

Maria and Lauren both tried Big Rock’s Grasshopper Ale. What impressed them the most about this crisp, refreshing drink was that it was not made with barley, like most beers, but wheat. According to Lauren, this gives people who are allergic to the majority of beers the opportunity to imbibe with the rest of us. Another wheat beer worth mentioning is Wild Rose’s Velvet Fog, which garners its name from the cloudiness that comes with an unfiltered beer. It’s an unusual drink, but worth experimenting with when you’re feeling bold.

I ordered Wild Rose’s Wraspberry, which was sweet and light and tasted distinctly of its namesake fruit. It was similar to Alley Kat Brewery’s very popular Aprikat beer. Either would make a good choice for someone who currently enjoys coolers and wants an easy way to experience beer.

Lenar stuck faithfully to his Guinness. Personally, I think it’s an acquired taste to enjoy this slightly bitter, opaque beverage. Yet so many people worldwide swear by it, that everyone should try it at least once.

Dirk, our resident teetotaler, consumed only root beer. He said it was bold and flavourful and had a good head. While I couldn’t blame him for his preoccupation with good head, he was actually poking fun at a drink that shares a common ancestor with modern beer. During the brewing process, after the malted barley is roasted and mashed, it is mixed with the purified water, hops and any other ingredients, and boiled to kill any germs. After cooling this mixture down and adding yeast, it is a cloudy and slightly sweet concoction that some brewers will actually call root beer, from which modern root beer is derived.

One major group of beer conspicuously absent from this list is lager, which comprises most of the North American beer market. Your Labatt’s Blue, Bud, even Molson Canadian are all technically lagers. Big breweries love to produce lagers, which tend to be paler and drier and are all-around crowd pleasers. This is in contrast to ales, which are often produced on a smaller scale and have more complex results.

In any case, there are as many beers as there are kinds of people. The best way to experience new and exciting beers are the tried and true methods of asking to sample your friend’s beer or to plunge right in and experiment with something completely new. Beer is one of the few areas in life where the trial and error method never goes entirely wrong.

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