June 13, 2009

A lesson in beer

Last week was a great beer-tasting/learning week for me. I went to two amazing beer-related events.

On Wednesday night I went to a Love of Lager class at Tria Fermentation School. It was a great event! I learned so much about beer. Someone calling themselves "phillybeergirl" should probably be embarrassed to admit that she didn't know this, but there are only two types of beers - ales and lagers. (Hey, I stated from the outset I was here to learn and wanted others to learn with me. And learning is what we're doing!)

The difference between the two is how they're fermented. Ales are brewed at a higher temperature, typically using yeast that ferments at the top of the fermentation tank. The high temperature causes the yeast to "throw off" different flavors; you don't necessarily know what you're going to get.

Lagers, on the other hand, are brewed at a lower temperature, for a longer period of time, typically using yeasts that ferment at the bottom of the tank. What the brewer wants you to taste is what they're going to put in to the tank. There's a lot less "guess work" in this approach.

Another interesting fact I didn't realize is the number of different types of beers that fall under each category. For example, lagers include pilsners, bocks, and dunkles, among others. Ale examples include pale ales, IPAs (yay!), porters and stouts. Somehow it all reminds me of religion and how there are so many sects that fall under the term "Christian". Maybe not an exact analogy, but it works for me.

Okay, that was all very educational. But I can hear you asking "how do I know which to order when I'm out?" Well, if you haven't tried the types of beer I've given as examples, here's the basic "taste" differences between the two: Ales tend to be fruitier and more complex while lagers are typically crisper and more refreshing. Hopefully that helps a little.

Or you can do what I do and just ask to try something new! That's the best way to learn what you like anyway.

On Saturday I went on a walking tour of Northern Liberties. It was sponsored by First Person Arts, a wonderful organization in Philadelphia whose mission it is to "transform the drama of real life into memoir and documentary art to foster appreciation for our unique and shared experiences."

We started out at Swift Half, a new bar that just opened in the Piazza at Schmidt's. Schmidt's, as it turns out, was a brewery that was open in the Northern Liberties section of the city years back. The Piazza should be a huge hit. There's an enormous outdoor TV, tons of galleries, retail stores and of course Swift Half (owned by the same people that brought us Good Dog in center city). We also went to the Standard Tap, 700, The Foodery (where we met one of the brewers from Yards Brewing), and ended the day at North Bowl. All along we were drinking and learning about beer from none other than Joe Sixpack himself. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous about going on this tour by myself but I met some wonderful people and had a really wonderful time.

I tried a lot of different beers over the past few days and will be writing my review of the Three Philosophers later this week. I chose that one for now because I actually have pictures to accompany it. Probably not the best reason (although I also really liked the beer), but we'll make it work.

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