Before we start drinking, here's a short intro to beer.
At its core beer is a combination of malt, hops, and water exposed to a little miracle of nature called yeast.
Malt: Beer is fermented grain. For the vast majority of beers out there malted barley is used. The brewmaster has a huge variety of choice when it comes to malt. Standard malt flavours are grain, fruit, chocolate, caramel, coffee, smoke, nuts, earth, etc. etc. etc. Here's a list of malt types from the excellent Beer Advocate website.
Hops: Hops are the primary flavouring of most beers. It can be useful to break them down into regional groups. You have the subdued bittering hops of the UK, the grassy, peppery, and floral hops of continental Europe, and the jump up and smack you in the head citrus and piney American hops. Throughout the ages many different things have been used to flavour and preserve beer, but hops is where it's been for the past few hundred years. Here's a helpful sampling of hop varieties from Beer Advocate.
Water: Goes without saying that you need water to make beer. Brewmasters take great pride in their water. Historically, quality water sources are what have made various cities famous for their breweries. The best example of this is probably Burton upon Trent in England, which developed as a brewing centre thanks to the high proportion of salts in its water.
Yeast: The transformation of malt and water into beer was long considered a miracle. Today, we know all about yeast, but it's still a pretty magical trick that nature pulls. Long standing breweries will have their own yeast character that puts their footprint on every beer they brew. Fullers in London, for example, has a characteristic marmalade flavour in most of their beers that is instantly recognizeable.
I won't bore you to death with the chemistry. There are plenty of websites if you're that interested in the brewing process, but I enjoy the drinking. The above descriptions should give you a feel for the infinite variety of beers that one could produce. Whereas wine is, essentially, just rotten grape juice, every beer is a work-of-art, built by a brewmaster to achieve a specific vision.
Lager: Lagers are the most familiar types of beer to most North Americans. To lager is to store a beer somewhere cool for several weeks. Over time lager yeasts developed. Lager yeast works at the bottom of the beer. The end result is usually a much clearer beer. The rise in popularity of lagers coincided with mass production of glass. When glass replaced pewter and stoneware as the drinking vessel of choice, people naturally wanted a better looking beer. Pale lagers fit the bill. Lagers include macro-lagers (i.e. Canadian, Bud, Coors), bocks, marzens, helles, and dunkels.
Ale: Ales ferment on top and at a higher temperature. As ale yeast works, the resulting esters often create sweet fruit flavours. Ales include brown ales, milds, india pale ales, Belgian ales, bitters, porters, stouts, and hefeweizens.
Unfortunately Canada's beer doesn't measure up in the way Molson commercials would like you to think. I'd suggest that the great brewing nations, in no particular order, are: Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, and the United States. The Czech Republic gets an honorable mention for Pilsner.
Finally, a couple things to remember about tasting beer. First, never drink it out of the bottle. Second, beer shouldn't be served ice-cold. For most beers, 20 minutes in the fridge should do the trick, although there are specific temperature suggestions for different styles. Third, don't be afraid of head. The foam at the top of your beer is full of hop oils that will contribute to the aroma. As any sommelier or chef will tell you, all the senses are important when you're eating/drinking. Appearance, aroma, and mouth feel are all important aspects of beer tasting.
The Beer (Finally)
Vienna Lager, 5.2%
I was torn about what I should pick as the first beer for this. Part of me wanted to dive right in and get something crazy, but I didn't want to scare anyone off. So instead I went with something relatively familiar, but still excellent. Everyone's first beer was probably a lager, but chances are, if you're Canadian, it wasn't like this. The Vienna lager, which is the style the Brooklyn is based on, is a lager developed in, you guessed it, Vienna. The standout feature of the Vienna is the darker malt character with a nice caramel finish. The Brooklyn effort adds in a generous American hopping, putting it in to the amber American style category if you're being picky. This beer is a good start because you'll be able to pick out what hops taste like immediately.
The Brooklyn Lager is light caramel in colour. You should get a medium, snow-white head off the poor that settles to a nice film over top. As you drink it you'll probably get nice lacings all the way down. Quality beers will usually have a head with good retention that sticks to the side of the glass as you drink.
The nose on this beer is the first hint that it's a yankee brew. Take a handful of good sniffs. You'll pick out some pine and a hint of citrus. These are the trademark flavours of American Northwestern hops like Cascade. You should also pick up some familiar lager smells, like subtle grain and just a hint of caramel.
First taste should spoil you on macro-lagers for ever. If it doesn't, you're doing it wrong. Remember those brash American hops I mentioned earlier? That's the tongue scraping bitterness that attacks right out of the gate. In North America bitterness has a negative connotation, our palates are trained to like sweet things. Now's the time to embrace bitterness. As the resinous pine flavour rolls over the tongue you should get a taste of the sweet, slightly nutty malt body of the beer. There's a lasting bitter aftertaste, the hops having coated most of your mouth.
The Brooklyn is well carbonated, as a lager should be. The carbonation wakes the tongue up and accentuates the flavours of the beer. It also provides a refreshing crispness that is all important for most lighter lagers.
Viennas are good for grilled meats and moderately strong cheeses. The darker malts play off the caramelized sugars in cooked pork, chicken and even steak. The Brooklyn is even better in this respect given its generous hopping, which cuts right through fat.
So there you are! Hopefully you picked up something new and you're not all snoring away in front of the computer screen.