While some form of beer is brewed in many parts of the world, most if not all of the world’s great beer styles originated in a thousand-mile-long stretch of Europe north and northwest of the Alps, from Bohemia to Ireland. To get an idea of the influence of this “beer belt,” try to imagine brewing (or tasting) beer without any reference to Czech Pilsner, German lagers and weizenbiers in all their shades, Dutch and Danish lagers, the many-faceted Belgian wheat and abbey beers, English and Scottish ales, or Irish stout — what’s left?
The beer-belt countries also supplied most of North America’s European population, at least until the mid-19th century. Many of the foods familiar to North Americans of English, Scottish, Irish, and Germanic descent reflect the foodways of their ancestors. Sausages and other cured meats, cold-water seafoods, and dairy products are common across all northern European cuisines. Staple vegetables include potatoes, cabbage, root vegetables, and other hardy crops. Beer-belt cuisines are also characterized by braising, stewing, sweet and savory baked dishes, and (with notable exceptions) a light hand with spices. Beer sometimes becomes an ingredient, but not as often as you might guess.
Espresso by the Pint: Stouts and Porters
It’s no surprise that the region that spawned Peet’s, Starbucks, and other purveyors of dark-roasted, flavorful coffee also brews a lot of full-flavored ales based on dark to black malt. When the early home-brewers and microbrewers were looking to make something with more flavor than the typical American beer, they naturally gravitated to the other end of the spectrum, Ireland’s Guinness Stout. Around the same time, English brewers were beginning to resurrect porter, a somewhat lighter 19th-century London style that had become nearly extinct. Porters and various styles of stout remain favorites in English and Irish pubs.
Irish stout generally has a dry finish, while English stouts can be quite sweet. Variations on the style include stouts with some oatmeal, milk, or even oyster extract added to the wort.
Drawing on these inspirations and more, West Coast brewers have developed many instant classics, including Deschutes Black Butte Porter, Sierra Nevada Porter, Anchor Porter, Rogue Shakespeare Stout, and Lind Brewing’s Sir Francis Stout, not to mention specialty stouts like Anderson Valley Oatmeal Stout and the unique Alaskan Smoked Porter.
In general, stout implies more body and flavor than porter, but there is considerable overlap. Both styles tend to have rich malt flavors on the palate, often with coffee and chocolate notes, and moderate to high hop bitterness; they may finish dry or slightly sweet.
For all their strength, these beers can go with strikingly delicate foods like raw oysters. I also like a good porter or dry stout with roast beef or Chicken with Mushroom Cream Sauce (variation, Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Sauce), where the dry and hoppy finish cleanses the palate for the next bite.
Recipes from the Beer Belt:
The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook
From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.