Beer, actually

Like many people, I was upset when Blenio Bistro, at the Seven Dials, closed and even more upset to learn it was to be replaced by a burger restaurant. Until I went in, that is, and found that Coggings and Co. doesn’t just make “the best burger in Sussex” but is a complete re-education in how good a burger can be. So now I’m a convert. But the point of this column is the drink, and at Coggings I find myself ordering beer, which seems to suit a burger better than wine. My problem is that I don’t understand the beer list, since normally I drink only Harvey’s bitter, which I believe to be the best beer in the world. Stout I know, but Imperial stout? Espresso stout? Blonde lager I know but that implies that there’s dark lager too which seems a contradiction in terms. And which goes with what sort of food?

So I’ve done my research and now have some basic understanding. Basically, beer is barley (occasionally wheat) that is soaked and cooked, and to which hops and yeast are added. Fermentation takes place to produce alcohol and, in the process, leads to the development of the flavour unique to that beer. Cheap, mass-market beers may be made from corn or rice but they don’t taste of much and you won’t find them at Coggings. All the other variations come from just a few variables:

  • How long you cook the barley. The longer the cooking, the darker the beer. So Newcastle brown is cooked for longer than a bitter.
  • What sort of yeast you add. This is responsible for the big division between ales, which use higher– temperature yeasts, and lagers, which use lower-temperature yeasts and so need storing in the cold for a bit before they are ready to drink. Lager is German for a storeroom and, sure enough, lagers are from the German/Czech tradition of beer-making, while ales are from the British/Belgian tradition. Harvey’s bitter is an ale.
  • What sort of hops you use and how much you add. Traditionally, fewer hops are added to lager, which is why we fans of Harvey’s bitter find lager tasteless. If you do add more hops to lager it’s called pilsner. Amongst ales, more hops would be added to a bitter than to a brown ale or a stout, which rely on the roasting of the malt (barley plus water) for their flavour. Coggings makes a point of offering beers that are made with different varieties of hops. They’ll really be impressed if you ask for a beer with Cascade or Citra hops.

BarrelOnce you understand all that you can figure the rest out. IPA? It stands for Indian Pale Ale. It’s a hoppy pale ale that was shipped to India in the 19th century and kept the Raj afloat. Now they send Kingfisher beer back to us. That’s also a pale ale.

So, what should you have with your burger? I like a pale ale because it’s more hoppy than a lager, but it’s light enough to help the 6oz of beef go down. A dark ale or a stout are so heavy it would be like having an extra course. But if you want a beer to go with dessert then the sweetness of a stout would be fine. Imperial stout? It’s a stout but stouter. Wassail? Oh, just read the label!

Andrew Polmear

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