TIDBIT Beer is a generic term for a variety of mash-based, yeast-fermented brewed beverages whose alcohol content ranges from 3 to 13 percent.

PURCHASING The most popular beers available in liquor stores and supermarkets:

? Lager?pale-colored and light-bodied with a mellow flavor; ale?light to dark amber in color, with a flavor slightly more bitter and stronger than lager; bock?a dark brown German brew that?s full-bodied, slightly sweet and almost twice as strong as lager; malt liquor?robust and dark, with a bitter flavor and relatively high alcohol content; porter?strong and full-bodied, with a slightly bittersweet flavor and dark brown color; stout?dark-roasted barley gives this brew an intensely dark color, bitter flavor and extremely dense body; wheat beer ?made with malted wheat, this beer has a pale color and subtle, lagerlike flavor; fruit beer?mild brews flavored with fruit concentrates.

? Light beer in the United States refers to beer with reduced calories and, usually, less alcohol. In Europe the term distinguishes between pale and dark lagers.

? Nonalcoholic brews (which can?t by law be called ?beer?) are generally light in flavor and body and have negligible alcohol levels ranging between 0.2 and 0.5 percent.

STORING Store beer standing upright?laying it on its side exposes more of the liquid to the air in the bottle, which diminishes flavor. Either store in a cool, dark place or refrigerate. Refrigerate unpasteurized beer; consume within 1 or 2 weeks.

? Unlike wine, beer should not be aged. It?s best when consumed as fresh as possible.

? For maximum aroma and flavor, the ideal serving temperature for light (lager-style) beers is 45 to 50F; ales, porters and stouts are best in the 50 to 60F range.

? Temperature fluctuations can cause beer to lose flavor, so don?t move it in and out of the refrigerator excessively.

? The thinnest film of soap or oil on a beer mug will cause beer to lose its sparkle and collapse the foam. After washing beer glasses, thoroughly rinse and, if possible, air-dry them. To completely avoid any soap residue, wash the glasses in hot, salted water.

? Keep beer mugs in the freezer; there?s nothing like a cold beer served in a frosty mug on a sweltering summer day.

? For a full head of foam, pour beer straight down into the center of the glass. This method also releases more of the beer?s aroma.

? To create less of a head, slowly pour the beer onto the side of the glass.

? The amount of foam that beer produces also depends on its temperature. Ice-cold beer will produce light foam, whereas room-temperature beer promotes a thicker froth.

? Beer is a particularly compatible beverage with spicy cuisines such as Chinese, Indian, Mexican and Thai. Spicy or smoked sausages are great paired with dark beer. As a general rule, the more highly seasoned the food, the more full-bodied the beer should be.

? Beer makes a great addition to many dishes, including soups, sauces, stews and breads. Substitute beer for an equal amount of the liquid called for in the recipe.

? Beer?s also great for steaming clams and mussels. Or use it as the cooking liquid when boiling shrimp.

? A full-flavored brew like ale or bock beer will contribute more flavor to a dish than a light lager.