Drink: Make mine a chocolate stout

Thirst-quenchers, comforters, a midnight tipple ... the perfect beers for every mood, and any occasion. Illustration by Madeleine Floyd

Friends call at my home for a beer, asking eagerly: "Have you any new discoveries?" I offer them an authentic Vienna lager; a dazzling golden Triple, from Belgium; a Yorkshire bitter made with six varieties of American Pacific hop; a smoked beer from Japan.

They sample, dubiously. "It's nice," they say, unconvincingly, "but not very refreshing." Or even: "It's good, but I couldn't drink pints of it all night in the pub." Well, those are two uses of beer, but some beers are meant for other moments or moods. They have, if you like, other uses.

Even if you want nothing more than simple refreshment, you could do better than the familiar Foster's, Bud, Carling, Heineken and similar international-style golden lagers. Far more refreshing is the yeasty, fruity, acidity of a German-style wheat beer (identified on the label by the words Weizen, Weisse or Weissbier), easy to find in a supermarket but rarer in the pub. Or a more readily available, citric-tasting, pale "white" Belgian wheat beer such as Hoegaarden. Or, if you can find it, a tingly, sweet-and-sour, oak-aged Flemish ale such as Rodenbach.

A Bavarian would probably opt for a fresh local lager, drily malty and spicily hoppy, in the basic style known as Helles ("pale"). The burghers of Cologne, a city famous for taverns making their own beer, would not choose a lager. Their local Kolschbier is a light-bodied, aromatic golden ale. Fashionable Dusseldorf also has a brewpub tradition, favouring beautifully balanced amber ale called Altbier. Across the Belgian border, Antwerp has its local De Koninck, served in a bowl-shaped glass embarrassingly called a bolleke. This beer is a yeastier, spicier, counterpart to an English pale ale or bitter. And for a sociable beer in these islands? In England, a pint of bitter; across the border, a Scottish ale; over the sea, a stout. These are incomparably the best brews for the job; to choose anything else is to sell yourself short and spurn the best of British.

Quenching beers and sociable ones ... what about the other uses of the brew? A young woman asked me the other day what I would prescribe as a "comfort beer", the alcoholic equivalent to nurseryish foods such as tomato soup or egg and chips, I suppose. My suggestions for that mood: a mild ale, a sweet stout, a "black" lager such as the rare Kostritz Schwarzebier (which comforted Goethe) or a similar example being brewed by Freedom, in London. I have dubbed these "restoratives" in my latest book.

I wanted to call it Beer - a User's Guide, but my publisher, Dorling Kindersley, would not be persuaded there was a need for a guide to the uses of beer. It opted, with great originality, for Beer, but each chapter does, indeed, present brews according to mood or moment.

Pubs may offer on draught just one style of extra-bland lager (under however many names), a bitter or three and a stout, but any sizeable supermarket has a bewildering range of anything from 50 to 200 brews. Which to choose? It depends on the uses you have in mind for your purchase. If all of them are judged purely as quenchers or sociable brews, some of the most interesting will die from neglect.

The keenest of beer-lovers often favour intense brews, such as the most bitter India Pale Ales, the Belgian Trappists brew Oral, its demonic opposite Duvel ("Devil"), or Americans such as Tippers' Hop Pocket (newly available in Britain). In Belgium, even haute cuisine is apt to be preceded by a Duvel, served in a Burgundy sampler. The herbal dryness of these beers make them terrific aperitifs, arousing the gastric juices like a Campari.

With the meal? Perhaps a Belgian Gueuze would go with soup; a dry stout like Guinness with shellfish, in the Victorian tradition; a brown ale with a nutty salad; an old ale such as Greene King Strong Suffolk with pickled dishes; an extra strong lager like a Doppelbock with pate; a dark lager with sausages; a true Pilsner (perhaps Bitburger) with fish; an Oktoberfest lager with chicken; an Irish ale with pork; a French biere de garde with lamb; a pale ale with beef; a Port-ish abbey beer such as Chimay Grande Reserve with cheese; a cherry beer with a fruit desert; and oatmeal stout with something creamy; and an even stronger style as an after-dinner beer, possibly with a cigar.

The Imperial, or Baltic, style of stout is a natural warmer, as I confirmed at a kiosk outside the Winter Palace in St Petersburg one snowy day last year. In November and December, I might look to a barley wine as a nightcap, but there are whole ranges of beers for the different seasons: a spiced brew at Christmas, a Maibock in spring, a lemon-tinged summer brew.

"What about a beer when you sneak downstairs in the middle of the night?" a friend enquired. "Young's Chocolate Stout," I responded, smooth as a fridge door. "And when you get drunk?" Were I of that inclination, I might change tipples. The average strength of beers is about half that of wines, and a tenth of spirits. As a means of inebriation, it is very inefficient. That is why men behaving badly are such losers

`Independent' offer: to order a copy of Michael Jackson's `Beer' at the special discount price of pounds 15.99, P&P free (RRP pounds 19.99), call 01442 881880/891 quoting account number 180771 (Independent Beer offer), together with your credit card and delivery details.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

    £16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

    Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

    £40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy