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Reading Between the Wines: a beginner's guide to beer

This week, I’d like you to talk to you about a very good friend of mine: beer.

Trying new beer is easier than trying new wine
Trying new beer is easier than trying new wine

There is such a variety of great Scottish beer out there these days; ales, bitters, lagers, stouts, porters, and many more. Sadly, there are a few longstanding myths about locally produced beer, especially those produced by small and –mid-size breweries. But please, let me dissuade you of these…

Unfortunately, because beer is common in Scottish (and British) culinary cultures, it suffers from the preconceptions of habit more than wine and spirits might. What I mean is that once we get used to a big brand name, or flavour, we become comfortable with it, and when replacements aren’t like it, we go back to the original. This is – of course – what producers want, but I think it’s a wee shame that in terms of beer in Scotland, one brand leader has been able to cultivate such market dominance. I’m not naming any names. *COUGH* Tennent’s Lager *COUGH*. Pardon me.

Now don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Tennent’s. It’s an honest lager that does what it says on the tin (literally), unlike the kinds of beers I do object to – those which pretend to come from exotic, far-off lands, but are actually brewed in the same massive plants as each other, up and down the UK.

No, Tennent’s is fine, but never my first choice. Not because I particularly dislike it – I’ve sunk gallons of the stuff over the years – but because it’s old hat, isn’t it? You find it EVERYWHERE, and it gets boring very quickly.

If you don’t normally deviate from your usual pint, I urge you to try things from small and mid-size brewers. Trying new beer is easier than trying new wine – as it largely comes in affordable, individual servings, and pubs that serve ales will very often rotate the stock, actively trying to source new beers. Double win!

So, here are a few beer myths, followed by some recommendations that will counter them.

Myth 1 – Lager is just nicer than beer

Wrong! Lager IS beer! Lager is simply a type of beer that has been fermented in a cooler environment so that it has a wee hint of fizz. If you need proof that a small brewery can produce lovely lager, head over to the WEST Brewery and Baron Glasgow Green. They produce the fantastic St. Mungo Lager, which is fresh, zippy and with a more richly flavoured character than Glasgow’s more famous lager.

While you’re in town, grab a train or bus over to the Clockwork Beer Company in Mount Florida, where you can see a really little microbrewery pub at work. Their wonderful Clockwork Lageris a little more mealy and natural in flavour, and deliciously round on the finish. Both are made fresh on the premises. Awesome stuff!

Myth 2 – Ales are always flat, cloudy and warm

Not true – beers made in the Pale Ale (PA) and India Pale Ale (IPA) style are often finished with a wee fizz, and like being chilled before serving, much like lagers. Try Williams Bros Joker IPA (available in most good beer specialists, Sainsburys, and on tap in Inn Deep on Great Western Road and Clockwork) if you need proof of this – as with all naturally produced ales, it can vary slightly between batches but this beer is always crystal clear, super crisp, sometimes aggressively fizzy. And to top it off, it is best served super-chilled.

Myth 3 – Beer is for enthusiasts, mostly boring old men with beards

Now, I am not going to dispute that some gentlemen fitting the description above like beer (I often fear I am fast becoming one…), but this does not represent the craft beer drinker. Most of us will have heard of Brew Dog, the super-trendy and fast-expanding brewers from Aberdeenshire, that have come to prominence during a demographic shift that has seen beer drinkers get younger and younger. They have pubs stocking their fine wares in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow, as well as all over England. These places are the height of fashion and cool – I should know, I’m barred from all of them because my jeans aren’t tight enough! They even have a pub in fabulous Shoreditch. Get them! If you need further confirmation of beer’s age-shift, make room in your diary for the Paisley Beer Festival (April 24th-27th). Hundreds of the finest Scottish, British and world beers - all under one roof. I promise that if you go and look around, you will see an even gender split, and an average age of 30.

Pint of the unusual? Aye, go on!

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