Beer myths debunked

Beer myths debunkedby Sofie Vanrafelghem

There’s still a lot of nonsense out there about beer, and nobody knows this better than Master Beer Sommelier Sofie Vanrafelghem, who is tasked with explaining yet another myth about beer almost on a weekly basis.

Here are some of the most common myths out there - and this is how Sofie debunks them.

Beer myth 1: India Pale Ale

Myth 1: India Pale Ale originated as a beer style - being a strongly hopped beer - because other beers didn't survive the long journey to the British colony of India. Thanks to the extra addition of the hops, they reached India in good condition. 

The legend tells you that the beer style India Pale Ale originated because the British were looking for a beer that could survive the long journey overseas to India. Hops kill bacteria, so adding more hops was the solution. Actually, the truth is that all kinds of beers were shipped to the British colonies without any problems. Even more porters were exported.

The story of what was later called India Pale Ale began in the second half of the 18th century with brewer George Hodgson. He brewed a beer with the intention of maturing it for two years, which explained the addition of extra hops. The officers of the East India Company chose to work with George because of his location near the docks, his competitive prices, and in particular, the fact that the officers could buy beers on credit. George Hodgson's beer became very popular with the officers in no time. News also travelled around London, where beer had become more and more popular. 

But today's IPA has little to do with its 18th century predecessor - in fact, it has more to do with the United States. A few decades ago, a new generation of brewers gave this style a new look and a new surge of popularity. From then on, IPA’s became known as beers with a distinctly hoppy character. When using American aroma hopping, these beers have very expressive fresh fruity aromas with hoppy tones of citrus, grapefruit and exotic fruit. 

Tips from Sofie:

The real story behind the IPA is less romantic than you might think, but that doesn't make the beer any less tasty! These are Sofie's personal tips.

Brasserie d'Achouffe - Houblon Chouffe
The first IPA that entered the Belgian market in 2006. With 5 varieties of hops and 62 IBU, he immediately made an impression.

Stone Brewing - Stone IPA
One of the most iconic American IPAs. After the launch in 1997,  the beer knew right away how to charm people with its hoppy personality.

Brouwerij de Molen - Vuur & Vlam IPA
For many Dutch people this classical English style IPA was the first introduction to the style. Years later it is still one of the best.

Beer myth 2: No beer after wine?

Myth 2: The story goes that if you drink beer after wine, your hangover will be way worse the next day.

Recent scientific research by the Cambridge University and Witten/Herdecke University has confirmed this once again: the order in which you drink types of alcohol does not matter. Beer after wine does not make for a heavier hangover. Only the total amount of alcohol you consume explains this.

However, this idea has a long history that can be traced back to the Middle Ages. Wine was then the drink of the upper class, while beer was a common drink. Folk wisdom refers to an economic fact: those who lost out financially could no longer afford wine. In short, 'beer after wine’ means wine comes first on the social ladder.

Tips from Sofie:

Looking for a beer that is just as complex as a good bottle of wine? Sofie recommends this: 

Brouwerij Rodenbach - Rodenbach Grand Cru
The reddish brown beer is a blend of young beer (1/3) and 2 years on oak casks aged beer. Besides a refined sour taste with a touch of green apples, it also has a vinous character.  

Brouwerij Boon - Oude Geuze Boon
If there's one beer style that can blow beautiful wines over, it's the old geuze. This classic by Boon remains a gem thanks to its extremely elegant acidity.

Brouwerij Vicaris - Vicaris Tripel Gueuze
This creation brings together the two styles of beer: triple and geuze, a bridge between both flavours.

Beer myth 3: Tripel 

Myth 3: Tripel owes its name to the amount of malt or the number of fermentations in the beer.

If you order a Tripel at a pub, you’d expect a heavy Blonde beer. The idea soon came about that you need twice as much malt for a Dubbel and three times as much for a Tripel

Nothing seems to be right about that. And it has nothing to do with the number of fermentations or the yeast. It all dates back to the Middle Ages, when the monks brewed light beers. These beers were ideal to drink with a meal or even during the daytime, but for special occasions they chose to brew a heavier beer. Most people could not read, so the brewer put chalk crosses on the barrels. On a barrel of a heavier beer they would put two crosses (Dubbel) and on the barrel of the heaviest beer, three crosses (Tripel). 

That a Tripel now equals a powerful Blonde beer we owe to Westmalle. When the heaviest beer from Westmalle came on the market as a Tripel, it immediately caught people’s eye. The impact it made didn’t go unnoticed: other brewers started to brew this style as well. Thus 'a Tripel' became a very popular beer style.

Tips from Sofie:

Abdij der Trappisten Westmalle - Westmalle Tripel
The mother of all tripels or just a very pleasant beer that successfully combines the yeast it's fruitiness with a beautiful hoppy bitterness.

Brouwerij het Anker - Gouden Carolus Tripel
A Belgian triple of one of our oldest family breweries characterised by a successful fruity and spicy taste.

Brouwerij De Ranke – Guldenberg
A strongly hopped tripel - entirely according to the tradition style of the brewery - with a present bitterness thanks to the pure hops.

Beer myth 4: Beer instead of water

Myth 4: In the Middle Ages, people drank beer to avoid getting ill from water.

So the idea here is that the water was full of bacteria. Fortunately, the water was boiled during the brewing process, so beer was safe to drink and it became an alternative to water. 

This myth forgets the fact that outside the cities there were many healthy water sources available. Furthermore, there is no evidence that in the Middle Ages water was considered unsafe anyway, unless it was visibly polluted. At that time, bacteria was an unknown concept. If people knew then that you can purify water by boiling it, they would have done that instead of brewing beer. 

Another important fact is that medieval beer was brewed with herbs or 'gruut' (a mixture of herbs). For the production of these gruut beers it was not necessary at all to get the water to boiling temperatures. General conclusion: just like today, beer was mainly drunk because people liked to drink it.

Tips from Sofie:

De Gruutbrouwerij - Gruut Blond 
A successful and modern interpretation of the medieval gruut beer.

Brouwerij Jopen - Jopen Koyt
Jopen also created a gruut beer. With notes of laurel, liquorice, bread, syrup and eucalyptus, it has a very herby personality supported by the necessary sweetness.

Brouwerij de Ryck - Steenuilke
A flavourful and successfully balanced beer from the Flemish Ardennes.

Beer myth 5: The tongue card

Myth 5: According to an old theory, you can only taste certain flavours on specific spots of your tongue.

For years this idea was found in textbooks for hotel schools, wine and beer sommelier courses: the theory of the tongue card. The basic idea is that you can only taste a certain flavour: sour, sweet, salty or sour, on certain parts of your tongue. For example, you could only detect bitterness on the back of your tongue, while you discover sweet with the tip of your tongue. 

The truth is that this theory dates back to 1901, more specifically from 'Zur Psychophysik des Geschmackssinnes', written by Harvard psychologist D.P. Hanig. In 1974 this theory was refuted for the first time by Virginia Collings. Since then, we know that every part of your tongue can detect every taste.

Try this one out for yourself with the beers listed below - you will notice that you can also taste bitterness with the tip of your tongue.

Tips from Sofie:

Brasserie de la Senne - Taras Boulba
This crackling bitter session was one of the first low-alcoholic craft beers in Belgium.  

Magic Rock Brewing - Salty Kiss
Sour with a clear salty touch, that's the Salty Kiss. Ideal for trying both flavours.

Brouwerij van Honsebrouck - Kasteel Donker
Full-bodied and sweet, that's the least you can say about this flavourful West-Flemish beer.

Beers mentioned in this article