My almost complete ignorance of beer makes this massive mapping of brews, organizing over 500 individual beers into more than 100 styles, a bit overwhelming for me. But it’s also utterly fascinating.
The huge poster is a new and updated edition of a beautiful map that started back in 2013. According to its creators, Pop Chart Lab, this new version is “the most complete charting of beer ever.” I asked designer Galvin Chow–Digital Media Manager at Pop Chart Lab–about the criteria for choosing beers for the chart: “It was a mix between personal tastes and what we could consider notable or reputable brands,” he said. Then he admitted that his boss is a “proud beer snob” and that “he relished the opportunity to put this data together.”
Chow also pointed out that for other infographics, they usually find one or two roadblocks that made them work a lot harder on rethinking the graphical structure but, in this case, they were already “quite familiar with the subject matter and [had] a much larger canvas to work with than usual.” He claims that his beer map was one of their smoothest efforts.
The chart doesn’t only include beer families and brands, but ABV (Alcohol By Volume) and IBU (International Bitterness Units). It also lists “glassware recommendations,” which brings me back to my complete ignorance of beer. Because one thing I do know about is beer glassware.
The only glassware I can recommend for any beer is the caña–the tiny glasses in which most Spaniards drink draft beer while enjoying tapas at bars and restaurants everywhere. I love the fact that, using this glass, your draft beer never ever gets hot. You drink it in two or three sips and it always tastes like the first moaaaaaahthful. But there’s more than that. See, once upon a time, I was married to the heiress of the biggest beer Spanish empire (it’s a long story!). Back then, she took me to enjoy the best beer I’ve ever tasted in a secret room in their family’s factory in Madrid. While eating Iberian ham and drinking caña after caña, the company’s master brewer told us everything about beer and the famous caña glass.
Beer, he said, is a living being–and the caña is the perfect vessel for this organism. Pouring the perfect caña, he claimed, is an art form that requires years of training, a skill akin to that of a sushi chef. It’s an exacting game of mixing the carbonic gas and the beer at a specific rate during the right intervals while keeping a precise variable distance from the glass to the draft faucet. Then there’s the ritual of overflow and refill that reminds me of a tea ceremony. Also, the temperature of the barrel needs to be exact at all times. This is all to get the perfect amount and rate of bubbles–they should be tiny and go up in a certain way–and obtain the perfect texture of the beer foam, which should have its own ratio in relation to the liquid. If done correctly, each sip should feel like the first one. Every time you take a gulp, he continued, a distinct and perfect ring of foam has to stay permanently on the glass wall, like the rings of a tree. After a couple minutes, when the tiny glass was nearing empty, someone would replace it with a fresh one. “It loses its perfect properties within seconds,” the master brewer told us, “that’s why it needs to be promptly replaced. That’s why the caña glass is so small. To keep its properties from the barrel to your tongue intact.”
I don’t know how much of this was Yoda-style mystical beer bullshit or actual science, but I know that there are national cañas-pouring contests that measure all this, the same way there are Spanish ham cutting championships or fino sherry pouring competitions. Most importantly, though, I know that each of those cañas tasted like the most refreshing and delicious nectar that has ever flown over my taste buds. I don’t know much about IPAs and hops and ABV and IBU ranges, but to this ignorant Spaniard, cañas are the only way to truly enjoy beer during days of bar hopping and tapas eating under the everlasting Iberian sun.
But I digress! Go buy this wonderful poster for $65, which is probably the monetary equivalent of a night out trying a few of the varieties it documents. It’s a good deal: A night of drinking good beer is just a few hours of fun (and a hangover), but this poster lasts forever.