Friday, June 05, 2009

Thinking about English ale.

I spent the week working on an article for the next Food and Dining magazine, and luckily for me, the assignment was something I'd just experienced in Europe: English ale.

First digression: In the modern era, beer enthusiasts the world over refer to different fermentation methods, and hence different fundamental types of beer, as ale (top fermented) and lager (bottom fermented). As is the case with two people divided by a common language, colloquial English usage in the UK confuses matters, because there, people say "beer" when they mean "ale," although "lager" remains "lager."

Beyond this, England remains a great place to experience "ale," primarily cask-conditioned "real" ale, so long as the visitor understands that not every pub plays the game the same way. It is absolutely essential to have a copy of "Good Beer Guide," the campaign for Real Ale's annual guidebook to the best pubs that serve the best cask ale. Without it, your beer hunting will be an expensive crap shoot.

After sampling at least 20 different cask-conditioned ales, the majority of them one shading or another of Bitter at around the 4% abv mark, I can say that the great triumph of English brewing methodology is producing richness of malt character in a low gravity quaff. It amazes me. Surely hop character is excellent, if restrained by American micro standards, but it's the malt that always impressed me in the best cask pints.

I'll have more to say on this.

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