Truths and Myths
People love to talk about beer all the time. Especially when they’re drinking beer. Unfortunately, beer can tend to make people unintentionally exaggerate the truth. It can also make downright falsehoods seem feasible. Eventually some incorrect information becomes so prevalent that its status escalates to myth. I am here to separate fact from fiction and settle the score on some of the most common truths and myths about beer.
Myth: Dark beer has more alcohol and more calories than light beer.
Truth: A dark beer such as Guinness has fewer calories and alcohol than many lighter colored beers. Now “light beer” such as Bud Light, Miller Lite, Coors Light, etc. do generally have fewer calories and less alcohol than non-“light beer”. However, color comes from the roast of the grain, and is unrelated to alcohol and calories. In fact, if anything, a darker beer will tend to have less alcohol because darker roasted grains are less fermentable than light unroasted grains.
Myth: Given any two beers, the more expensive one will taste better.
Truth: There are so many factors that go into the price of a beer, this is of course untrue. Add into the mix that “tastes good” is a highly subjective term, and it’s clear to see why this one is a myth. Try it for yourself. You may find in many cases a general correlation between price and quality, but not always. Compare Bud to Busch. Busch is cheaper, but about the same. Compare again Bud to Sam Adams. Sam Adams is about 25% more expensive generally, but probably about 200% more flavorful (at least). Of course “more flavor” is not the same as “tastes good”. All I can really say is try a bunch of different beers and decide for yourself. I can help you and recommend great examples of all styles at all price points.
Myth: Imported beer is better than domestic beer.
Truth: There are so many imported beers, from Heineken and Corona to Chimay and Samuel Smith’s. There’s so much variety that you can just never say one type of beer is always better than another type. Or beer from one country, or even from one brewery is better than that from another. Sometimes imported beer is truest to style, and is much better than domestic impressions of the same thing. Sometimes domestic versions of exotic imports are so much fresher that they are much better. Again, it all comes down to personal preference. It’s so hard to say that one beer is better than another.
Myth: Lager is bottom fermented and ale is top fermented.
Truth: OK this one isn’t a myth really, but it is just stupid. What do you care if it is top fermented or bottom fermented? That doesn’t tell us anything about the taste differences. I brew at home, and top vs. bottom ferment just doesn’t really mean anything to me either. As a brewer, lagers ferment for much longer at much colder temperatures. As a drinker, lagers are generally cleaner and crisper, while ales are generally more robust and have hints of fruity esters in the taste and aroma. But there are quite robust lagers (bocks, et. al.) and clean and crisp ales (such as a Kölsch). It just depends more on the other ingredients, such as malts and hops, types and quantities of each.
Myth: When I started drinking, I really grew to love cans of American lager, so that’s the best beer there is. I won’t try another beer.
Truth: This one isn’t really a myth either, but it is not really the truth. To say the above would be like saying, “When I was a kid, I would only eat PB&J sandwiches, so that’s the best sandwich, and I won’t try another sandwich.” Of course, most of us have tried more complex sandwiches than PB&J, and generally liked some or all of them. So if you are a little unsure about trying that Sam Adams Boston Lager, just think of it like a roast beef sandwich with horseradish dressing. You just might like it.
Myth: Beer isn’t a high-end alcoholic beverage like wine and spirits.
Truth: There are beers out there that sell for as much as wine. Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA is $8.00 a bottle – that’s a 12-ounce bottle. DFH has a few others in this ballpark, too. There are a slew of brewers that make beers that are sold in corked and caged 750ml bottles for $10-15 a bottle, and have a high 9+% ABV to go along with it. Once a consumer has had all the $7.00 six-packs, then all the $10 4-packs, they start to look for more interesting options. There is a huge market for high-end beers.
Myth: You can’t really make a whole dinner menu out of beer-related cuisine! Beer for dessert? Are you kidding?
Truth: Two words: Chocolate Stout. Two more words: Espresso Stout. This is just the tip of the iceberg for dessert beer. There are fruity Krieks (a Cherry Lambic) that go great with fruit desserts and vanilla ice cream. The options are endless. Salads can have beer as salad dressing. You can marinate meat in beer. Mix beer with your mashed potatoes. Cook your veggies in beer. Bring it on. All food can be matched with beer. And all beer can be matched with food.
Myth: My wait staff and bar staff have been here forever. They know our beer menu inside and out.
Truth: No matter how long your servers have been around, how much you love them, or how great they are at selling your food and serving your customers, they might stumble on the beer menu. Only a true beer lover will be able to do your beer menu justice from memory, and even then only when really focused. Let them focus on memorizing your specials each day. Let a printed beer menu do the talking for them when it comes to explaining what’s on draft and in bottles.
Myth: Are you trying to say that my servers aren’t doing a good job selling beer?
Truth: It is a question worth looking into. I have been to fancy restaurants, and wanted to try a beer I never had before. I asked “What’s this beer like?” I was told “It’s amber in color”. Stunned, I paused and ordered it anyway. “Amber in color” tells me NOTHING about what the beer is like. I had assumed what it was based on the name, and the origin of the beer, and I was pretty much right. But the description was inadequate to put it mildly. Otherwise the server was great. She knew the specials, was attentive at the right times. A master of the beer selection she was not. Give your servers the tools to be great at describing beers, using a beer menu in conjunction with server beer training. Most won’t want to miss this afternoon of training.
Myth: My distributors treat all their products equally.
Truth: Anheiser-Busch sells nearly half the beer sold in the US. HALF! If you think you’re treated the same as A-B, you might think about the numbers. Personal relationships are important, but the bottom line is the bottom line. You’ve got to work the retailers and consumers to maximize your sales.
Myth: Craft brewing is a fad.
Truth: Craft beer is here to stay. It had a “correction” in the 90’s, and now it maintains strong but sustainable growth. There will be ups and downs, but like a blue chip stock, the trend is up. Bud, Miller, and Coors will always be around (maybe – some said GM, Ford, and Chrysler would always be strong brands) but watch out for high-flavor beers. Don’t get caught off guard. Be part of the movement. Get to know great beers. Respect beer as a high-quality beverage.