Tuesday, 5 May 2009 | Tags: ,

Made from a variety of grains, beer, at its most basic, is a combination of water, wheat, hops and yeast. With its flavour closely associated with its country of origin, there's much to find out about beer.

The Basics

  • Beer should look, smell and taste good. The hops, malt and fruit in the palate vary according to the style of beer, but they should all find their own balance.

  • There are two main types of beer:

    • Lager, the most popular beer-style worldwide, is brewed with yeast and stored cold before bottling so that flavours develop fully. It has a drier, lighter, crisper taste than ale.

    • Ale, which leans toward fruity, floral, and sweet in flavour, is fermented at a warmer temperature than lager so the process is faster. It has a more complex, robust taste than lager and is usually darker, sometimes even bitter.

  • When tasting beer, some overall characteristics to look for include:

    • well-blended flavours

    • lingering bitterness of boiled hops

    • fruity, floral aroma of dry hops

    • slight sweetness of pale malt or caramel toastiness of darker malt

    • hint in aroma or flavour of citrus, peach or green apples

    • foam, which collects and releases aromatic gases

    • how thick the beer feels as you drink

    • finish or flavour that lingers after you swallow

  • The darker the colour, the more toasty it tastes, but a darker colour doesn’t necessarily indicate a heavier flavour, contrary to what many people believe.

  • Most beers contain between 2 and 6% alcohol, as well as carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals.

  • A 12-ounce serving of most big label American beers is between 140-150 calories. Try a light beer if you want to cut down.

  • Organic beer, brewed from crops that aren’t sprayed with toxic chemical fertilizers or pesticides, offer higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. The cost and alcohol content of organic beer are also higher than conventional beers.

Other Considerations

  • Beer keeps longer in brown bottles than in green or clear bottles. Sunlight or fluorescent light causes oxidation faster inside green or clear bottles than in brown bottles. So, if you buy beer in any color of glass other than brown, be sure to keep it in a dark place until you’re ready to drink it.

  • Canned beers can pick up and retain unpleasant flavors from the environment in which they were packaged. They can also have a metal or “tinny” taste from their can.

  • The taste of both canned and bottled beers is normally improved by pouring them into a glass before drinking.

Cooking Tips

  • If you’re making beer-battered fish for a fish and chips dish, use a darker, heavier beer. You can go traditional with a British-style ale, or try darker lagers in the German style.

Be Aware

  • Bottled beer has a shelf life of about three months and canned beers can be spoiled by exposure to extreme temperatures so check “sell by date.”

  • Don’t brush and drink beer. Toothpaste can affect your beer-tasting palate for hours, so avoid brushing before going for a pint if you’re planning to do a taste test.


Group #1: The Shopping Bags Taste Test

We rounded up some hockey players to help us test these five popular and lesser-known beers:

  • Budweiser: $18.75/12 bottles
  • Molson Canadian: $18.75/12 bottles
  • Coors Light: $18.75/12 bottles
  • Sleeman Honey Brown Lager (Ontario): $21.99/12 bottles
  • Granville Island Pale Ale (British Columbia): $19.99/12 bottles

Taste Test

  • Kristina chose the Granville Island Pale Ale for its crisp, slightly floral taste.

  • Anna and our hockey team of testers chose the Molson Canadian (much to Anna’s surprise!)

Group #2: Anna & Kristina’s Grocery Bag Taste Test

We recruited a group of poker players to help us test out six different kinds of dark beer to use in our beer-battered fish for a recipe test in Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. For this test, we chose to British-style dark ales and German-style lagers:

  • Sleeman’s Original Dark (Canada)
  • Guinness Pub Draught (Ireland)
  • Pyramid Hefeweizen (USA, a German-style lager brewed with wheat malt)
  • Newcastle Brown Ale (England)
  • Warsteiner Dunkel (Germany)
  • La Binchoise Speciale Noel (Belgium, a strong pale ale)

Taste Test

  • Sleeman‘s tasted very good, was very drinkable.

  • Guinness was very strong and not for everyone.

  • Pyramid was very drinkable and slightly sweet, though we weren’t sure about using it for cooking.  

  • Newcastle was sweet and delicious, with hints of honey and caramel.

  • Warsteiner wasn’t a favourite with any of our testers compared to the rest.

  • La Binchoise Special Noel also didn’t get many votes compared to the others.

For our beer-battered fish recipe, we decided to go with the British beer Newcastle Brown Ale


With so many local microbreweries, restaurants with their own brews, and a multitude of international options, we feel that choosing one top pick isn’t possible. But if you have a taste for beer, don’t just stick to one. Try as many as you can! And don’t forget to watch the liquor stores for special seasonal brews like Christmas ales and Halloween or St. Patrick’s Day brews.


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