KILDARE BEER COLUMN: The secret to putting together a great beer list

Brewin' up a Storm

Susan and Judith Boyle


Susan and Judith Boyle


KILDARE BEER COLUMN: The secret to putting together a great beer list

A great beer list should include something for both the seasoned drinkers and those who prefer low-alcohol tipples

Choosing what to drink when you walk into a bar can be a daunting task, and beer brand owners know this. It is one of the reasons why taps are so large on a bar counters, and the reason why Guinness recently introduced a new tap that is larger and lit up in the shape of their signature harp — just to grab customers’ attention when they walk in. You will never wonder if a bar is serving Guinness or not!

Unless a customer knows what they want to drink or can see what is on offer, they will not ask to buy that product. Therefore, bars that have a lot of products in bottles and on draught usually have a beer list that can help customers choose what to buy.

This list should help the consumer choose, it should be well-researched and should let the consumer know what to expect from the beer in regards its profile.

Often, when we walk into a bar and check the bar list we are hit by a list of all the same styles of beers. Yes, they are made by different breweries and have slightly different hop profiles or alcohol content, but ultimately they are the same beers with little or no variation.

The beers chosen for a list should focus on variation of styles and not just on the brands of beer. There are approximately 152 different styles of beer in the world — a bar cannot or would not want to have all these styles on a list, but they should have a selection of the main styles available.

Even though there are so many different styles of beer, they can be categorised into three main style groups depending on the yeast that is used to brew the beer.

Ales use top fermenting yeast which is colloquially called ale yeast. The beers that use ale yeast are fermented at warmer temperatures and therefore have a fruity flavour profile. The focus is usually on the malt used, but in the case of pale ales and India pale ales, the hops used play an important part in the flavour profile and alcohol level of the beers .

The most common styles that are classed as ales are pale ales, red ales, brown ales and, of course, stouts. These malt-forward beers can be lighter or darker in colour but should be malty and fruity in flavour.

The second style of beer is lager. These beers are crisp, easy drinking and must be fresh. They are fermented at cooler temperatures, which gives the beers their crispness and thirst-quenching properties. Beers that fall into this category are Helles, Marzen, Dunkels, Czech lagers, Pilsner, Vienna lager and the list could go on and on.

Lagers are the most popular style of beer in the world because of their easy-drinking properties. They are not all light in colour, even though in most countries the lighter straw-coloured beers are the most popular, but we believe the crisp, darker lagers should also feature on a menu.

The third style group is hybrid or mix fermented beers. The yeast is mostly ale yeast, but since the beers are spontaneously fermented, bacteria and lager yeast has also a part to play in the end flavour profile of the beers.

These beers use wild yeast from the atmosphere rather than commercial yeast, and therefore have a sourness element to the flavour profile of the drink, so they fall into the category of sour beers.

They are tart and refreshing and some can be overly sour — but the best versions have a strong malt backbone to round out the sourness of the beer.

By having a variation of styles on a list and trying the beers to make sure the drinks are of good quality, any bar can have a great beer list very simply.

In our opinion a bar should always have a brown ale, a red ale, a pale ale, an India pale ale, a stout, a pilsner, a dark lager, a sour (wild fermented) and a wheat beer on their taps.

These beers should vary in alcohol percentage from 3%to 5% but the main styles should not be too heavy in alcohol.

There should be other beers on the menu that have a higher or lower percentage of alcohol, and these beers should be there to give the consumer another option if they want something with no alcohol or lots of alcohol.

This will give all consumers a choice, and hopefully get beer drinkers to try a different style of beer than they usually drink.

Judith Boyle is a qualified chemist (MSc) and accredited beer sommelier. Susan Boyle is a playwright, artist and drinks consultant. See www.awinegoosechase.comBoth sisters are proud to be fifth-generation publicans. Their family business is Boyle’s bar and off-licence in Kildare town