Five Malty Beers For Sommeliers

  • By Martin Thibault
  • 25 Feb 2021
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
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Glass of Beer - Credit : Martin Thibault

One must never forget that the beer world is as vast and diverse as the selections on the counter of a bakery with its own pastry chef. From the lighter baguettes to the heavier chocolate cakes, every experience is possible. This piece on malty beers is about the dessert-loving beer traditions out there. There are many and they should not be overlooked, especially when cooler seasons and the thought of warm meals and fireplaces take hold of the collective psyche.  

Irish Dry Stout 

Usually carbonated with nitrogen – and not just CO2 – this dark ale possesses a creamy body whose effect on the palate is akin to that of whipped cream. A veritable institution in Ireland, it is a style that has been copied over and over all around the globe. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ethiopian-brewed Guinness with local sugars and cereals, or the original recipe brewed in Dublin and its thousands of replicas, the result is nearly always as comforting as a chocolate mousse.  

Dominant flavours: Lightly roasted coffee, mild fruity esters  

Intensity: Moderate  

Texture: Velvety when on tap (and nitrogenated), more prickly when bottled   

Pairing potential: Steak, mole negro chicken, spareribs  

Scotch Ale 

This crème brûlée of the beer world is all about deeply caramelized barley malts. An evening sipper for those looking to relax by the fireplace, or dream of such a possibility. The allusion to scotch is more geographic than anything else, but some breweries do brew a version with a dash of peat-smoked malts, furthering the link with the Scottish islands. All in all, one should serve this beer style as one would a flan au caramel or any other dessert focusing on lip-smacking Maillard reactions.      

Dominant flavours: Deep caramel, candied fruit, mild earthiness  

Intensity: High  

Texture: Rich  

Pairing potential: Creamy blue cheese, smoked salmon, pheasant   

Bavarian Dunkel  

A fall specialty in some German breweries, a year-round delicacy to others, this dark lager is the perfect segue from a summer tinted with sparkling refreshments to an autumn whose cooler temperatures deserve slightly more contemplative beverages. Think of a roasted chestnut cart when imaging the aromatic profile and comforting factor of a good Dunkel.   

Dominant flavours: Toasted bread, dried figs, nuts  

Intensity: Moderate  

Texture: Generous and bubbly  

Pairing potential: Aged gruyère, pulled pork, grilled sausages   

British Bitter   

This staple of the English pub is, simply put, a middle world between a cup of Earl Grey and a French croissant. The true Bitter is carbonated naturally in a cask and served with timid bubbling so the palate can focus on the smooth cereal and hop balance. Bottled versions though tend to stray from the traditional tipple. Their carbonation is higher, which tones down the delicate interplay of lightly caramelized barley, leafy hops, and fruity esters. In all cases, it remains a low alcohol brew meant for long conversations with friends.     

Dominant flavours: Mild caramel, earthy tea leaves  

Intensity: Moderate  

Texture: Silky and moderately carbonated (when served from a cask), lean and bubbly (when bottled)  

Pairing potential: Butter chicken, shepherd’s pie, fish and chips   

Russian Imperial Stout  

Designed for Russian emperors, but initially brewed by the British and now dominated by the craft beer world inspired by American microbreweries, the Imperial Stout has seen its share of flavour twists and turns. Although it could become dessert on its own, with its blend of heavy and satisfying dark malt sugars and high alcohol, some breweries have decided to bring it straight to the doorstep of a pâtisserie by adding actual coconut shavings, cocoa, coffee infusions, etc. The variations are endless, but one thing remains: it is always a dessert beer for those looking for the richest piece of cake on the menu.  

Dominant flavours: Dark chocolate, roasted coffee, caramel   

Intensity: High  

Texture: Rich and warming  

Pairing potential: Pungent blue cheese, raspberry mousse, toasted nuts  

Glass of Beer - Credit : Martin Thibault