A sommelier’s guide to ... beer, the perfect palate cleanser after a wine tasting
Thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage, beer is a great thirst quencher and comes in many styles and colours. Nellie Ming Lee takes us through the main types
At the end of a tasting session, many sommeliers and wine lovers enjoy a cleansing ale. All types of beer are about 95 per cent water, and that, along with the carbonation in the drink,refreshes an overworked palate.
Beer is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage– older than wine. It has four essential ingredients: water, malted grain (usually barley, although wheat, corn and rice can also be used), yeast and hops. Hops are the flowers of the plant of the same name. With their naturally bitter character, they balance out the sweetness of the malted grain. They are used in beer making as they have antibacterial properties and help keep the drink from spoiling after the fermentation process.
An ale is a beer that is warm-fermented (at 15 to 24 degrees Celsius), giving it rich flavours. In addition to Belgian, Trappist and abbey ales (to name just a few), stouts and porters are also come under this category. With ale, the yeast ferments on the surface, in a process that takes about a week. Hard water (with a high mineral content) is best for making darker beers such as stout – Guinness is a good example. An everyday ale would be Samuel Adams pale ale (from the USA) which has a slight bitterness.
Lager is defined as a beer that is fermented slowly at cold temperatures (about 1 degree Celsius). The resulting brew is much more delicately flavoured. This category includes Pilsner, bock and of course pale lager. The yeast for lager is bottom-fermented, and the beer is matured at a cool temperature. Soft water is best for making lagers, and San Miguel from the Philippines is a delicious example of this style.
Belgian lambic beers are spontaneously (naturally) fermented – the wild yeasts take a long time to work, up to two years in some cases, and some beers, such as Gueuze, are fermented in the bottle. Kriek is a sour cherry lambic – the fruit is fermented along with the malt, giving it added hints of cherry fruit. These beers can be high in alcohol.
Wheat beers are made with at least 50 per cent wheat and up to 60 per cent, the rest being barley. These usually have a slightly cloudy appearance, as they are unfiltered. They have a very creamy, milky texture. My favourite in this category is weissbier (white beer), which sometimes has added flavourings of orange peel or coriander.
Trappist beers have a long history, as these began as an effort by Cistercian monks in La Trappe (France) during the Middle Ages to be self-supporting and to help feed themselves and their community. Today, there are 11 breweries remaining, six of which are in Belgium. Trappist beers must be brewed within the monastery by resident monks, and the income from the beers covers the expenses of the monastery with any surplus used for charity.
There’s a wide choice of beers brewed in Hong Kong now – Fat Rooster, Typhoon Brewery and The Hong Kong Beer Company make a range that are well worth searching for.
Hong Kong favourite San Miguel, is also brewed locally – in Yuen Long. Carlsberg was brewed in Tai Po until it was decided that it would be more cost effective to produce it in China.
Alas, my only problem with beer, as much as I enjoy having one, is the hiccups. Three or four sips will set me off, much to my chagrin and to the amusement of those around me.