Guide: How to Buy Beer

Beer is the unsung hero for many on their Friday night visits to the bar but how much do you really know about beer? We present you with a few humble facts

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Benjamin Franklin – yes, I’m talking about the same guy whose resume would put us all to shame – was on to something when he said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.”

Leaving aside the philosophical portents of Franklin's statement, it simply means that beer is awesome. It should come as no surprise then, that beer is the world’s most widely consumed alcoholic beverage. It is also one of the world’s oldest fermented beverages, with a 2004 study presenting evidence of neolithic humans in what is now China making "a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey, and fruit (hawthorn fruit and/or grape)" about 9,000 years ago.

Unlike its alcoholic cousins from the spirit families, there isn’t a specific region that produces the best beers, nor is there a particular type of beer to look out for that will trump the rest. With the advent of craft beers, micro-breweries, and home-brewing, good beers are aplenty. The challenge would be to identify the type of beer that agrees with your palette.

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Choosing Good Beer

There is no definite method to choose "good" beer (unless you know exactly what you want), but here are a few tips that may help.

-  Canned beer versus bottled beer. Make your purchase depending on how long you may want to store the beer. Canned beers are better for longer storage because they aren't susceptible to the effects of light.
-  Read the labels thoroughly. Most beers have interesting and potentially informative labels (and names). Any given brewery will try to best present the beer according to its flavor. A cool example to check out would be Scottish craft beer company, BrewDog.
-  If you have a local brewing company, head down for a tour and tasting. Most breweries have programs like this. You will have the opportunity to learn about the brewing process and get to sample the beers. Armed with more intimate knowledge of beer, you'll be able to make a better choice.
-  Stronger beer doesn't necessarily mean better beer. Some companies make strong beers at the cost of the taste, with the sole purpose of getting the drinker intoxicated faster. Be wary of these beers. They are fairly easy to identify. These beers, more often than not, have labels that CAPITALIZE on their alcohol content.
-  Stronger beer doesn't necessarily mean bad beer. Find some trusted brands and explore their more robust offerings. The good ones offer an exciting journey of taste. Trappist beers are good start.
-  Get yourself to a beer festival. These events are perfect for sampling and exploring the world of beer. Moreover, if you find something that you like, you can ask the vendor/s where you can get the beer locally. There's always an amazing variety of beers, vendors who are more than willing to discuss their brews, good food and lots of entertainment. Here are a few: Singapore - BeerFestAsia, Hong Kong - Beertopia, Shanghai - Shanghai International Beer Festival, Mumbai - Mumbai International Beer Festival, Rhode Island - The Great International Beer Festival and Edmonton - Edmonton's International Beerfest.
-  Choose a beer that you won't mind drinking even after it goes warm.

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KNOW YOUR BEER

Beer is made from four primary ingredients.

-  Malt from the five cereals – barley, wheat, oats, maize and rice – in any combination, with barley being the most popular for its rich flavor.
-  Hops – a flowering vine whose flowers add flavor (bitterness) and aroma (sweetness) to the malt. The beta acids from these flowers help to keep bacterial contamination at bay, increasing stability and shelf life.
-  Beer consists primarily of water (typically more than 90 percent). The mineral content in the water from different places greatly influences the flavor of the final beer. For example, Dublin’s mineral-rich hard water is excellent for making Guinness.
-  Perhaps the most essential ingredient is yeast. This unicellular fungi convert the sugars in the soon-to-become-beer into alcohol. Depending on the type of beer being brewed, the brewer uses either top-fermenting or bottom-fermenting yeast.

KNOW THE CATEGORIES

There are generally two types of beer – Ales and Lagers

-  The older of the two, ales employ top-fermenting yeast that work their magic at a higher temperature than lager yeast (16°C - 24°C). Fermentation using ale yeast produces a by-product called esters that contribute to the characteristic aromas of ales.
-  Some of the popular types of ales include Amber Ale, Pale Ale, Bitter Ale, India Pale Ale, Stout and Porter.
-  Lagers are made using bottom-fermenting yeast that work best at around 1°C. Lager yeast yields lesser esters allowing the aroma of the hops used to be more prominent. Lagers are known to offer a crisp and smoother flavor.
-  The usual types of lagers include Pilsner, Dunkel, Bock, DoppleBock, and Marzen/Oktoberfest.

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KNOW THE REGIONS

-  There is no such thing as "regions" for beer.
-  No matter where you are in the world, I can assure you, there's a good beer around the corner just waiting for you to discover it.
-  The folks over at Pop Chart Lab have done an impressive job of presenting what they call “The Magnificent Multitude of Beer”. Click here to have your mind blown.

KNOW THE MEASUREMENTS

What most don’t know about beer measurements is that it varies depending on where exactly you’re drinking. For example a pint in Australia (570ml) contains considerably more joy juice than a pint from the United States (473ml). However in the interest of keeping this section concise (and drinking more beer), this guide references the imperial measurement used in Australia.

-  Half Pint: 285 ml. If you ever find yourself in Queensland, Australia, you can order yourself a half pint of XXXX Gold by asking for a “Pot of Gold”.
-  Pint: 570 ml.
-  Yard a.k.a Quart: 1.14 litres. The term “yard” refers to the special long and narrow glass which is a yard long and has a rounded end. Beer drinkers normally use the yard in a challenge to drink the contents in one go.
-  Gallon: 4.55 litres. Obviously, not for the faint of heart.

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KNOW THE DOs & DON’Ts

-  Refrigerate your beers at around 7°C.
-  Pour your beer into a cold glass. Ideally one that was stored in the same refrigerator that held your beer.
-  Contrary to popular belief, head (the foam atop the beer) is a good thing.
-  Store beer bottles upright to prevent the beer from touching the caps. This minimizes oxidization from the cap.
-  Don’t get rid of the head. This causes the beer to go flat (lose its carbonation) quicker.
-  Don’t expose beer to sunlight. Sunlight will ruin the beer. 

KNOW THE BACKGROUND

-  Perhaps one of the best things about beer is that you don’t have to be a “beer expert” to enjoy a pint at the bar around the corner.
-  However if you are thirsty for knowledge, you could visit these fantastic online resources: Beerology and Beeradvocate.

If you prefer getting your information from a book, here’s a list of recommended reading:

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Tasting Beer: An Insider's Guide to the World's Greatest Drink

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The Complete Beer Course: Boot Camp for Beer Geeks: From Novice to Expert in Twelve Tasting Classes

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The Oxford Companion to Beer

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The World Atlas of Beer: The Essential Guide to the Beers of the World

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